Proposal converts carpool to toll lanes

CITY TERRACE Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other transportation officials say it's time to take a new approach to easing the traffic congestion in the L.A. area.

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They favor a plan that is not the most popular with commuters, known as congestion pricing.

The carpool lane is often wide open and transportation officials don't want to see that pavement go to waste, so they're moving ahead to convert some carpool lanes into toll lanes.

Villaraigosa said it's a new solution to the gridlock many drivers detest.

"They complain about the gridlock, and you hear me say again and again and again, when people ask me 'What are you going to do about traffic?" My response is 'What are you going to do about traffic? When are you going to get out of your single-passenger automobile?'" Villaraigosa said.

The plan is designed to encourage more people to take public transit by converting up to 85 miles of HOV lanes into HOT lanes, or high occupancy toll lanes.

The federal government will give the L.A. area $213 million for bus and train service. The money would be used to buy 60 high-capacity buses and used to upgrade Metrolink service. In exchange, the HOV lanes on the 10 and the 210 through the San Gabriel Valley would become pay-to drive lanes, including pay-to-drive lanes for use by single-occupant vehicles.

Single occupant vehicles would be able to drive in the HOT lanes and pay a fee, while carpools of three or more would not have to pay.

Some drivers like the idea, but others say the tolls will only make their expensive commute even more unaffordable, especially with gas prices as high as they are.

"No, I don't think toll roads are the way. And I don't think cutting all these people's jobs is going to help anybody either," said Doniece Watkins. "How you going to pay for something if you can't get where you going, and you don't have a job to get there anyway?"

But the MTA says the plan aims to get traffic moving.

"Right now the carpool lanes for the most part aren't working, so the goal is to try and to guarantee a speed of 45 or 50," said Mark Littman from the MTA. "The hope is that, and the expectation is that you will change your commuting behavior. If you don't have to be on the road, jamming the road during rush hour, you'll go during off hours."

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said it's not intended to be a luxury lane for the wealthy and pointed to the Orange County toll roads as an example of how it would work.

"State route 91 tells us that 90 percent of the people use the lanes only 10 percent of the time. They use it when they're going to be late picking a child up from daycare and having to pay late fees. They're use it when they have an important business meeting, but everyone doesn't use it every day," Peters said.

If there's any money left over from the federal government there would be the possibility of having the 110 carpool lanes into downtown L.A. become toll lanes as well.

The changes are not slated to go into effect until the end of 2010.


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