A Toll of Many Cities

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The San Diego Freeway (405) is one of the most congested roads in Orange County, serving more than 300,000 vehicle trips on certain sections each day.

That volume is estimated to grow by more than 10 percent in the next 25 years. Drivers of the 405 Freeway between Newport Beach and Long Beach will be very interested in the current negotiations between the Orange County Transit Authority (OCTA) and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans.)

OCTA plans to widen the 405 Freeway with one regular lane in each direction. These improvements would be funded by half-cent sales tax revenue from Measure M, approved by Orange County voters in 1990 and extended in 2006 to alleviate traffic congestion.

Caltrans supports a more ambitious proposal. In addition to the OCTA regular lane, Caltrans would build a second new lane. The existing 405 Freeway carpool lane would combine with the newly constructed Caltrans lane and the two lanes would operate together as toll lanes. The result would be one new regular lane and two new toll lanes in each direction. The toll at peak usage is estimated to be $9.40 for a one-way trip.

A group of “Corridor Cities” along the route opposes the toll lanes. They claim Caltrans is hijacking Measure M funds to pay for toll lanes they could not otherwise afford to construct. They term the toll lanes “Lexus Lanes” and are concerned the cost will force less affluent drivers to spill over onto adjacent surface streets, resulting in additional congestion in those communities.

The Corridor Cities instead propose two new free lanes. The result would be the addition of one regular lane and one carpool lane to combine with the existing 405 Freeway carpool lane.

Caltrans counters that the toll lanes will actually decrease traffic and relieve congestion, as long distance ride sharing will result in fewer cars on the road. Caltrans indicates the toll lanes will be free for two or more occupants; only single occupant vehicles will pay.

The Corridor Cities consider this a ruse and predict Caltrans will ultimately limit the free use of the toll lanes to three or more occupants.

This issue affects anyone who drives the 405 Freeway. On November 12, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the Civic Center Community Room at City Hall, join Speak Up Newport at a free presentation regarding the pros and cons of the proposed toll lanes.

Caltrans District Director Ryan Chamberlain will explain Caltrans’ reasons for proposing the toll lanes. Westminster City Councilwoman Diana Carey and Seal Beach Mayor Pro Tem Gary Miller, both “Corridor Cities” representatives, will explain why they do not support the toll lane proposal.

And plan ahead – Part Two of the Speak Up Newport presentation will be on Wednesday, January 14, 2015, with additional discussion about refinancing the 73 Toll Road and opportunities to relieve traffic congestion in Newport Beach.

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