Let me wish you a Happy Halloween for tomorrow. Last night, one speaker did not seem to miss the proximity of this fall observance by stating, “be scared, be very scared.” What made this particular speaker’s remarks so compelling is that he has commuted for years to Los Angeles in the carpool lanes on the San Diego 405 Freeway to the carpool lanes on the Harbor 110 Freeway. With the recent conversion of the carpool lanes to toll lanes his commute has become unbearable, as the lanes end in gridlock, backing up the toll lanes. He had a smooth trip until the pilot project began, and now abhors the last leg of his commute. Hence, his concluding remarks on converting the current carpool lanes to toll lanes, “be scared, be very scared.” Thanks to all who were able to attend and participate in last night’s forum. The first piece is in the OC Register, the second is in the Daily Pilot and Huntington Beach Independent, the third in the Voice of OC, and the fourth in the Los Alamitos-Seal Beach Patch. The event also received significant television coverage, as well.
Forum has no taste for paying I-405 toll
OCTA is to vote Nov. 8 whether to put a price on carpool lanes.
A panel of leaders from Orange County cities that touch the 405-freeway listen to county supervisor John Moorlach express concerns about a proposed toll lane that would run along the 405-freeway during a community meeting in Westminster Tuesday evening.
JOSHUA SUDOCK, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
By DOUG IRVING
WESTMINSTER – Politicians and the public took to an open microphone Tuesday to vent their frustration at a proposal that would transform the carpool lanes on I-405 into pay-as-you-go toll lanes.
The Orange County Transportation Authority’s board is scheduled to vote next week on whether to proceed with tolls on the 405. It’s a bitter idea in the cities that front the freeway, which have fought it for years and hosted Tuesday’s public forum to help rally opposition.
“I already pay taxes for my roads,” said Sheila Cools, 73, of Huntington Beach. “I don’t have to be paying a toll to use it as well.”
The proposal headed to an OCTA vote next Friday would eliminate the free carpool lanes on both sides of the 405 in Orange County and replace them with one or two tolled “express” lanes. An initial financial study concluded that it would only pencil out if two-person carpools still had to pay and only three or more people in a car would qualify for a free ride.
In that case, toll lanes could raise up to $1.5 billion over 30 years, OCTA’s financial study said. That’s one motive behind the tolling idea – Caltrans estimates that it comes up $5 billion short every year just for highway maintenance – but it’s not the only one.
California triggered a provision of federal law when it allowed solo drivers of electric cars and other low-emission vehicles to use carpool lanes. That provision means the state could lose transportation funding if it doesn’t get traffic moving better in some of its most-congested carpool lanes.
Those include the lanes on the 405, and Caltrans has made clear that it will consider tolls as one way to manage traffic if the OCTA chooses not to.
That has swayed some OCTA board members, who worry that Orange County will get stuck with tolls either way but will lose control of the revenue if it doesn’t act first. Caltrans owns the freeway and has the final say over what happens to it.
That argument falls flat in the cities that line the freeway and have joined to fight any attempt to charge tolls. They have sent letters and passed formal resolutions of opposition, arguing that tolls on the 405 would hurt their businesses, cost their commuters and worsen traffic in the free lanes.
On Tuesday, around 150 people crowded into a Westminster community room for a public forum on the toll idea. Not one spoke in favor of it. Huntington Beach Councilman Matthew Harper, who also serves on the OCTA board, drew applause when he said: “They’re freeways. Let’s keep them free.”
“It’s very oppressive. It’s a bait and switch, and a few other terms,” said County Supervisor John Moorlach, who also serves on the OCTA board and, like Harper, has voted against tolling. “This is being done to us. It’s not being done with us.”
OCTA board members are scheduled to review the toll idea during a committee hearing Monday, and then vote on it next Friday. “We’ve heard the concerns raised throughout the process,” OCTA spokesman Joel Zlotnik said, “and the board has to balance the issues raised by local residents with the overall needs of Orange County in trying to solve the congestion problem on the 405 freeway.”
Orange County has become an early battleground in a statewide debate over tolling because it plans to spend at least $1 billion to add free lanes to its stretch of the 405. The toll idea has piggybacked on that project, which is being paid for with a half-cent sales tax that voters approved and is scheduled to break ground in 2015.
That project, which will add at least one new lane in each direction, is a foundation of OCTA plans, regardless of how the tolling vote goes.
Contact the writer: 714-704-3777 or dirving
Residents stress the "free" in freeway
Dozens gather in Westminster to voice their opposition to any plan that would add toll lanes to the 405.
By Bradley Zint
They came en masse under the mantra of keeping the freeways free.
More than 150 people crowded Westminster’s Civic Center on Tuesday night to formally voice their opposition to any toll roads within a 14-mile portion of the 405 Freeway, from the 73 Freeway in Costa Mesa to the 605 Freeway outside Rossmoor.
Representatives from communities nearby and along the busy thoroughfare — Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Westminster, Seal Beach, Los Alamitos, Rossmoor and Fountain Valley — were in universal opposition to the toll option, officially called Alternative 3 by the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA).
