There’s no doubt that I-405 is one of the most congested freeways in the nation. If you totaled the populations of Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Seal Beach and Westminster, it would not equal the number of travelers on average using that corridorevery day from all over the state and beyond. That’s why Orange County voters added I-405 to its list of projects for Measure M-the half cent sales tax specifically for mobility improvements-which Orange County Business Council strongly supported.
Caltrans recently declared its support for OCTA’s plan to improve I-405 by adding a new general purpose or “free” lane in each direction from SR-73 to I-605, but Caltrans wants to add two express lanes or “toll” lanes as well. OCTA would build the general purpose lanes using Measure M funds, and Caltrans would build the express lanes if and when they find other state or federal funding. Even though this plan will improve congestion in the corridor, Caltrans decision troubles a few coastal residents who don’t want to pay tolls.
At OCBC, we acknowledge their concerns-tolling is new to this coastal area, but certainly not new to Orange County with the choices travelers now have on SR-91 and South Orange County’s toll roads. Toll lanes are being planned in almost every urban California county-new state laws mandating sustainability, more robust transit options, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions are clear signals that the days of the usual major freeway widening are over. Orange County should not be silent, however. Given Caltrans’ decision, stakeholders must advance the debate beyond tolls or no tolls and pivot to the real question: how can this project work best for residents, visitors and commuters, while protecting Measure M’s promises to efficiently deliver traffic improvements? OCBC urges Caltrans to adopt four core principles:
- 2+ Ride Free. Only solo drivers should pay tolls in the new express lanes. In order to encourage carpools and maximize driver’s choices, two or more passengers should ride for free. This keeps the promise of free carpool lanes but also takes single drivers out of the general purpose lanes–freeing up capacity for the rest of us–should they wish to pay for a “time certain” ride-to get to their son’s soccer match or daughter’s Girl Scout Troop meeting, for example.
- Continuous Access. Some businesses along I-405 are concerned about restrictive ingress and egress points in the express lanes that could cause drivers to miss exits and bypass local commerce. OCBC urges “continuous access” along the express lane route, using the latest technology, to allow maximum access and exit. We do not have to be stuck with traditional barriers or 10 year old transponder technology. There are far more efficient ways to enter and exit express lanes.
- Local Control of Funding. It has been estimated that over $2 billion of revenue could be generated from the I-405 express lanes. OCBC would have preferred that OC elected officials at OCTA control that funding stream just like they control the billions of dollars that come from SR-91. Nevertheless, Caltrans must agree to use the revenue for the express lanes, and any excess revenue from tolling must be used for traffic improvements in the Orange County I-405 corridor. Further, OCTA should be given the option of operating the toll facilities as they have experience.
- Protect Taxpayer Dollars. Whenever two public agencies like OCTA and Caltrans make improvements in one corridor like I-405, there are significant coordination challenges. It is imperative that OCTA and Caltrans plan, execute and implement an effective inter-agency agreement to ensure maximum efficiency in project design, construction and ultimate delivery. Taxpayer dollars are precious and limited. OCBC strongly asserts that Measure M dollars must be protected to meet the promises made to OC voters.
OCBC’s Bryan Starr testified today at OCTA in support of these principles. The meeting ended with a majority of the board voting no on a motion that opposes toll lanes on the I-405, recommending to move forward with Caltrans’ plan. OCBC will continue to engage with Caltrans and OCTA, advocating these principles, to ensure I-405 is the best it can be for Orange County as well as California travelers. Join with us. Together we must secure these assurances for Orange County. CLICK HERE for an Orange County Register editorial in support of the I-405 toll lanes. CLICK HERE to read Voice of OC’s article, “Transportation officials battle over toll lanes proposal.”For more information, contact Bryan Starr, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs.