ExpressLanes Quietly Open on I-110, Media Finds “Grumbling”…But Not Hysteria

In 2008, when Metro first proposed experimenting with converting High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV Lanes) lanes to High Occupancy Toll Lanes (HOT Lanes) a casual observer might have thought the future of the Republic was endangered. Editorial boards sounded the alarm, the Times’ Tim Rutton wrote a series of semi-coherent opinion pieces, Metro Board members warned of class warfare and a group of Congress Members made a silly video (no longer available online) and warned they would pull Metro funding if they went forward.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Metro Board Member Richard Katz at the Express Lanes Groundbreaking. Photo:##

This Saturday, ExpressLanes opened along 11 miles of the 110, starting just north of the 91 Freeway to Adams Boulevard, just south of the 10 Freeway. Single passenger vehicles will now be able to buy their way into the former HOV lane with the zero-emission cars, carpools and transit vehicles if the lane is not already congested. Drivers will need a transponder purchasable through Metro.  By accepting federal funds for the program, Metro was able to purchase clean buses, refurbish the El Monte Bus Terminal and make other improvements. Metro is also planning on a second pilot program on the I-10 early next year.

Metro’s fact sheet is available here.

Not only is the Republic safe following the opening, but the naysayers were nowhere to be found. The only politician throwing cold water on the day was Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who wondered if Metro timed the opening to occur after the vote on Measure J earlier last week. The San Gabriel Valley Tribune wrote a pensive editorial asking, “Are Toll Lanes a Slippery Slope,” but their intent was not to bury the project before it had a chance to succeed. The SGV Tribune stated:

This is an innovative attempt to ease congestion on two of the most troublesome commutes, and a worthy exercise for a region beset with myriad traffic problems. But it’s another step on what could be a slippery slope for Southern California toward pay-as-you-go highways. It may be the best solution for our roads, but it’s a decision that must be made with full public buy in.

To be sure, most of the media coverage that did occur found drivers willing to grumble about the toll lanes even as Metro officials and Mayor Villaraigosa gushed about the lane openings. As one would expect, most of the comments betrayed a lack of basic civics understanding. A sample of the comments can be read at the coverage of the Times, ABC7 and NBC4.

Most of the comments are by solo carpoolers, who now have an option to buy a congestion free trip that they couldn’t before. In other words, most of the people who are complaining will not be impacted by the new program.

From Annenberg TV News:

“Look at all the tax fees we’re paying already,” carpooler Lisa Lavine said, “then they’re coming out with this.”

Of all the people that complain about ExpressLanes, carpoolers are the only group with a legitimate gripe. For years they’ve been told that carpooling is the key to saving the environment and they should be rewarded. Now they have to obtain a transponder to use the lanes. As we’ve outlined before, “casual” carpoolers may find this to be more than an annoyance, but once the transponders are obtained, this complaint could end up being minimized.

But all in all, it was a quiet opening. Does this mean that Angelenos got their rage about the HOT Lanes out of their system, or has the mood about transportation costs changed in the last few years? Or maybe, because the political opposition disappeared to this set of lanes there was nobody to lead the opposition. Or maybe the “freeways should be free” portion of the populace was just tuckered out after fighting ballot initiatives last week.

We’ll find out more when the ExpressLanes on the I-10 open next year, but for now it’s clear that Congestion Pricing is a lot less divisive issue in Los Angeles than in some other places in the country.


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