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UPDATE 1-U.S. awards $75 million loan to California county to extend high occupancy vehicle lanes

(Adds more details, background on HOV lanes)

WASHINGTON, Oct 5 (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Department on Wednesday awarded a $75 million low-interest loan to a California county to construct a 7.5-mile extension of the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes.

The Santa Barbara County Local Transportation Authority will use the loan to expand the carpool lanes on busy U.S. 101. The county's $456 million highway project also includes rebuilding interchanges and other improvements and is expected to be completed in 2025. Southern California has among the most congested highways in the United States.

California allows solo drivers of electric vehicles to obtain stickers to use high occupancy vehicle lanes to incentivize the purchase of zero-emission vehicles.

Studies say the HOV access has been a key factor in many EV purchases. The sticker program is currently set to expire in 2025. Southern California has more than 700 miles of HOV lanes. (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)