By Paloma Esquivel, July 25, 2014
Motorists travel on the 405 Freeway through Costa Mesa in November.
State transportation officials are moving forward with a controversial
plan to add toll lanes to a busy stretch of the 405 Freeway in Orange
County despite strong opposition from nearby cities who argue the
so-called "Lexus lanes" will hurt average commuters.
Orange County Transportation Authority board members opted not to
support the toll lanes in favor of a plan that would add one free lane
in each direction, even though they were warned at the time that state
officials may override the decision anyway.
On Friday, the California Department of Transportation announced it
was doing just that, arguing the toll lanes would offer welcome respite
“We’ve got over 400,000 people using the 405
corridor every day,” said Ryan Chamberlain, Orange County district
director for Caltrans. “I’d say there’s going to be a lot of people
celebrating this decision.”
The plan would create two
high-occupancy toll lanes in each direction along a 14-mile stretch of
the freeway from the 605 Freeway to Costa Mesa at an estimated cost of
Despite Orange County's history as a longtime proponent of toll lanes
and roads, the idea of putting pay-to-drive lanes on the 405 Freeway --
in part by using money from the county's half-cent sales tax --
generated heated local resistance and months of rancorous debate.
county transportation officials mulled how best to expand the 405, six
cities along the route banded together to fight what some derisively
referred to as “Lexus lanes,” saying they would put an unfair burden on
commuters, push traffic onto local streets and prevent motorists in toll
lanes from pulling off the highway to patronize local businesses.
Thursday, Caltrans' project development team, which includes OCTA staff
and consultants, recommended the toll lanes option, Chamberlain said.
called the decision a “fantastic” one and said he does not anticipate
departing from the recommendation, though the project’s Environmental
Impact Report will not be finalized for several months.
that HOT lanes benefit commuters because they allow transportation
officials to better manage traffic and provide a consistent option for
The toll lanes expansion “moves more people, moves
more vehicles,” Chamberlain said. “It’s hands-down the most effective
alternative and best performing alternative that we have.”
The Caltrans plan incorporates some of the OCTA proposal, but
generated opposition because it adds the toll component and overtakes an
existing carpool lane to create the two HOT lanes in each direction.
is exploring the possibility of allowing vehicles with two or more
occupants to ride free in the toll lanes, but a final decision has not
been made, Chamberlain said.
The agency expects the bulk of
project funding -- $1.3 billion -- will come from the county’s half-cent
sales tax. But it’s unclear how the remaining $400 million will be
raised. Chamberlain mentioned several possibilities including federal
loans, grants and private investors.