Earlier this week, Metro and Caltrans broke ground on the I-10 and I-110 to convert HOV Lanes into variable toll lanes that also allow carpools free access to the lanes. Metro received $210 million for the project from the federal government, most of which will go into transit improvements for the impacted corridors. The project removes almost no cars (only the very few that are electric or zero emission) that can currently use the carpool lanes, but will charge solo car drivers somewhere between twenty-five cents and $1.40 per mile.
The truth is, we don’t really know how this project is going to shake out. Nowhere in America has anyone converted HOV Lanes to toll lanes of any sort, and you can’t even really call the plan “congestion pricing” because the toll option will be removed when there are too many carpools in the lanes for them to run efficiently. The uncertainty about the result is why USDOT was willing to pay Metro so much to experiment with the program.
Unfortunately, almost none of this information has penetrated the larger public consciousness. Comments on news websites are running somewhere between 80%-90% against the project. Most of the comments are wildly uninformed. Because you’ll doubtless end up in a conversation about this at some point, Streetsblog proudly presents the answers to most of the misinformed comments out there. And if you like reading crazy comments sections, Steve Lopez’s defense of the project seems to have drawn the craziest comments, with KPCC and the Times’ regular coverage coming in second. Uninformed Argument #1: This is a liberal conspiracy to take away our freedom/social engineer us/tax us to death.
Reality: The funding for this project came from the Federal Transit Administration. Also, while they haven’t weighed in on this project, congestion pricing is a favorite concept of the Libertarian Reason Foundation.
Uninformed Argument #2: This is a Republican conspiracy to create a series of “have and have nots” when it comes to transportation.
Reality: Whenever polling is done in areas where congestion pricing is tried, it receives approval from roughly the same percentage of lower-income people as upper-income people. Also, the amount of money flowing into the transit projects in the area will do a lot more to help the “have nots” that can’t afford the high cost of a long-distance car commute everyday.
Also, there is a program to give a $25 credit to lower income drivers.
Uninformed Argument #3: This amounts to double taxation since WE already paid to build this road
Reality: First, maintaining highways isn’t free, and any profit from the congestion charge will go back in to maintaining the highways and transit to the corridor. Second, gas taxes pay only a small portion of highway construction, so drivers haven’t paid for the road themselves anyways. Drivers that use this road haven’t paid for its construction nor its maintenance on their own.
Uninformed Argument #4: But I bought an electric car just to use these lanes!
Reality: Ok, that does suck. But the reality is your electric car doesn’t really do anything to reduce congestion.
Uninformed Argument #5: This will create more congestion.
Reality: Single passenger vehicles will lose the ability to buy their way into the lanes when the lanes are too congested.
Uninformed Argument #6: The tolls will just go to pay for the toll collections. The unions are eating up the money!
Uninformed Argument #7: They’re called freeways for a reason.
Reality: They are. They’re called freeways because they are a strip of land devoted towards mobility where the adjacent property owners have no air or other rights. That’s the definition. Look it up.
Do you have, or have you heard, a more ridiculous argument? Leave it in the comments section, and we’ll try to take it on. Which is not to say that Metro’s ExpressLanes proposal is bullet-proof or a slam dunk. By doing nothing to relieve the existing congestion in the toll lane during the rush hours, the ExpressLanes are sort of the opposite of true congestion pricing, and will actually add capacity during non-peak hours.