Los Angeles toll lanes slow other freeway traffic

LOS ANGELES (AP) — New toll lanes on a Los Angeles freeway were supposed to speed up traffic but instead put the brakes on other commuters.

The 11-mile stretch of toll lanes on Interstate 110 opened last November south of downtown. Motorists can pay up to $15.40 to use the lanes at peak congestion hours or instead lurch along in the other lanes for free.

The toll lanes have shown an increase in average speed since they were converted from carpool lanes under a pilot program.

From last December to February, traffic flowed at 45 mph or faster during peak hours, and it moved 10 mph faster in the morning northbound rush than before the project, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday, citing county statistics.

However, the average speed in non-toll lanes fell.

Northbound morning rush-hour traffic moved at 51.9 mph on average in December of 2011 but as of last December it had dropped to 47.3 mph. The most congested segment of non-toll lanes slowed by more than 8 mph during the morning peak period to 29.6 mph.

Southbound evening commuters saw their average speed dip from 47.8 mph to 41 mph.

One reason is drivers are no longer illegally using the carpool lane, according to officials with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Carpoolers can still drive in the toll lanes for free if they buy a $40 transponder.

Overall, traffic volume declined by half in some toll lane segments, according to figures from the California Department of Transportation.

If more drivers don't start using the toll lanes, officials could consider reducing the fees, said James E. Moore II, an engineering professor at the University of Southern California.

"I don't sweat much that the lanes are being underutilized at first," he said. "Prices can always be changed."

Toll roads and lanes have existed for years in neighboring Orange County but remain a novelty in Los Angeles County.

A 14-mile toll lane along Interstate 10 from downtown to Interstate 605 near El Monte opened in February.

Drivers give the Interstate 110 lanes mixed reviews.

Ted Bischak said he pays about $8 a day for a round trip between a downtown real estate office and his Costa Mesa home. He had bought a Honda Civic that runs on natural gas to use the carpool lanes for free.

"Now, I feel like I'm paying twice," he said.

He is considering taking a different route to avoid the fees, even if it takes longer.

"It's the principle of the thing," he said.

Accountant Jennifer Lee said she has trimmed her Irvine-to-Los Angeles commute time in half since buying a transponder a month ago.

"Oh, it's worth it," she said. "No question."