More Highway Funding Double Standards

View from above of the I-110 ExpressLanes, photo from

LA Times


Last year LA Metro received $210 million to institute high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on interstates 10 and 110; the idea was that they could reduce traffic without widening highways by making better use of carpool lanes. Carpoolers can still use the lanes for free, but now single-occupancy vehicles have access to them too, for a price. Performance on the two sets of ExpressLanes has been mixed but

steadily improving

, and it looks like the end the lanes will ultimately lead to faster commutes for both HOT-lane users and for general traffic on both freeways.

Compared to the cost of widening the interstates, $210 million for improved traffic flow is a great deal, especially when you take into account the fact that a sizable chunk of that money went to expanding Silver Line bus service (which travels in the ExpressLanes on the 110). And it's important that this innovative approach to traffic management be successful, because as 



If the ExpressLanes toll lanes on the 10 and 110 freeways don't deliver on their traffic-reducing promises, the federal government could take back the $210 million in funding they provided, so Metro and Caltrans are keeping a close eye on the pilot program.

Now, I'm all for effective public programs and holding public agencies responsible for the way they spend their money, but do you think a widened freeway has ever been held to this same standard (except when the additional lanes are tolled, perhaps)? In light of the Buy America requirements that severely delayed Houston's light rail and killed the XpressWest high-speed rail project in Vegas, but were

quickly exempted in the case of a $1.3 billion highway widening in the Inland Empire

, somehow I think not. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that highways

rarely improve traffic in the long run

--if they


measured by the same metric as LA's ExpressLanes, we might never see another publicly-financed highway built in this country.