Since 2016, when Los Angeles Voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase funding new transit projects, adding toll lanes in place of existing carpool lanes through the Sepulveda Pass has been on Metro’s long to-do list.
Today, the agency’s Board of Directors took the first step to make that happen, agreeing to spend more than $27 million on a detailed study that will guide design and implementation of express lanes on the 405 freeway.
The project is being developed at the same time as a proposed rail corridor through the Sepulveda Pass, which Metro officials say will eventually ferry riders from the San Fernando to the Valley in under 30 minutes.
Both the rail line and the toll lanes are on a list of 28 projects that Metro aims to complete by the 2028 Olympics, though the former—expected to cost at least $9 billion—could be tougher to expedite.
The $260 million toll lanes project is now scheduled to open in 2026.
Congestion on the 405, particularly through the Sepulveda Pass, has been a persistent problem for decades.
In 2014, after five years of construction, Metro opened a northbound carpool lane between the 10 and 101 freeways (a southbound carpool lane was added 12 years earlier). Since then, peak-hour traffic delays have only worsened, according to traffic analyst Inrix.
The toll lanes Metro is developing would convert those carpool lanes into “ExpressLanes,” similar to those already in place on the 10 and 110 freeways. Drivers with compatible transponders—even those traveling alone—would be able to pay a per-mile fee to use the lanes. Vehicles with either two or three occupants would be exempted from the toll.
Traffic in the carpool lanes now moves nearly as sluggishly as the general purpose lanes, according to a report on the project released earlier this year. Average vehicle speeds in the carpool lanes range between 25 to 35 miles per hour during peak periods, below the 45 mile per hour average mandated for carpool lanes by the Federal Highway Administration.
Those delays also slow down the express bus that Metro launched in 2014, which uses the 405 carpool lanes when traveling between the Valley and the Westside. A trip from Van Nuys to Westwood takes less than 20 minutes just prior to the morning rush and nearly an hour in peak traffic.
The Metro report released earlier this year details several scenarios for the ExpressLanes, including the possibility that the existing lanes could be re-striped to make two toll lanes in either direction. Even with just a single toll lane in either direction, the study projects an increase in peak-hour travel speeds of up to 31 miles per hour for those who pay the fee.
Traffic speeds in general purpose lanes are also predicted to rise by up to 9 miles per hour in peak congestion, if fees are imposed on vehicles with two occupants.
Metro spokesperson Rick Jager says the more comprehensive study approved today will shed more light on whether such projections are realistic, given the potential demand for the toll lanes from solo drivers fed up with gridlock.
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” he says.