2014-01-30 / Front Page

101 Freeway toll studied

But pay-for-use still down the road
By Darleen Principe

Paying a toll to bypass traffic on Ventura County’s stretch of the 101 Freeway may be the wave of the future for local commuters.

But even if the Ventura County Transportation Commission’s $111,000 feasibility study finds that installing High-Occupancy Toll lanes along the 101 Freeway is doable, it would take at least a decade before motorists could actually use them.

On Jan. 10 the VCTC board voted 16-1 to award a $110,910 contract to CDM Smith, a Los Angeles-based engineering consulting firm, to determine whether constructing toll lanes in one or both directions along a 31-mile portion of the 101 Freeway between Highway 33 in Ventura and the Los Angeles County line would be viable.

VCTC is a regional transportation planning agency made up of representatives from every city in Ventura County. It disburses federal and state transportation funds throughout the county.

Peter De Haan, VCTC’s programming director, said installing HOT lanes is only one of the options the agency is looking at after the recent completion of its Comprehensive Transportation Plan—a document outlining the long-term transportation needs of the county.

Other options include constructing carpool lanes or building auxiliary lanes, which extend from one on-ramp to the next off-ramp only and are designed to prevent traffic bottlenecks.

“We expect sometime in the future to have a process involving the public, to look at all the different alternatives for the 101 Freeway,” De Haan said. “This (study) is just basically a quick look to see if (constructing toll lanes) is one of those alternatives. We don’t want to bring something to the public that wouldn’t even be feasible.”

Adopted in September, VCTC’s Comprehensive Transportation Plan states that ever-increasing traffic congestion on the 101 and 118 freeways is “threatening the well-being” of Ventura County.

“The (plan) looked at different alternatives for transportation funding, and one possibility that was identified was to have HOT lanes as a way of being able to pay for highway improvements we couldn’t otherwise pay for,” De Haan said.

If HOT lanes were to be constructed in Ventura County, they would be outfitted with electronic sensors that hang in arches above the lanes. Motorists who choose to use the lanes would purchase and register an electronic transponder device that can be tracked by the sensors.

De Haan said the tolls could be structured so that carpoolers could use the lanes for free or for a discount, while single-occupant vehicles would be required to pay the full toll.

Similar toll lanes already exist in Los Angeles and San Diego counties, where the fees range from 25 cents per mile to $8 per mile, depending on traffic flow and time of day.

“In other parts of Southern California, there are a large number of HOT lanes in various stages of planning, which means that in 10 years or so, we’re probably going to see many of these in other areas,” De Haan said. “These projects take a long time. So if we want to have this option for Ventura County, we need to start looking at it now.” Ventura County District 2 Supervisor Linda Parks—who represents Oak Park, Thousand Oaks and the

Santa Rosa Valley—cast the only dissenting vote in funding the

HOT lanes feasibility study.

Besides calling the study “a waste of time and money,” Parks said she thinks the funds could be used to study “better transportation options.”

“I don’t think (toll lanes) are popular with the public,” she said. “Also I don’t think they’re financially viable.

“My thought is that if we’re considering spending $1 (billion) to $2 billion to add HOT lanes, we should also consider other alternatives— for example, adding a light rail down the 101 Freeway.”

Parks said she was also concerned that HOT lanes would create an “equity issue” among motorists.

In some areas, toll lanes have been dubbed “Lexus lanes,” she said.

“They may alleviate congestion for people who can afford it but then keep people who can’t afford the tolls stuck in traffic,” Parks said.

According to De Haan, the results of the feasibility study should be available by the end of 2014, at which time they will be discussed at a public VCTC meeting.

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