SoCal County Approves Toll Lane Project as House Cuts DOT Funding
The San Bernardino County Transportation Authority (SBCTA) has approved a $1.8 billion project to add toll lanes to a 33-mile section of Interstate 10, running from the Los Angeles County line to Redlands. Construction is slated to begin in late 2018, with all toll lanes expected to be operational in 2024.
Some local residents have pushed back against the project, saying the future tolls will add “an undue tax onto our daily lives.” However, County officials say the tolls are necessary to combat projected increases in traffic congestion and pollution.
SCBTA notes that the I-10 Freeway is a major transportation corridor used by more than 263,000 vehicles and more than 20,000 trucks every day. Additionally, the population of San Bernardino County has tripled to 2.1 million in the last 40 years and is expected to increase 60% by 2060. “As the region grows, travel will increase, resulting in more congestion, pollution, and loss of time,” SBCTA said.
For decades, tolls have been a point of contention among drivers who resent the additional fee. However, those fees have become essential for many transportation agencies that use tolls to fund highway upgrades and expansions that are necessary to keep pace with regional growth.
This ‘push and pull’ plays out in counties nationwide, as transportation authorities must rely on local funding strategies, such as adding toll lanes, while federal funding for transportation projects continually comes up short.
Just last week, a House panel approved legislation that would cut funding for the Department of Transportation (DOT) by over half a billion dollars. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development advanced a spending bill to provide $17.8 billion in discretionary funding for the DOT in the fiscal year 2018. That figure is $646 million less than current levels — a 3.7% decrease.
The spending measure would entirely eliminate the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program. The $500 million a year program has been a popular funding tool among cities and states because of its wide range of eligibility.
Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), ranking member on the House appropriations panel, expressed disappointment at the funding cuts. “We are not investing enough in our housing and transportation infrastructure to maintain it, let alone expand it,” he said.
Meanwhile, SBCTA continues to look elsewhere for funds to mitigate the lack of federal investment. The Authority is also considering adding tolled express lanes along the I-15 Freeway in Riverside county, which has a daily vehicle traffic average of about 223,000 and where truck traffic is projected to increase by 2.5% annually.