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Device unveiled to allow motorists to use freeway toll lanes

July 26, 2012 |  8:30 am

Toll lanes transponder

This post has been updated and corrected. See the notes below for details.

Los Angeles County motorists can start getting ready for a ride in the fast lane, if they’re willing to pay for it.

Transportation officials this week unveiled the transponder devices that drivers will need if they want to use the forthcoming toll lanes on the 10 and 110 freeways. The effort is part of one-year pilot project that is converting 11 miles of existing carpool lanes on the 110 Freeway, between the Harbor Gateway Transit Center/182nd Street and Adams Boulevard, and 14 miles on the 10 Freeway, between Union Station/Alameda Street and the 605 Freeway, to toll lanes.

It costs about $120 million to construct the toll lanes. Stephanie Wiggins, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s executive officer for the Congestion Reduction Initiative Program, said toll lanes on the 110 Freeway will open by November and those on the 10 are slated to begin early next year.

The tolls will vary between 25 cents and $1.40 per mile, depending on demand and traffic speeds. Wiggins said the goal is to keep the speed of the toll lanes flowing at a minimum average of 45 mph by setting tolls lower when there is less traffic and higher when freeways are crowded.

“The average toll will be between $4 and $7, but the highest toll that someone could choose to pay if they travel the whole 11 miles [on the 110 Freeway] would be more than $15,” Wiggins said.

Both solo drivers and those who carpool will need a transponder and FasTrak account if they want to drive in the toll lanes. There are three settings on the transponder -– which is about the size of a deck of cards -– for solo drivers, those with two people in the car and for three or more. Carpoolers will not have to pay the actual tolls, but still need to have a transponder in the vehicle.

It’s unclear how officials plan to stop solo drivers from evading the fare by simply switching their transponder setting to show they are carpoolers. When using a credit or debit card, the cost to obtain the transponder is waived, but drivers must put at least $40 in their toll balance account.

[Updated at 9:16 a.m., July 26: Wiggins said solo drivers who switch their transponders to a carpool setting to avoid the toll can face a "hefty citation" from the California Highway Patrol. She said there are "enforcement beacon lights" on overhead signage that correspond to the transponder setting in a motorist's vehicle. If the additional highway patrol officer (funded by the project) sees a beacon light that doesn't correspond with what they see in the actual vehicle, they can pull the driver over.]

In a news release, officials also said “there is a minimum balance threshold of $10.” According to Metro’s website, a $3 monthly account maintenance fee will go into effect when the 110 ExpressLanes open this fall.

Officials this week also opened a Metro ExpressLanes walk-in center in Gardena, where drivers can go to get transponders and register their accounts.

Motorists can register their accounts online, by calling 511 and saying “ExpressLanes,” at a temporary walk-in center at the El Monte Station on Santa Anita Avenue, or by mailing in their online application.

Wiggins said officials expect gross revenues from a full year of operating the toll lanes to be between $18 million and $20 million, which they hope is enough to sustain the system beyond the first year.

[For the record, 10:10 p.m. July 27: An earlier version of this post said Wiggins said the goal is to keep the speed of the toll lanes flowing at a minimum average of 45 mph by setting tolls higher when there is less traffic and lower when freeways are crowded.]


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Photo: L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas displays a FasTrak device at a new Gardena office where drivers can enroll in the freeway express lanes program. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times