Tuesday, April 28, 2015

OCTA Board: It's Toll Lanes For The I-405!

By now many of you who pay attention to this stuff may have read one of the many articles, like the one by Anthony Clark Carpio in the Daily Pilot, HERE, describing the decision by the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) Board Monday to take the lead on the scheme to widen the I-405 and turn part of that taxpayer-funded roadway into a toll road.

As you know, this has been a hotly-debated issue for years, with many cities along the I-405 corridor between Costa Mesa and Seal Beach joining forces as the 405 Freeway Cities Coalition to attempt to see the widening of the highway to include only free lanes in addition to the one High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane.
In the captioned article you'll find the curious deciding factor expressed by the President of the OCTA Board, Jeff Lalloway.  He is quoted as saying, "If we don't do it, Caltrans is going to do it.  And if Caltrans does it, no one's going to like it."  They apparently recognized that Caltrans has a gun to their heads, so they took what they hope will be a preemptive strike.  However,  Caltrans is still the BIG DOG, so I wonder just how the OCTA Board can feel comfortable that it may not come calling later - after all the heavy-lifting is done - and snatch excess toll revenues from the OCTA and the taxpayers who approved Measure M.

You may recall this chart, which shows all the alternatives considered.  The "preferred alternative" chosen by the coalition was Number 2.  What we're going to end up with is #3, which adds two lanes to the roadway each direction, one of which will be a toll lane, and converts the existing HOV lane into a toll lane, too.
One of the big sticking points is the fact that the corridor cities will be shut out of access to that traffic traveling on the toll road because there will be no off ramps to those cities.  If, for example, a person coming from San Juan Capistrano wants to shop at South Coast Plaza she will have to get off at Magnolia and come back to an off ramp from the non-toll lanes.  Remember when the 73 Toll Road was being hyped as "only 12 minutes from Capistrano to South Coast Plaza!"?  Well, that's over unless the existing off ramp at Bear Street is retained, and city traffic officials tell me that's not in the plan.  It makes me wonder where the Segerstrom family has been in this discussion?  Certainly, there have been no public utterances from them during the long years of debate on this issue.  It seems odd, since they have the potential to lose a lot of revenue from this plan.  Here's what Alternate #3 looks like.
According to the news reports, the current plan will provide free access to the toll lanes for cars with two or more passengers, but only for 3 years.  And, since it's likely that the toll collection apparatus will be automatic, reading your license plate and charging your account, how will that work, exactly?  Will the cameras across the roadway count the heads in the cars and NOT tally a toll?  Do we have the technology to recognize a sleeping child on the back seat.  Or even small children sitting in the third row of an SUV?  How's that going to work, exactly?

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, a major opponent of this scheme, is quoted as saying "If we can have two or more [passengers in a vehicle], that solves a lot of our issues"?  Really?  That was NEVER part of his dialog against the toll lanes in the past.  His pitch was lack of access to or from them, and that he'd have to back track to almost Newport Beach to enter the toll lane heading north or south.

So, presuming this scheme now moves forward - you can read the timeline HERE, we will now see the destruction of our virtually brand new Fairview Road bridge over the I-405 - a project that cost millions  to complete less than 5 years ago - and the chaos and inconvenience to thousands of Costa Mesa commuters daily.  And, the widening project itself is going to cause major problems for Costa Mesa neighborhoods that back up to the right-of-way in the form of pile driving at all hours of the day and night and the interminable dust and dirt falling on them during construction.
It certainly appears that this is really all about the money.  If Caltrans controls the project it calls the shots as to where the tolls in excess of the building costs will be spent.  OCTA thinks it can keep those bucks here in Orange County.  Sadly, this seems to be less about moving traffic efficiently than about the cash to be collected by those in what former Mayor Eric Bever - a major outspoken opponent to the chosen alternative - referred to as the "Lexus Lanes".  I always thought that was a curious statement from a guy who drives an Audi.

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