Are Toll Lanes the Answer for the Sepulveda Pass?

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The Sepulveda pass in Los Angeles has a reputation, and it’s not a good one. This 10-mile stretch that connects the San Fernando Valley to West Los Angeles via the 405 freeway and Sepulveda Blvd. has been a traffic nightmare for decades. Although the county sunk over a billion dollars into adding carpool lanes just five years ago, traffic on the freeway is worse than before the expansion. That’s a very costly mistake.

  • Traffic in the Sepulveda Pass in Los Angeles is notoriously bad.
  • A billion dollar project that added carpool lanes to the 405 to ease congestion was a bust.
  • Searching for other solutions, the Los Angeles Metro Authority has commissioned a study to assess the efficacy of toll roads.

The addition of carpool lanes on the 405 only served to make commute times worse. (Photo: Getty Images)

Carpool lanes are failures

An article on Curbed Los Angeles gives perspective on the carpool lane failure, citing some troubling stats. Carpool lanes were created to give advantage to those buddying up on their commute. However, carpoolers didn’t move any faster than those traveling solo in general purpose lanes. Although the Federal Highway Administration mandates a minimum 45 mile per hour average in a carpool lane, carpoolers aren’t reaching those speeds. Instead, the average is 25 to 35 miles per hour during peak traffic.

When the carpool lane is poking along, that also defeats the purpose of Metro’s express bus to shuttle people quickly through the pass. The article on Curbed states that a trip from Van Nuys to Westwood takes a quick 20 minutes if you get ahead of the morning rush. Miss that window and you’ll be sitting in traffic for almost an hour – three times as long.

In search of another solution, the Los Angeles Metro Authority is now exploring if toll lanes might ease the gridlock with a $27 million-dollar study. The money comes from a 2016 voter approved half-cent tax increase to fund transit projects.

The promise of ExpressLanes

Metro’s plan is to convert carpool lanes into ExpressLanes, similar to those on the 10 and 110 freeways. The way it works is that drivers with only one occupant would pay per mile for the privilege of circumventing the mass of traffic in general purpose lanes. A transponder would keep track of miles travelled. Those who carpooled with two or three people in the vehicle could use ExpressLanes for free.

By 2026, carpool lanes on the 405 could be replaced by ExpressLanes, which require a toll to use. (Photo: Getty Images)

Curb refers to a Metro report from earlier this year, where several scenarios were considered for ExpressLanes in the Sepulveda Pass. One was to utilize existing lanes, restriping them to create two toll lanes in either direction. If the report’s projections are correct, just one toll lane on both North and South bound directions would increase travel speeds up to 31 miles per hour for those choosing to travel Express. With car volume subsequently eased in general purpose lanes, those drivers would see an increase of up to 9 miles per hour.

With the study, Metro plans to find out if  building the ExpressLanes will justify the $260 million expense. As of now, the toll lanes project is scheduled to open in 2026.


Gridlock and commute times cost time, money and aggravation. Cities need to find ways to ease traffic. While toll lanes could provide a solution, it does give unfair advantage to those wealthy enough to afford them.

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