The following is a press release from an organization unaffiliated with Voice of OC. The views expressed here are not those of Voice of OC.

Jan. 5, 2016

FOR MORE INFORMATION:                        
Joel Zlotnik (714) 560-5713
Eric Carpenter (714) 560-5697

91 Express Lanes Bonds Upgraded 

Fitch Ratings cites solid financial outlook and management as reasons for jump

ORANGE – Fitch Ratings announced that it has upgraded the rating of the Orange County Transportation Authority’s 91 Express Lanes Series 2013 Refunding Bonds to A from A-.

The A rating is an upgrade by one of the nation’s leading rating agencies reflecting what Fitch said was the 91 Express Lanes stronger-than-expected traffic and revenue performance, largely a result of improving economic conditions and lower gas prices.

“The 91 Express Lanes, now celebrating 20 years of serving drivers, continues to be a shining example of innovation in the transportation industry,” said OCTA Chairman Jeff Lalloway, also an Irvine councilman. “Those who use the express lanes know they are consistent, reliable and, most importantly, allow those drivers to spend less time in traffic and more time with their families – all factors clearly recognized by Fitch.”

The 91 Express Lanes is a four-lane, 10-mile toll road in the median of SR-91, one of Southern California’s most heavily traveled freeways and a critical link between job centers in Orange County and housing in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. It opened in December 1995.

In upgrading the rating, Fitch said that the rating outlook is stable in part because of the Express Lane’s long history, solid long-term prospects for continued traffic growth, strong debt-service coverage, and no plans for further debt issuance.

In July 2013, the OCTA board approved the issuance of the 91 Express Lanes Series 2013 Refunding Bonds (the current outstanding balance is $114.4 million). In the 2014-15 fiscal year, the 91 Express Lanes traffic and revenue increased 6.8 percent and 9.3 percent, respectively, outperforming the growth rates Fitch had expected in an earlier credit review.

“This upgrade by Fitch comes as a result of attending the annual meeting in New York with financial rating agencies, investors, and underwriters and reflects the excellent management and performance of the 91 Express Lanes,” said OCTA Director Todd Spitzer, who serves as chairman of the OCTA Finance and Administration Committee and is the county’s Third District Supervisor.

Spitzer, who attended the New York meetings with OCTA Vice Chair Lori Donchak and OCTA CEO Darrell Johnson, served as OCTA board chairman in 2002, helping negotiate OCTA’s purchase of the lanes from the private company that built them.

The 91 Express Lanes, which solely uses electronic tolling, was the first fully automated toll road in the world and the nation’s first to employ variable pricing. With two lanes in each direction, toll prices vary by hour, day of the week and direction of travel based on a predetermined toll schedule that optimizes traffic flow.

Since OCTA purchased the 91 Express Lanes in January 2003, the objective has been to maximize the number of cars traveling through the SR-91 corridor, rather than maximizing revenue.

The success of the 91 Express Lanes in Orange County has prompted the Riverside County Transportation Commission to start construction of an extension of the tolled express lanes into Riverside County, set to open in 2017.

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