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Stephanie Wiggins - 7/7/09 (Live Chat Archives)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009 - Noon to 1 p.m.

Metro Executive Officer for ExpressLanes Demo Project

Stephanie Wiggins

Live chat transcript:

Question: Good morning, Stephanie. Thanks for being with us today to explain the ExpressLanes concept. To get started, can you tell us what other cities have ExpressLanes and how they help traffic?

Answer: Good Morning! Lots of other cities are successfully running ExpressLanes, including San Diego, Denver, Miami and Orange County. They reduce traffic for all users by providing the choice to the single driver to shift over to the ExpressLanes. And, many of them do, which frees up the other lanes.

Question: First off, what's up with the Federal Stimulus funds for the Gold Line extension into the San Gabriel Valley? Has this been Green-lit? Next, it is sheer stupidity to put expresslanes on the 10 Freeway. Did anyone think about what will happen to all the traffic backing up to pay tolls? Duh! Yes, it can work but our Freeways don't have enough lanes as it is. This will only aggravate traffic problems and create needless headaches for the CHP (whom we don't have enough of anyway). Tom Cartwright

Answer: Hi Tom. The Gold Line is funded under Measure R, the 1/2 cent sales tax. As for the ExpressLanes, there will not be any toll booths -- this will prevent traffic from backing up to pay tolls. In cooperation with CHP and Caltrans, we will add a second HOT lane on I-10 between I-605 and I-710 in each direction by re-striping the freeway. This will provide much more relief for commuters in the San Gabriel Valley. As for CHP enforcement, they are a partner and we are working with them to provide dedicated enforcement.

Question: 1. Is this different than the carpool lane? 2. There's a fee to ride in the lanes? 3. How many passengers qualify a car being in the lane? Thank you!!! Pamela C Nickson

Answer: Hi Pamela. Great questions! This is different than a carpool lane; however, carpools, vanpools and users of public transit will still be able to access the lanes without paying a toll. The ExpressLanes are unique in that they will allow single drivers to access these lanes for a toll. During peak periods it's toll free for 3+ on the San Bernardino freeway and 2+ on the Harbor Transitway -- same as it is today. No tolls will be charged on the mixed flow lanes

Question: Why must Los Angeles do another TEST for the HOT lanes when Orange County proved they did not work? Robert Leabow

Answer: Robert, actually that's not true. The 91 toll lanes have been quite successful. In fact, they are the best performing HOT lanes in the nation. HOT lanes are operational in other cities, like San Diego, Miami, Houston and Seattle. It's LA County's turn to see if they can work here. Thanks for your question.

Question: Why haven't they made the 91 expressway a toll road for everyone?? This way there would be money generated for the city, county or whomever manages it and it would ease the congestion on the 91 freeway. This should have been done years ago. Cheryl Brown

Answer: Hi Cheryl. The 91 expresslanes were originally built as a toll road to finance the new lanes. The 91 freeway was congested and the region needed to provide more options. HOT lanes were implemented on the 91 as expresslanes to provide a choice -- to travel in the regular lanes or travel in the expresslanes.

Question: I believe this is a great idea. Do you know how many people will benefit out of this proposal? At least I will be one of them. Not only will it help to move the traffic faster but also will help to increase to improve the freeways maintenance. You have my vote and my family as well. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my comments. Have a pleasant day! Gloria Medina

Answer: Thank you for appreciating how ExpressLanes will help ease congestion in our region. Everyone who travels on the I-10 and I-110 will benefit from the project since they will have travel time savings on the general purpose lanes and ExpressLanes. Metro and its partners are also increasing transit service and vanpools on both freeways to provide even more travel options.

Question: When does this lane go into effect? Cheryl Simon

Answer: Our target date for the ExpressLanes is December 2010.

Question: Will this project create jobs? How many? Dave

Answer: It's expected to create approximately 7,000 construction-related jobs.

Question: The Media Center in Burbank has no Rapid bus, but employs thousands of people from around the Los Angeles area at Warner Brothers, Disney and Universal. Is there any plan to add one in the future? Thanks in advance for taking my question. Nancy

Answer: Hi Nancy. We continue to evaluate new markets for transit service and we will refer your question to our planning department.

