Proposed pay lanes could fund Gold Line expansion
By Fred Ortega and Will Bigham, Staff Writers
Some politicians want to use money from toll roads proposed on the 10 and 210 freeways to fund mass transit projects like Gold Line's extension into the Inland Valley.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board in Los Angeles last week voted to join Caltrans in applying for federal funds through a program that helps cities convert car pool lanes into toll lanes.
Preliminary plans call for targeting car pool lanes along the 10 and 210 freeways from the 605 Freeway west into Los Angeles and Pasadena, key routes for local commuters.
The toll lanes might become operational by late 2009, said Duarte Councilman John Fasana, a member of the MTA Board.
But Pomona Mayor Norma Torres, who commutes to Los Angeles five days a week, is not happy with the idea of the car pool lanes being converted into toll lanes.
"That lane was already paid for by taxpayers' money, so I don't know why we should have to pay for it twice," said Torres, a dispatcher for the Los Angeles Police Department.
"If it was a temporary measure, then I would have to look at it. But on the surface it's not a very appealing tax."
While it is too early to tell how much it will cost to convert the car pool lanes to toll roads, officials are examining options such as those already in place along the 91 Freeway, Fasana said.
There, drivers purchase "FasTrak" passes with radio transmitters that charge their accounts based on the time of day they use the express lanes.
"I think if we are able to make this work in the San Gabriel Valley," Fasana said, "it may control demand by making people use the freeway during off-peak hours when they can use it for cheap."
Prices have yet to be determined. But the toll on the 91 ranges from $9.50 per trip during the Friday evening rush hour to $1.20 at midnight on weekdays and weekends.
State law requires revenues from toll roads to be spent on transportation improvements along the road's route - in this case, the San Gabriel Valley.
"My hope is to go beyond that and have the cities along the corridor decide how the funding is used," Fasana said.
If it's generating revenue to expand freeways, Torres said she might support it, "but if you're trying to tax the infrastructure that's already there, that's been paid for by the taxpayer, then that's a hard pill to swallow."
She called the toll plan a "tax on the working class."
Fasana believes revenues from the toll roads could go toward the Gold Line extension along the 210 corridor, or for direct car pool connections from park-and-ride lots along the 210 and 10 freeways.
The Gold Line expansion would extend the current light rail line that ends in Pasadena east along the foothills to Claremont and Montclair. Some proposals have been made to continue it to LA/Ontario International Airport.
"Right now, we have a million projects out there that can be done, and we could certainly use the extra money," said MTA spokesman Rick Jager.
However, Jager said any profit from toll roads would go back to the toll roads' operation and maintenance.
"The MTA board has not taken a position on the Gold Line as part of our long-range transportation plan," he said.
La Verne Mayor Jon Blickenstaff, chairman of the Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority, was cautious about how beneficial the toll roads would be.
"I want to get more information about the specific details to see how it will impact our area and how much money could be raised," said Blickenstaff, adding that any revenues should be used locally.
"My question is, how do you tax these commuters equitably?"
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