OC Transportation Officials Reject Alternative to I-405 Toll Lanes

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A group of Orange County transportation officials on Monday rejected a proposal by city leaders who are trying to avoid installation of toll lanes on Interstate 405 in north Orange County.

The move, by the Orange County Transportation Authority’s Regional Planning and Highways Committee, sets the stage for a confrontation at next Monday’s full transportation board meeting, where toll lane opponents are calling on members of the public to show up in force and speak out.

A coalition of city leaders along the northern end of the 405 unveiled a plan last week that calls for adding one general purpose lane and one carpool lane to the freeway between Costa Mesa and Seal Beach instead of the toll lanes backed by Caltrans, the state’s transportation agency.

Supporting the alternative proposal are city leaders in Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Westminster, Fountain Valley, Los Alamitos and Seal Beach

Supporters of the alternative, including Westminster Councilwoman Diana Carey, spoke up Monday during public comments to advocate for their plan.

That plan, however, doesn’t appear to have been studied as part of the project’s lengthy environmental review process. Going that route would, in all likelihood, significantly delay the project.

Along those lines, OCTA management argued any further delay would add tens of millions of dollars to the project’s cost.

“Taking an 18-month delay – this is just a forecast it’s not absolute – but that’s in the neighborhood of $55- to $60 million dollars,” said OCTA CEO Darrell Johnson said at the meeting, according to the Orange County Register.

Committee members said delays cost about $3.3 million per month, according to the Register.

The highways committee ultimately rejected the plan, voting 7-1 to stay the course on a plan that calls for spending $1.3 billion to add just one general purpose lane to that section of the 405.

Committee member Gary Miller, who is also a Seal Beach councilman, was the sole dissenting vote. He has been an outspoken opponent of toll lanes on the 405.

Regardless of whether toll lanes are installed, the 405 widening project involves dismantling and rebuilding 17 bridges along that portion of the freeway, which officials describe as the busiest freeway section in the country.

Caltrans then plans to use that widened space to add a toll lane and convert the existing carpool lane into a second high-occupancy toll lane.

Caltrans officials say they’re working hard to ensure that carpools will be allowed into the toll lanes for free.

Toll lane opponents like Carey, meanwhile, have argued that such toll-free policies can be reversed after the lanes are built.

The full board would ultimately decide whether to pursue the cities’ proposal.

Next week’s meeting starts Monday, Sept. 22, at 9 a.m. at OCTA headquarters (550 S. Main St., Orange). Click here for a map.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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