Toll Lane Debate Stirred Up by State Decision

Given a recent state decision to place toll lanes on the 405 freeway in Orange County, Monday’s county transportation meeting is expected to feature a heated debate.

Officials with Caltrans announced Friday they would eventually be placing toll lanes on the freeway, arguing they would speed up traffic and raise much-needed revenue for freeway projects.

It sets up what will likely be a drawn-out confrontation between state and local officials in Orange County.

When the idea of toll lanes on Interstate 405 came to the fore last fall, the backlash was fierce.

Numerous elected officials and business representatives protested, calling the proposal – among other things – a violation of a promise to voters for Measure M2, the county’s half-percent sales tax for transportation upgrades.

And earlier this month, Orange County Transportation Authority or OCTA Director Frank Ury said regional and state officials are slated to “bludgeon” the county with pressure to add the lanes.

The toll lanes, called Lexus lanes by opponents, create two categories of drivers. Those who can afford it, can pay the tolls and use special lanes to avoid heavy traffic. Those who can’t afford it, stay in traffic jams in the free lanes.

Local officials are already reacting to Caltrans’ decision.

“It is unconscionable and unprecedented that Caltrans would ignore the clear direction of the OCTA Board and the local communities,” Westminster Councilwoman Diana Carey, who represents a coalition of cities along the 405, wrote in an email Friday.

OCTA staff, meanwhile, generally agree with Caltrans that toll lanes would be the most efficient option for reducing traffic congestion.

The transportation board meeting starts Monday at 9 a.m. at OCTA’s headquarters in Orange.

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

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