Mon, 03/25/2013 - 9:57am
California Department of Transportation  officials are holding a public hearing Thursday at Santa Clarita  City Hall on a report for their Interstate 5 HOT lanes proposal.
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The report cites no significant environmental impact for the High-Occupancy Toll lanes project, which is being looked at as a possible addition to the non-toll HOV truck lane project that was already approved.
The initial project, which was OK’ed in September 2009, is widening I-5 from the Highway 14 interchange heading northbound to Parker Road in Castaic.
The addendum, which is now being heard for public input, adds an additional toll lane during the same 13.5-mile stretch of road.
The public hearing will take place from 6:30-8:30 p.m.at Council Chambers, which is located at 23920 Valencia Blvd.
If you would like to view a copy of the Environmental Impact Report that is being discussed, in advance of the hearing, one may be viewed by clicking here .
A copy of the report may also be requested at the city’s Department of Community Development  at City Hall, or at the Valencia or Castaic libraries.
Written comments on the project must be submitted by April 15.
Metro  officials are trying to get the word out about a partnership that they say will speed up the process for much needed local carpool lanes on Interstate 5.
The project they are proposing would be a first-of-its-kind project for the area, a public-private partnership that would add toll-road HOV lanes for Santa Clarita Valley commuters.
“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. “This will reduce congestion, improve safety and provide jobs to the people of the Santa Clarita and Los Angeles area.”
The proposal would seek a construction company to build one southbound and one northbound carpool lane on Interstate 5 from Parker Road in Castaic to Highway 14. The project would also repave the existing lanes and add a truck lane on the southbound side of Interstate 5.
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.
Those funds are also only available through incremental distributions that would take place over the next 30 years, Saadatnejadi said.
The current standard rate for a transponder, is $40 for an initial purchase, which is a statewide standard, according to Metro officials. It’s the same rate for a unit that would be sold for any type of toll road in California, such as those already in use in Northern California.
There is a minimum of a $3 monthly charge for the transponder if it’s not used at least three times, but other than that, the rates for travel on these propose lanes have yet to be determined, and would need approval from the state’s Department of Transportation.
Metro officials are trying to emphasize that they aren’t creating lanes that commuters would have to pay for, they are looking to add a pay-per-drive option.
The pay lanes would have a guaranteed minimum speed of 45 mph at all times, according to Metro officials.
There were also a few other stipulations:
Motorcycles and vehicles with three or more people, including carpools, buses and vans, would not have to pay to use the lanes.
Vehicles with two occupants would only have to pay during rush hour.
Metro officials said if approved, the fees would likely be part of the commute for a 35-year lease, at which time, their extension would be a policy decision.
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City Councilman TimBen Boydston said the city hasn’t taken an official position on the project, however, in his personal opinion, it’s not a bad idea if the project can significantly increase the time it takes to relieve congestion -- with one important caveat.
“As long as there’s a free alternative, and as long as a private company is paying for all of the construction, and as long as the people are not guaranteeing the bonds -- then I think that might, in theory, be a good idea as a way to expedite the lanes,” he said.
“Everybody wants to get rid of the congestion,” Boydston said. “But however we go about doing that, the taxpayers should not have to pay twice.”
Metro officials said that a best-case scenario for construction plans would have construction started around January 2015, assuming the public hearing goes well and environmental approvals are given, in addition to state DOT approvals.