The estimated $1.47-billion project would add one general-purpose and one toll lane in each direction, plus convert the existing carpool lane on both sides of the freeway to a toll lane within most of the 14-mile stretch.
Area politicians and residents said they have long favored either the $1.25-billion Alternative 1, which would add one general-purpose lane in each direction, or the $1.35-billion Alternative 2, which would add two general-purpose lanes in each direction.
Last year, Costa Mesa officials said they favored Alternative 2.
All three alternatives would involve reconstructing the bridges over the 405 along the affected route. The proposals have also been changed and pared down slightly; Alternative 3 was pegged at $1.7 billion last year.
Organizers said representatives from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and OCTA were invited to the town hall meeting but did not attend.
"I think it’s pretty clear to the community what’s at stake here," said Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer. "What’s at stake is the future of Orange County with regards to how we move in this county."
Righeimer called the toll roads "Lexus lanes" — as in feasible only for the super-rich — and said if they’re added to the 405, they would pave the way for toll roads elsewhere in Orange County, such as on the 5 Freeway.
"We may be the first ones to do it," Righeimer said, "but we’re not gonna be the last."
The 405 toll road debate has recently resurfaced. In October 2012, OCTA’s board recommended Alternative 1, though recently enacted federal legislation affecting the minimum traveling speeds within carpool lanes has brought the issue to light again.
Costa Mesa officials, who are once again exploring their legal options to fight toll roads, have surmised that Caltrans could override the OCTA’s decision and put in toll lanes, which would theoretically keep traffic flowing to help meet federal standards.
That scenario was not lost on former state Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Anaheim), who called the resurrected idea reminiscent of something on the "The Walking Dead" TV show.
Huntington Beach Mayor Connie Boardman said Orange County residents are already paying taxes for their roads via gasoline purchases and Measure M, a voter-approved, half-cent sales tax for transportation projects.
"This would be a tax on a tax on a tax," she said.
County Supervisor John Moorlach, a Costa Mesa resident, called the saga "a whole new definition to the term highway robbery."
Past improvements to other county freeways didn’t require tolls, Moorlach noted.
"This is being done to us," he said. "It’s not being done with us."
Seal Beach Mayor Gary A. Miller said residents in Garden Grove, Huntington Beach and Westminster aren’t likely to pay a $4 toll just to cross into nearby Los Angeles County. They would take surface streets instead, he said.
"Our local streets are going to be very congested if this option is passed," Miller said.
Fountain Valley Councilman John Collins called the tolls "an insult to the voters" who renewed Measure M in 2006, which never proposed adding toll roads.
Collins also questioned where the toll funds would go to.
"I have never seen a good answer to that question," he said. "Is it guaranteed to come to us, or is it open to be taken later on?"
Adolfo Ozaeta, a traffic engineer for Westminster, said 405 toll roads were studied as early as 2003. The contentious Alternative 3 surfaced in 2009, he said.
Tolls could peak at $9.91 for northbound trips and $6.11 for southbound trips, according to OCTA projections.
The OCTA is scheduled to discuss the 405 plans on Nov. 8 at its headquarters in Orange.
Proposed 405 Toll Lanes Draw Ire of Residents, Officials
By NICK GERDA
A central premise behind a controversial proposal to add toll lanes to the 405 freeway came under attack Tuesday evening, as dozens of local residents and elected officials gathered to voice their steadfast opposition.
Officials at the forum in Westminster say the entire effort is being pushed by the state Department of Transportation – known as Caltrans – supposedly because of a new federal mandate to keep traffic flowing in carpool lanes used by low-emission vehicles.
But that “technicality” only risks about $12 million in funding, said Ron Casey of the Rossmoor Community Services District, while adding the toll lanes is expected to cost an extra $100 million.
“This is being done to us — it’s not being done with us,” County Supervisor John Moorlach said of Caltrans’ approach.
“It’s a power play by Caltrans,” said Westminster Councilwoman Diana Carey.
The proposal – known as “Alternative 3” – would create two toll lanes in each direction on the 405 between Seal Beach and Costa Mesa, and add one general purpose lane.
It’s one of three options set for a vote by the Orange County Transportation Authority board next Friday.
At least 16 elected officials came to the forum to show their opposition to toll lanes, representing the cities of Huntington Beach, Westminster, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Los Alamitos and Seal Beach, and unincorporated Rossmoor.
Also attending was Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) and representatives of Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Garden Grove), state Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine), Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach).
While OCTA and Caltrans were invited to the event, organizers say, they declined to participate.
Much of the frustration at the forum was directed as what many view as a “double tax.”
The new lanes would be paid for by Measure M2, which was approved by voters in 2006. However, officials are quick to point out that the ballot proposition said nothing about toll roads.
“Toll lanes on top of those taxes was never part of the deal,” said Fountain Valley Councilman John Collins, adding that adding toll lanes would be an “insult” to voters.
“This would be a tax on a tax on a tax,” said Huntington Beach Mayor Connie Boardman.
