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Photograph: Courtesy Unsplash/Kayle Kaupanger

Metro is considering congestion pricing on these L.A. freeways

Basically all of the ones you would expect.

Michael Juliano
Written by
Michael Juliano

You know it’s coming: L.A. traffic will get exasperatingly dreadful again sooner or later. And while we’re still savoring all of those green freeways on Google Maps, Metro is proposing some early-phase plans that could help keep it that way.

In a post on the transit agency’s Source blog on Tuesday, Metro identified four areas in Los Angeles County that are plagued by chronic traffic congestion and under consideration for congestion pricing. In terms of freeways, they’re looking at basically all of the ones you would expect: the freeways and some surface streets that lead drivers over the hill, through Downtown L.A. or into Santa Monica.

If you’re unfamiliar with congestion pricing, it’s similar to the toll lanes on the 110 and parts of the 10: Drivers are charged a fee based on how far they’re traveling and at a rate that fluctuates with how heavy the traffic is. Theoretically—and we’ll stress again, theoretically—this encourages drivers to carpool, travel at off-peak times or seek alternate modes of transit, while the tolls collected would go back into supporting the system and local communities.

Before we get to the areas under study, it’s important to frame what we’re actually looking at here. Step one is to study if these areas—the four we’ll discuss below—could benefit from either congestion pricing or improved public transit. That study should wrap up by spring 2022, and its recommendations could be tested on L.A. freeways with a congestion pricing pilot program that’s expected to launch in 2025. But before any congestion pricing is put into place, Metro says it would first attempt to implement things like better bus or rail service and frequency, as well as carpooling and work-from-home incentives. 

Moving on, here are the four areas under consideration:

The freeways and surface streets that run through the Santa Monica Mountains.

Trying to get over the hill is one of the most notorious tasks in L.A., so it’s no surprise Metro leads with a pair of concepts for trips between the Valley and the Basin. The agency specifically calls out adding a toll between the 101 and 5, as well as between the 405 and the 5 (though the exact geography isn’t specified, it’s worth noting here that the 405 actually meets up with the 5 twice: to the north of the Sepulveda Pass, which is within the county, as well as to the south in Orange County, which falls outside of Metro’s domain). In addition, Metro says it will “explore managing traffic on freeways and parallel roadways,” so that implies canyon roads may be under consideration, as well.

Any freeway that runs to and through Downtown L.A.

The this would mean the 10, 110 and 101 as they near DTLA, and though it technically skirts just to the east of it, we’d imagine that part of the 5 would fall under this category, as well.

Traffic coming into and out of central DTLA.

This is pretty similar to the above concept, since all of those freeways circle Downtown, but the emphasis here seems to be specifically on the traffic entering and leaving this area bounded by the 10, 110 and 101 (which Metro has dubbed the Downtown L.A. Cordon).

The 10 between Santa Monica and Downtown.

The sole and soul-crushing freeway to Santa Monica will be part of the analysis, as are “parallel arterials”—the surface streets to the immediate north and south that many look to as a bypass for the 10.

In all of these cases, Metro outlines the available bus and rail lines that already exist in each area, and notes that unspecified future transportation improvements will be rolled into the study, as well. The agency also calls out that congestion pricing could easily turn into a have and have-nots scenario, so the announcement says multiple times that equity will be an important part of the study, and that the challenge will be to find a price that’s low enough to stay affordable but high enough to encourage people to change their behaviors.

If you still have more questions , Metro will host three upcoming virtual briefings about the concepts: February 10 from 6 to 7:30pm, February 16 from 11:30am to 1pm, and February 27 from 1 to 2:30pm.

One way or another, it seems inevitable that how we spend money to get around will change in the not-so-distant future: California is currently testing a system that, with the move away from combustion engines and toward electric electric vehicles by 2035, would tax drivers based on miles traveled instead of at the gas pump. Meanwhile, in L.A. specifically Metro has also floated a pilot program to make bus and rail service free for everyone.

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