Metro officials are recommending toll roads for the carpool-lane project for Interstate 5, following a staff recommendation Wednesday.
“(The agenda item) is to get authorization to have that as the locally preferred alternative,” said Mark Dierking, Metro community relations manager. “It’s basically to say it’s Metro’s preferred option for expansion.”
The project is far from a done deal, according to Metro official, who say the move is a formality, and characterized the process as about halfway to where it needs to be for approval.
Right now, the project has been approved as high occupancy-vehicle, or carpool, lanes.
Caltrans officials have cited the need for additional lanes on the I-5 but, citing a lack of funds for the project, they say it may take decades to get additional lanes built.
“Metro is proposing to widen the I-5 freeway in the Santa Clarita area in five years instead of 30 years,” said Lan Saadatnejadi, executive officer for Metro’s Highway Program, in a recent interview.
“This will reduce congestion, improve safety and provide jobs to the people of the Santa Clarita and Los Angeles area,” she said.
Metro is looking for funding partnerships for the program because the project, which would cost approximately $310 million, only has about 75 percent of the necessary funds available.
The move is drawing ire from city officials who have said it’s not right to have to charge Santa Clarita Valley commuters twice to have the roads they need to get to work.
City Councilwoman Marsha McLean said she was in favor of improving the I-5 commute, but she wanted to make sure it was done with the consent of as many of those who would be affected as possible.
She didn’t think many people were aware of how far along the process was, and the feedback that she’d heard locally did not seem to be in favor of the project.
“I know it’s a choice, but I just think that we need to find the money to do this without charging people to use the lanes,” McLean said.
Metro officials acknowledged that there might be some misinformation out there about the project, but they were conducting outreach to try and address those concerns and questions.
City Councilman TimBen Boydston objected to a toll-lane because he likened it to double taxation.
“I don’t like the idea that the people of California would have to pay for the toll roads twice,” he said. “The toll roads are being built with tax money — gas tax money. The state promises us to build roads with its gas tax money and now they want to charge us.”
The pay lanes would have a guaranteed minimum speed of 45 mph at all times, according to Metro officials.
If the project receives local approvals, the project will be submitted to the California Transportation Commission in October or November, Dierking said.
The next meeting that will address the toll-lane project will be the MTA board meeting next Thursday at Metro headquarters at 1 Gateway Plaza in downtown Los Angeles.
The building is right next to Union Station, if Santa Clarita Valley commuters wish to make the trip. The meeting will take place at 9 a.m.
Public comment on the toll-lane project also may be submitted via email at email@example.com