The federal government has offered Los Angeles $213.6 million to help ease the region's infamous traffic congestion. Take the money. The region's transportation system is clogged and it is only going to get significantly worse without major changes.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's long-term plan does a lot of good things. But it also points out a very harsh reality: Between now and 2030, L.A. will spend $152 billion with a "b" on transportation, yet the travel speeds on our freeways will actually fall by an average of 14 miles per hour during that span. Translation: Our traffic jams will be worse than they are today after spending $152 billion.

Rising congestion is quite simply the result of the growing gap between supply and demand for roadway capacity. There are more cars on our roads, many driving longer distances, but we are not adding the road capacity needed to keep pace.

Metro's long-range plan proposes spending about 33 percent of its funds on the roadway system, which carries more than 95 percent of the travel in L.A. County. This will ensure rapidly declining mobility for the overwhelming majority of travelers in the county. In no other walk of life would you find a business that would dedicate just 33 percent of its resources to service 95 percent of its customer demand.

There are a lot of incentives and pressures for Metro's plan to underinvest in roads, but the $213 million federal Urban Partnership Program grant is a chance to turn the plan around.

For the last seven years, most new highway capacity added in Los Angeles County came in the form of carpool lanes. But as professor Pravin Varaiya and his colleagues at UC Berkeley found, carpool lanes actually make things worse. Their study found high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes cause "a net increase in overall congestion delay. HOV actuation does not significantly increase person throughput."

Yet, most of the money set to be spent on L.A.'s roads over the next two decades would curiously go to carpool lanes. That's why this federal grant is so important.

Changing lanes

The bulk of the federal money would be used to convert carpool lanes on portions of the 10, 210, 710, 605, 110 and 60 freeways into toll lanes. Tolls on the lanes would be variably priced, adjusting during the day in order to ensure the lanes are always free flowing at 55 miles per hour. This means tolls would be highest during morning and evening rush hours, and much lower at off-peak times.


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