Fact not Fiction on the I-405 New Free and Toll Lanes

I was troubled with the misinformation in Supervisor John Moorlach’s Oct. 25 column in the Orange County Register, “Problem with carpool lanes on toll roads” and it is time to set the record straight.

Moorlach opposes Orange County Transportation Authority’s (OCTA) recent decision to reconsider the addition of one free lane and one express lane (also known as “managed lane” or “toll lane”) to the I-405 between the I-73 and the I-605. The business community strongly supports OCTA’s “alternative 3.”

There are several fallacies in the article. First, the claim that, “If you can’t afford to pay $1.40 per mile for the 50 mile stretch on the San Diego Freeway from Camp Pendleton to Seal Beach Boulevard, then it’s time to speak up,” is completely false. The stretch of freeway under consideration for express lanes extends 14 miles from  SR-73 to SR-22 East. No toll pricing has been suggested. Moorlach’s $1.40 per mile figure is irrelevant, drawn from LA’s I-110 Harbor Freeway toll, which operates under its unique budget constraints. The good news from LA, however, is that recent data from their “Express Lanes Performance Update” shows that commute times have been dramatically cut, and more drivers than ever are using the I-110 since employing express lanes.  By the way, I use this toll lane frequently to make LA meetings on time from Irvine.

Second, it is not true that the OCTA Board “wants to build the managed lanes first in order to lay claim to the toll revenues,” and that “OCTA sees the tolls as a substitute taxing mechanism that will continue long after Measure M2 has expired.”  Should express lanes be implemented, construction will be simultaneous with the new “free” lanes. And the “free” lanes will be funded by Measure M, while toll revenue will pay for the construction of the toll lane, as well as future maintenance and improvements.

Next, when voters renewed Measure M in 2006, they knew the I-405 freeway is one of the most congested freeways in California and that action was needed. But freeways are owned, controlled and funded by Sacramento.  Orange County voters could have waited and suffered until that funding showed up some day but instead took the lead to advance a local solution, local funding and local control and improve traffic for the region on a state road.  Orange County voters—not Sacramento as Moorlach asserts—want the I-405 improved.  Sacramento is out of money for infrastructure improvements.  I know.  I serve on the California Transportation Commission representing Orange County in approving projects and funding.  Your gas taxes aren’t cutting it any more.  According to OCTA and Caltrans, your 39 cents of tax on a gallon of gas is designated for the design, construction and maintenance of freeways.  But the real cost?  $1.19. No one is paying their “fair share” any more.  Thank goodness for smart voters in Orange County and for Measure M solutions like the I-405.  Moorlach apparently supports that you be taxed via smartphone and “be billed for the miles driven times the premium for the lanes selected.”  When that system is ready to go, let’s debate it.  For now, we must use the tools we have.

Orange County’s population is expected to grow 7.5% by 2040, adding more traffic to an already stressed system. And more folks commute to Orange County from all surrounding counties than ever before.  Efficient movement of people and goods is critical to the county’s economic competitiveness.  The days of razing hundreds of businesses and thousands of homes along a freeway to widen and build ten new “free” lanes in each direction are long gone. Not one house or business will be taken in OCTA’s I-405 improvement plan, yet with one new free lane and one new toll lane–a choice to use only if and when you need it–traffic relief can occur.

Orange County Business Council urges the OCTA board to lead once again in innovation and approve alternative 3 for the I-405.

CLICK HERE for to learn more about transportation funding in California.  For more information, contact Bryan Starr, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs.

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