Few things illustrate the congestion caused by the booming trade at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach as the thousands of trucks clogging the Long Beach (710) Freeway each day.

The long-sought prospect of getting many of those trucks off that freeway and into truck-only toll lanes received a major boost earlier this month when the state Legislature approved a massive infrastructure package.

For starters, some of the $2 billion set aside for goods-movement projects in an upcoming $37 billion bond package could be used to jump-start construction of truck-only toll lanes.

The bond package is slated to go to voters in November. It would include money for four needs, including affordable housing, levee repair and school facilities. But the biggest piece, $20 billion, would be for transportation upgrades.

Just as important as the bonds is related legislation that also passed that would allow the state to seek private investors for toll projects. That bill, AB 1467, by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nu & #324;ez, D-Los Angeles, awaits the signature of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has indicated he intends to sign it.

"Getting those trucks off the freeway and into dedicated lanes is a high priority for goods movement and one that will be very popular," said Wally Baker, senior vice president with the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., which has been lobbying for years for truck-only toll lanes to speed the movement of cargo through the region.

The transportation bond financing component has not been specifically earmarked for the construction of toll lanes. But overall, Los Angeles County figures to get at least $2 billion from the $20 billion transportation bond, including hundreds of millions of dollars in public transit dollars and in congestion relief projects, as well as tens of millions of dollars for security measures at the ports. There also would be nearly $1 billion set aside to implement measures to reduce pollution at the ports.

It will be up to the California Transportation Commission to select which projects will be allowed to move forward with bond monies, including any involving toll lanes. The projects are likely to be staggered over the next decade, with those now ready for construction moving to the head of the line.

But toll lanes are specifically targeted in the Nu & #324;ez bill. It authorizes eight public-private partnerships throughout the state. Four would be for high occupancy toll lanes, with two of those in Northern California and two in Southern California. The other four would address goods movement bottlenecks, again two in Northern California and two in Southern California.


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