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UPDATED: Toll lanes proposal draws crowd

Posted: March 28, 2013 10:44 p.m.
Updated: March 28, 2013 10:44 p.m.
 

A proposal to charge tolls to offset the cost of constructing two new carpool lanes on Interstate 5 through the Santa Clarita Valley came under fire from residents during a public hearing Thursday night in City Hall.

About 40 people attended the public hearing to give feedback on the proposal, which officials with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority say will allow new freeway lanes to be built from Parker Road in Castaic to the I-5 junction with Highway 14 in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Officials from the California Department of Transportation will continue to collect public comment on the project until April 15. After that date, the project will be reevaluated based on that input.

As it stands, Metro is examining constructing the lanes through a private-public partnership, where a private company would assume the initial costs of constructing the lanes.

This would allow the project to be finished by 2019, said Chris Margaronis, the project’s director.

Margaronis said it would also help shore up a $100 million funding gap the project currently faces.

Without the private-public partnership, Margaronis said the project would be funded through $310 million in Measure R and Proposition C sales tax revenues, which are paid out annually from now until 2040.

However, the projected cost of the project is $410 million.

"2040 is a long time away," Margaronis said. "We’re really looking at how we can build the project now and get the benefits of these lanes sooner rather than later."

In addition to constructing the two new lanes, Metro plans to resurface all of the lanes along the I-5 stretch from Parker Road to Highway 14, Margaronis said.

Margaronis said Metro has not yet determined how much tolls to use the lanes would be, but estimated they would fall between 25 cents and $1.40 per mile.

Some at the hearing, however, said they see the toll lanes as a cash-grab from the state.

"Time is priceless, and our state wants the taxpayers to pay for it," said Larry McClements, who has commuted to work in Los Angeles for the last 15 years.

Several residents who live near the freeway said they think sound walls should be placed along the route in order to block noise.

"If this is going to be a toll road and Metro will make money off it then they should do what they can to keep us clean and happy and keep the sound down," said Heather Lucchese, who lives next to the freeway.

Not everybody at the meeting was opposed to the project, however.

Doug Arseneault spoke on behalf of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association — an advocacy group based in Sherman Oaks — and said the group supports the project because easier flow of traffic typically leads to increased commercial activity.

"We hope this can be a model to fast-track other projects in this area," Arseneault said.

Margaronis said the decision on what level the tolls would be set at will most likely come at the end of the year if Metro decides to move forward with the project.

A person driving in a car alone would be subject to a per-mile toll at all times and any car with fewer than three people would have to pay the toll during peak travel hours, according to Margaronis.

Tolls would also vary depending on the time of day and lane congestion. This means the lanes would be more expensive to use during rush hour than at a non-peak time.

In return, drivers would have a guarantee that traffic in the toll lanes will not drop below 45 mph, Margaronis said.

Buses, van pools and motorcycles would be allowed to use the lanes for free at all times and trucks would not be allowed to use the lanes at any time, Margaronis said.

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