The Care and Feeding of I-405: Free Lanes and Express Lanes Together Make Sense

The following op-ed was written by OCBC President and CEO Lucy Dunn, and was first published in Sunday’s OC Register.

For decades, OCTA has been a national leader in innovative traffic solutions. Its board of directors-consisting of members of city councils and the OC board of supervisors-have well-planned for, financed and developed systems that are the envy of other regions. For example, LA is just now getting around to widening the I-5 freeway-a decade after OC’s improvements-in order to stop hearing “why can’t our roads look like Orange County’s” from their residents and visitors as traffic stops at the LA/OC boundary. Orange County has 54 miles of innovative toll roads, the most of any county in California. OC has unique “express lanes” where a motorist can choose to pay a fee (or not) depending on traffic and his need to make his daughter’s soccer game on time.

On the SR 91 freeway, express lanes are funding improvements to the “free” travel lanes. And with Measure M-thanks to our voters–OC has an accountable, sustainable funding mechanism through a ½ cent sales tax for specific voter-approved mobility improvement projects.

But more is needed.

Federal funding for transportation has dissipated; state funding has whittled to a mere 10% of the region’s needs.  Measure M won’t cover every need. And the gas tax hasn’t changed since 1993. California has a $300 billion infrastructure budget deficit over the next 10 years for existing system maintenance, repair and new capacity needs. Turns out, freeways aren’t free.

OCTA directors, however, now face an important crossroads: They know full well that there is insufficient funding from the state and federal governments on the horizon, and Measure M can only go so far. OCTA staff, under the leadership of CEO Will Kempton, has presented the directors with a strong recommendation to improve congestion on the 405 freeway with one new “free” lane in each direction from Euclid to the 605 freeway plus two new express lanes. This is “I-405 Alternative 3” which improves travel time best for most commuters and has the added bonus of creating an additional funding mechanism-controlled by our own local OCTA directors, not the state or the feds-for even more improvements to the I-405 “free” lanes, just like the successful SR 91 express lanes.

Orange County Business Council recognizes enhancing infrastructure investment as a core initiative to maintain this region’s economic prosperity and high quality of life. We join with The Automobile Club of Southern California, transportation experts, labor and business, to strongly support I-405 Alternative 3 and encourage the OCTA directors to vote YES.

Los Angeles is trying to catch up with OC’s history of success in mobility. LA is now adding express lanes to the I-10 and I-110 freeways because of OC’s excellent track record on the SR-91 freeway. OCTA must retain its position as transportation leader and approve Alternative 3 for the I-405.

It makes sense.

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