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Drivers on Los Angeles Freeways May Soon Need to Pay Toll

People driving vehicles in some of the freeways in Los Angeles may soon be required to pay extra charges according to a policy said to focus on resolving existing traffic congestion.

By summer, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is expected to release a blueprint for its congestion pricing scheme where people pay to drive their vehicles in city centers, said a May 30 report by Los Angeles Times. Congestion pricing will be implemented in certain high-frequency routes on freeways.

For its test program, the agency has identified three locations—the canyon streets and freeways connecting San Fernando Valley to the Los Angeles Basin, arterial streets and freeways around downtown, and an almost 16-mile stretch of the 10 Freeway between downtown and Santa Monica.

In the name of promoting cleaner air and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by forcing people to use public transportation facilities, drivers who do not pay the toll could be forced out of the roads. The plan also claims to bring in more funds for the agency.

In an interview with the outlet, Mark Vallianatos, who is overseeing a feasibility study at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said that the agency would make its findings public in the coming months. “It’s really about making it easier for those who drive to get where they need to go faster, more reliably,” he said.

However, it is not clear how the agency plans to sell its congestion pricing scheme to people who have, till now, been driving on roads for free. The proposal is expected to face strong opposition from politicians.

Bad Deal for Certain Areas

Some locals are concerned that charging for road access could divert traffic away from particular neighborhoods and put businesses in these regions at risk. Valliantos insists that congestion pricing will not be a “revenue-first approach.”

Instead, “it’s like a ‘can this help solve traffic’ approach. And then ‘can we use some of the net revenues to improve other ways that people can get around into and through that area’ approach.” The pilot program aims to offer subsidies for carpoolers and low-income drivers.

The California Department of Transportation has hired an expert to oversee the pricing of roadways. The Federal Highway Administration is looking to seek nominations for an advisory committee to establish the parameters for the pilot program.

According to data from Inrix’s Global Traffic Scorecard, commuters who made their way to and from Los Angeles lost 95 hours to traffic congestion last year.

According to a 2019 report by Los Angeles Times, the  Metropolitan Transportation Authority estimates that if the congestion pricing is set on a per-mile basis, it could raise $102 billion in revenues in more than a decade. A fee for entering downtown can raise $12 billion.

New Road Charge System

While the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority mulls on congestion pricing, the state of California is preparing to make the transition from gas taxes to a new road charge system.

In October 2021, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 339 that approved an extended road usage charge (RUC) pilot program effective through Jan. 1, 2027. The program will track California drivers and charge them a tax based on the traveled miles.

The pilot program, which kicked off in March 2023, is aimed at understanding how the state can implement the RUC that will replace the gas tax.

At present, California’s road maintenance and transportation funding primarily comes from the gas tax. However, as drivers switch to electric vehicles and ditch internal combustion engine vehicles, the road charge system is seen as a critical revenue generation model for the state.

“Road Charge is an alternative funding mechanism that allows drivers to support road and highway maintenance based on how many miles they drive, instead of how many gallons of gas they use,” says the California Road Charge website.

“Just like you pay your gas and electric bills based on how much of these utilities you use, a road charge—also called a mileage-based user fee—is a fair and sustainable way to fund road maintenance, preservation, and improvements for all Californians.”

A 2020 executive order by Newsom requires that all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California by 2035 be zero-emission vehicles.

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