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Opinion: Ready for 405 Tolls and Carpool Lanes?

Orange County officials will soon decide whether to expand a 17-mile stretch of the freeway at the L.A. County border with toll lanes and carpool lanes for three or more people.

Diana Lee Carey is a Westminster Traffic Commissioner, I-405 Freeeway Chairman, WCC City Representative, and member of the West County Stakeholders Group – OCTA, OCTA Policy Working Group and OCTA Stakeholders Working Group.

The I-405 Improvement Project is entering the final, critical phase of development. The configuration of the freeway will be decided by the OCTA Board in September, and toll lanes are a prominent feature.

The EIR (Environmental Impact Review) document indicates substantial impacts to the residential communities and business districts of all Cities along the 17-mile corridor from the 73 to the I-605.   While, the corridor Cities all recognize the need to improve the I-405, Seal Beach, Rossmoor, Los Alamitos; Westminster, Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley and Costa Mesa have all come out against the toll/express facility.  Huntington Beach Mayor, Don Hansen, is the only Mayor to speak in support of the toll facility.  Unfortunately, he has a seat on the OCTA Board of Directors.

On July 3, the Long Beach City Council directed its city manager to immediately initiate a strategy to ensure the concerns of Long Beach are addressed in the planning process of the OCTA I-405 project. In 2009, Long Beach asked the OCTA to address 10 issues in the EIR, and only 3 were in the final EIR document.  They too, are concerned about the bottleneck at the County line and the affect on the CA-22, CA-1, I-605 and surrounding streets such as Lakewood, Palo Verde, Bellflower and Woodruff.  

One of the OCTA standard selling points is that everyone uses the toll lanes.  They are fond of the following scenario:  “A mother, who needs to rush her child to the doctor in Irvine, will be able to get there in less than 15 minutes.”  That is providing she has planned ahead for the emergency by pre-purchasing a transponder, setting up an account, and is living near one of two access points at Goldenwest or Magnolia.

Additional concerns raised by the Mayors, and local Chambers of Commerce, are the “pass-through” aspect which will by-passes corridor business districts, including our malls and auto dealerships; the poor performance of some existing toll facilities (think 73); the inability of less affluent motorists to afford these “Lexus Lanes,” and the lack of public authorization for tolls in the M2 document.

So, did voters approve toll lanes when authorizing M2?  No, because when M2 was “field-tested” and tolls were mentioned, it would not have passed.  In fact, the voter pamphlet mentions “freeways” over 150 times and tolls “zero.” And, M2 requires voter approval for all major changes. The OCTA does not consider tolls a major change.  What do you think?

The OCTA is trying to get around this issue by saying no M2 money will be used for the toll lanes, as bond revenue will be used for their construction. Never mind that the reconstruction of all 17 bridges is from M2 money.

Another problem with the toll alternative is that, while our M2 sales tax revenue is used to expand the I-405, when it is complete, the non-toll-paying drivers end up with the same number of “free” lanes as we have now, and about the same amount of congestion.   The OCTA counts the 3+ limited-access HOV lane as a “free” lane, even though a transponder and an account are needed to access the lanes.   But, good news, it will be free to 3+ vehicles “for a while,” after which they will be charged a reduced rate for peak travel times.

Finally, note to the OCTA: See page 13 of the Renewed Measure M Transportation Investment Plan, which states “The improvements will adhere to the recommendations of the Interstate 405 Major Investment Study and will be developed in cooperation with local jurisdictions and affected communities.”

Please, support local cities and let your Supervisor know that following the law is important.  The final vote is Sept. 24 at 9 a.m. in the OCTA board Room.  Act now before it is too late.

Piet Westerbeek lll August 20, 2012 at 08:41 PM
People hate to drive through France because of all the toll roads. So please don't start it here. Reduce pensions and put the extra money to work in roads.

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