Get Smart: How Three Transportation Agencies Are Using Managed Lanes to Reduce Congestion

Southern California can’t say it’s number one when it comes to having the worst traffic congestion in the country, but it’s a huge economic and social problem for the region which three Southern California transportation agencies are addressing through the use of managed lanes.  That’s what we recently learned at the Women’s Transportation Seminar presentation on October 14, 2011.

On a panel moderated by Rick Backlund, an FHWA region official, we heard from Rose Casey, Program Manager for the Orange County Transportation Authority; Stephanie Wiggins, Executive Officer with LA Metro; and Michael Bloomquist, Toll Program Director for the Riverside County Transportation Commission.  After hearing a brief history of managed lanes from the first HOV lanes in the early 1960s to the first all-electronic toll facility which opened in the early 1990s, Casey briefed the audience on one of the largest highway projects in Southern California, the widening of I-405 (or the 405 if you are from Southern California) between SR55 and I-605.  With a capital cost of between $1.3 and $1.7 billion the project is expected to have a large funding gap, even if the express lanes alternative is selected by the OCTA board (the express lanes is one of three alternatives the authority is studying during the environmental process).  As to the feasibility of a tolled alternative, Casey alluded to the positive experience of the SR91 Express Lanes in Orange County which extend east to the Riverside County line, the first all electronic toll facility in the United States.

Bloomquist picked up on Casey’s presentation by describing RCTC’s efforts to develop and finance the extension of the SR91 Express Lanes from the Orange County border to I-15, as well as the plan to add express lanes to the I-15 to create an express lanes network (note: San Diego County is already operating an express lanes project on I-15 south of the proposed RCTC project—maybe someday there could be a connection between the facilities in the two counties??)  RCTC’s plan would be to leverage off of a significant commitment of local sales tax dollars and a TIFIA loan to issue toll road revenue bonds to finance this billion dollar project which includes new general purpose lanes.  To piggyback on the success of the SR91 Express Lanes project in Orange County, RCTC and OCTA have nearly finalized a co-op agreement for the new project that would take advantage of a common toll collection system and operator, would combine marketing efforts, and would coordinate toll policy.

The LA Metro project presented by Wiggins is the farthest along of the three projects.  Taking advantage of a $210 million federal grant, LA Metro is converting several miles of HOV lanes along the I-110 and I-10 leading into and out of downtown Los Angeles into HOT lanes.  Net tolls would be reinvested in transit and additional HOV improvements in the Los Angeles County area.  A common complaint about managed lanes is how they may adversely affect low income drivers.  To address this concern, LA Metro conducted a toll equity study and has agreed to offer toll discounts as well as a waiver of account maintenance fees to qualified individuals.

These three regional transportation agencies are building upon the success of previous managed lanes projects to work smarter to increase capacity in one of the most congested and physically contrained highway systems in the country.

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Nossaman LLP’s 30-plus infrastructure attorneys offer clients, colleagues, strategic partners, and industry media a wealth of practical experience, insider insight, and thoughtful analysis here on Infra Insight. We blog about what we know best, from industry-leading procurements to local and national policy developments that affect the market and our clients.

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