A Free Freeway?

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The Freeways are Full

Unless you live in a vacuum, you know that the traffic on the 405 is bad. During peak hours it is a parking lot. Measure M2 (that is the extension of the Measure M sales tax for an additional 30 years) promised an extra lane on the 405, between the 605 and the 55. Last year the OCTA Board approved what is called Alternative 1 which does just that.

Bait and Switch

Now there is a new Board and they voted in September to re-examine the issue. Many are pushing for what is called Alternative 3. Alt 3 adds the free lane in accordance to Alt 1but also adds a toll lane down the middle of the 405 and converts an already paid for HOV lane to also be a toll lane. The theory is that since Alt 1 is paying for all the bridges along this stretch of freeway to be widened at approximately $1 billion, an additional lane will only cost a mere $100 million extra. Unfortunately M2 did NOT include that additional $100 million. But this comes across that OCTA got us to vote to tax ourselves with M2 and now is charging us tolls on top of the tax! We were promised an extra free general purpose lane and instead we are converting our HOV lane into our free lane and getting 2 new toll lanes.

What is the Excuse?

Obama of course!  No really, there is a Federal Program that funds all Federal Interstate Highways called MAP-21 which stands for, in Obamaspeak, “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century.” The Feds, through Cal Trans, are telling OCTA that the existing HOV lane on the 405 moves too slow. This means OCTA will lose funding or need to increase the speed by converting the HOV lane into an HOV-3 (3 occupants per vehicle). The proposed tollway is OCTA’s way of managing the speed by using congestion pricing (more on that later). Of course if the State didn’t let single occupant Low Emissions Vehicles (LEV) use the HOV lane, the speeds would be acceptable. So I blame the Prius (or Pious as I like to call them).

First Tollway in Orange County

If you remember, the 91 Tollway built two new lanes with private money on the taxpayer owned property in exchange for the right to collect tolls on those new lanes. The taxpayers got two more lanes than we would not have had otherwise. The same is true here for the 405, in that, we will get an additional lane that we would not have otherwise, but unlike the 91 we will have to give up our free HOV lane to accomplish this.

A Road for the Rich

The tolls are proposed to be based on Congestion Pricing, which is the theory that they would adjust the price constantly based on the time of day and the demand for the road, keeping the minimum speed at 45 MPH or above. They are estimating that the congestion price during peak hours on the 405 will be $16 one way and $10 the other way, for a typical peak-hour round trip cost of nearly $26 per day. HOV-3 and LEV (Pious type) cars would be free.

What Can You Do?

The OCTA Board is considering how to proceed at their meeting on Friday, November 8, at 9 a.m. at the OCTA headquarters in Orange. You can sign the online petition to stop the tollroad at keepthe405free.com.


Scott Peotter is an architect and former Planning Commissioner in Newport Beach. Scott can be reached at [email protected].

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  1. Scott – Can we fire or recall these OCTA vermin? Can we sue the OCTA in court? Can we not pay the extra tax for M2? But the most important question is; can motorcycles also ride for free in the new toll lanes like the Pious Prius?