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Metro ExpressLanes: Can they work in LA?

An interchange for the 110 and 10 freeways in Downtown Los Angeles is seen. (CNN)
February 14, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
The new Metro ExpressLanes project along the Harbor Freeway has been going on since November 2012. It is in the early stages of a one-year experiment, so commuters are still figuring it out.

But there are some commuters who don't like it for a number of reasons.

"I have seen this from where it was wide open to where now it is just a mess," said Bill Snobeger.

Snoberger has been making his commute from Glendale to just south of downtown for 30 years, 20 miles each way. He's not happy about the fact that it takes him longer now than ever before.

"It was bad, but it was bearable bad. Now it's bad, unbearable bad," he said.

A big part of his commute is the 110 Freeway where the new, experimental Metro ExpressLanes have been put into place.

"We've converted the carpool lanes to ExpressLanes," said Stephanie Wiggins with Metro. "The way it works is every vehicle that's going to use those ExpressLanes needs to have a FasTrak transponder."

In other words, starting last November, you can't use the carpool lanes unless you have a transponder. To get the device requires an initial $40 deposit.

Snoberger thinks that has pushed people out of the carpool lanes and into the regular lanes, where he usually is.

"When we're sitting in traffic, and we're bumper-to-bumper with somebody, and the two lanes that are next to us here, there will be a car going by every five seconds," he said.

Eyewitness News observed traffic on three separate mornings during rush hour. The ExpressLanes were barely used.

"That's every day, every stinking day," Snoberger said.

But there are some benefits to the program. If you are a solo driver and have a transponder, you too can use the carpool lanes, as long as you are willing to pay a toll. Cars with multiple people are still free.

In theory, more people will have access to the carpool lanes under the program.

"What we found by talking to commuters and also, what we are hearing from our users, is they want the choice of travel time savings," said Wiggins.

So if Snoberger wants to benefit, he'll have to get a transponder and then pay an average toll of about $5 a day to use the fast lanes.

"I don't want to do that," he said. "I shouldn't have to do that and I don't have $200 extra a month to give to the state of California to use the freeways that we paid for."

And that brings up another sticky point for Snoberger.

"Our parents paid to have those freeways constructed with their tax dollars. And today we pay to maintain those freeways with our tax dollars. And for the state of California to take those lanes away from us that we paid for and then charge us to drive on them? That makes me mad," he said.

In fairness to Metro, it is way too early to judge the project. The latest numbers obtained by Eyewitness News Thursday show 45,000 cars are using the ExpressLanes daily, compared to 50,000 before the project.

The 10 Freeway is next. ExpressLanes begin there later this month. After a year, the ExpressLanes project will be evaluated.


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