Question: I understand you plan to use a transponder, but how will people pay for using the lanes. Will you bill them monthly? Thank you. Carlos

Answer: Hi Carlos. Users will establish a pre-paid transponder account. You can use cash, credit or check to pay your account in person, by mail or online. The transponder will be placed in your vehicle. As you travel in the ExpressLanes, the toll will be automatically deducted from your transponder account -- there will be no toll booths.

Question: Would Metro view enforcement during the pilot solely as educational only and guide drivers to where they can get a free transponder, or, better still, have unloaded transponders in every CHP vehicle for instant distribution? Bill Orton

Answer: Hi Bill. Enforcement during the pilot is to reduce violators in the ExpressLanes. We understand that there will be a learning curve as people get used to this new and exciting project. Metro and Caltrans will communicate the availability of transponders through various information sources (media, web, 511, advertisements, community events).

Question: Are the toll lanes supposed to get people out of their cars and onto transit? What if transit riders want to drive sometimes? Will they be rewarded for taking transit? Jean A.

Answer: A rewards program has been proposed for Expresslanes to encourage more people to ride transit and to reward existing transit users. Transit riders will earn a $5 credit each month for frequent rides on any LA County transit line (Metro, Torrance Transit, Gardena Transit, Foothill Transit and LADOT Commuter Express) on the I-10 or I-110 ExpressLanes during peak commute hours. The credit could then be applied to toll accounts or TAP cards.

Question: Have you considered congestion pricing all normal lanes? It could be something cheap like $.01/mile as a baseline, but as high as $.10/mile during peak hours. You could charge higher prices for the Express Lanes as well. Phillip Cheung

Answer: Hi Phillip. Transportation professionals have been looking at user based fees throughout the nation. However, this demonstration project is focused only on congestion pricing for the carpool or HOV lanes on I-10 and I-110.

Question: I do not think that commercial vehicles, except buses, should be allowed in the carpool/express lanes at all. They tend to drive recklessly with excessive speeds and tailgating, especially in rainy and foggy conditions. In fact, I believe that they should have to follow the same rules as 18-wheeler trucks. Andrew Lucas

Answer: Hi Andrew. State law generally prohibits any trucks with more than 2 axles from traveling in the carpool lanes. Metro is proposing to also prohibit these trucks from the ExpressLanes.

Question: We may need to double deck the car pool lanes to handle the added traffic to the car pool lanes. Stephen Derry

Answer: Hi Stephen. Under current conditions there is some capacity in the carpool lanes at certain times of the day that provides the opportunity to allow single drivers to access these lanes for a toll. We are also able to use pricing as a way to manage the demand from single drivers. More importantly, our goal is to carry more people through these lanes with less vehicles by providing more express transit and vanpool options.

Question: What's the status of awarding a contract to provide a comprehensive, turnkey toll collection system, field equipment, operations, and maintenance? Wendy Bui

Answer: Hi Wendy. We are in the middle of the procurement process for the turnkey vendor. We have shortlisted the firms and will issue a Request For Proposal in September.

Question: Will motorcyclists be allowed to use the HOT lane without charge?

Answer: The proposal is that motorcycles will not be required to pay a toll.

Question: How can transponder use be made more simple for people who may use their cars one day to drive alone and then drive a carpool on other days? Hilary Norton

Answer: Hi Hilary. The proposal is that the transponder will have a switch that allows you to select the number of people in your car each time you drive. That will ensure you get charged the correct toll. This will also help with CHP enforcement.

Question: Hi Ms. Wiggins. Can you speak to the question of installing transponders in cars? Or, how to collect the tolls? Thank You. Thomas Pellegrino

Answer: Hi Thomas. The transponder just sits on the inside of your vehicle. An antenna will read the transponder as you drive by and any toll would be automatically charged to your account. The transponder is also mobile -- so it can be moved from vehicle to vehicle.

Question: I'm leaning towards being in favor of the project but I was wondering if any study has been done to evaluate the impact on local arterial streets? If the purpose of congestion pricing is to alleviate traffic, wouldn't it defeat the purpose if local streets becomes worse?

Answer: As part of the demonstration, the federal government will be evaluating all aspects of the project, including the traffic impact on local arterial streets. However, we anticipate that the traffic on the local streets will NOT become worse because the ExpressLanes allow us to better use the space available on the freeway.

Question: There are currently a lot of cheaters using the HOV lanes, how will the new HOT lanes be enforced?

Answer: Metro is partnering with CHP for dedicated enforcement. In addition, photo enforcement can be used if all vehicles are required to have a transponder.

Question: Much of the existing transit service on the 110 originates farther south than the Artesia Transit Center. Can some of the additional bus service planned for this project be added to routes beginning further south, such as San Pedro? Thanks - Erin Strelich

Answer: Hi Erin. Yes -- through our community meetings over the last year we've learned that service farther south of Artesia Transit Center is equally important to the South Bay communities. So we propose to use some of the additional new clean fuel buses to provide more feeder service to Artesia Transit Center. In addition, Torrance Transit and Gardena Transit will be providing more commuter express services from the South Bay communities directly to downtown Los Angeles.

Question: What will the policy be regarding low-emissions vehicles?

Answer: The current state law authorizing low-emission vehicles (gas electric hybrids -- yellow sticker vehicles) will expire January 1, 2011 -- exactly when our Project begins. So hybrids will be treated like all other vehicles.

Question: Can you tell me if an express lane is scheduled for the 210 fwy? Thank you. Thomas Pellegrino

Answer: Hi Thomas. An ExpressLane is not scheduled for the 210 freeway. The demonstration project is focused only on the I-10 and I-110 freeways.

Question: We've heard this is a 1 year demonstration project. What is the likelihood of making this permanent or expanding to other HOV lanes?

Answer: We want to use the demonstration to evaluate how effective congestion pricing is and whether changes need to be made in order for it to work better in LA County. Metro is also looking at the feasibility of introducing HOT lanes on other LA County freeways.

Question: Will these ExpressLanes have a positive or negative impact on the environment?

Answer: The ExpressLanes are expected to have a positive impact on the environment by reducing fuel consumption and vehicle emissions. Also, by increasing the availability of transit service and vanpools, we are striving to move more people in fewer vehicles in the ExpressLanes.

Question: What happens if you are in the lane without a transponder in your car? Or if the person runs out of money on their pre-paid account, do you bill them? Is there a payment plan to be set up to pay for the transponder or some kind of notification, if funds are low? Mello S.

Answer: If you are in the lane without a transponder in your car, you will be able to call the toll hot line or go on the web and open a toll account within 72 hours of using the Express Lane in order to avoid receiving a violation notice.  If the person runs out of money on their pre-paid account we will bill them, however, we will encourage users to replenish their account before the balance reaches $0 -- there will be multiple payment plans for the user to choose from.

Question: How have the community meetings gone? What kind of questions are coming out of them?

Answer: The community meetings have been very informative. Like today's chat, we've gotten a lot of good questions at the community meetings. We're grateful for the comments and exchange of ideas. Many in the community are enthused about the rapid implementation of this program to relieve congestion and provide a more reliable trip. Questions include use of transponders, enforcement and impacts to low income commuters. There will continue to be significant outreach as the project develops. Please continue to visit our website at metro.net/expresslanes for the latest info on public meetings.

Question: Will there be only one entry and one exit or multiple access points? If there are multiple access points what type of merge zone will be provided? Marshall

Answer: Hi Marshall. All existing access points to the carpool lanes will remain. We will be making some improvements by adding weave lanes or merge lanes at certain access points to improve traffic flow.

Question: Well, Stephanie, that's all the time we have for questions. Any final words on ExpressLanes?

Answer: This has been a productive session. I appreciate all of your questions. The ExpressLanes demonstration project is an opportunity for LA County to ease congestion and provide more travel options for all commuters traveling on the I-10 and I-110 freeways. Your continued public input is critical to ensuring a successful demonstration project. Thank you and we'll chat again!