In a letter that was read aloud, Irvine Councilwoman Beth Krom said she couldn’t think of anything that could damage OCTA’s credibility more than adding toll lanes.
“It is an absolute breach of faith with County residents who are on the hook until the year 2041 for an additional half cent in sales tax which would never have been supported if voters thought tolls would be introduced on our freeways,” Krom wrote.
Local chambers of commerce also showed up to voice concern that the toll lanes would hurt businesses.
Most of the car dealerships in the area are along Beach Blvd. and Harbor Blvd., which wouldn’t have exits from the toll lanes, official said.
Instead, the local officials are proposing “Alternative 2,” which would keep the current carpool lane as-is and add two general purpose lanes in each direction.
“Bottom line, you can move more cars and more traffic with free lanes than you can with the HOT” lanes, said Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer.
OCTA officials expected such criticism at the meeting and pointed out that the board has yet to make its vote, and that a final decision on the project rests with Caltrans, which owns and operates the freeway system.
“While we certainly do take into consideration [input from] the community directly next to the freeway…it’s also important to look at it from a big picture, regional transportation perspective,” said OCTA spokesman Joel Zlotnik.
Any excess toll revenues would go back into making improvements to freeways and public transit, he added.
“The people that choose to pay for the toll lanes actually end up benefiting everyone in the area with additional transportation improvements,” said Zlotnik.
Yet local electeds say they still don’t know where exactly the money would go.
“I’ve asked that question. I’ve never seen a clear” answer, said Collins.
In light of the fact that together all of the proposed 405 widening options would cost more than $1 billion, other meeting attendees suggested that policymakers need to start coming up with more creative options for reducing traffic.
“Just expanding the freeway is not going to cut it,” said a Costa Mesa resident.
Another resident suggested running buses along the existing carpool lanes as a type of rapid-transit system, with vans then shuttling commuters from transit stops to their workplace.
OCTA officials, meanwhile, point out that the 405 is the busiest freeway in the country, and that meeting its traffic needs would require doubling its capacity.
The local officials called on residents to get involved and express their displeasure regarding the toll-lane option to OCTA board members and Gov. Jerry Brown’s office.
Rossmoor resident Nia Hartman also created an online petition on the issue that has attracted more than 700 supporters.
OCTA’s Regional Planning and Highways Committee is set to make a recommendation next week to the full board. The committee meets Monday at 10:30 a.m. at OCTA headquarters (550 S. Main Street, Orange, CA)
The full board meeting is next Friday, Nov. 8, at 9 a.m.
You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.
O.C. Supervisor Hopes to Rally Opposition to 405 Toll Lanes
Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach joins some Los Alamitos and Seal Beach officials in opposing proposed 405 Freeway toll lanes.
Posted by John Schreiber (Editor)
By City News Service
Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach hoped Tuesday tonight to rally the public to oppose a plan to transform high-occupancy lanes into toll lanes on the San Diego (405) Freeway at a town hall forum on the issue.
Moorlach, who also serves on the Orange County Transportation Authority Board, was on the wrong side of a vote last month when his fellow members of the OCTA board decided to approve further study on adding toll lanes on the freeway.
Moorlach was joined Tuesday by other area elected officials from the coastal cities in northern Orange County – including Los Alamitos and Seal Beach – who oppose the plan. If he gets a sense Orange County motorists won’t mind paying for the convenience of driving past traffic jams then so be it, Moorlach said.
"What I want tonight is I want the people to say you should be upset about this or for them to say lighten up this is the way we want it to go, it makes sense," Moorlach told City News Service before the town hall forum.
Moorlach objects to how state officials have told Orange County officials that they need to consider toll lanes on the San Diego Freeway because studies have shown traffic isn’t moving fast enough during peak hours in the carpool lanes.
"For 20-plus years this county has been taxing itself — conservative Orange County — and now the state unilaterally shows up and like the grasshopper to the ant says thanks for all the hard work, we’re taking over now," Moorlach said, referring to how the county has paved the way for the toll lanes by widening freeways with voter-approved Measure M money.
"The delivery (of the message) is so poor — that it’s being done to us, not with us," Moorlach said. "It’s bureaucracy at its finest. It’s just poorly done."
The toll lanes wouldn’t even be possible without the county’s widening projects and rehabilitation of bridges for its freeways, Moorlach said.
A Caltrans official in Orange County declined to comment.
Caltrans has final say over the imposition of toll lanes on the San Diego Freeway.
Last month, Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson, who also serves on the OCTA board, said it was in the county’s best interest to stay involved in the toll lane studies instead of fighting the state outright.
Nelson sided with the vote to conduct further studies of a conversion of the carpool lanes to toll lanes because he would rather the county manage it instead of the state. Nelson is also concerned that the state could take toll revenue earned locally and spend it elsewhere.
Moorlach, meanwhile, hopes that if enough Orange County drivers raise a fuss over the toll lanes then Caltrans might alter its plans.
Last month, Moorlach supported a plan to add one lane on the San Diego Freeway in each direction on top of the already planned ones on the San Diego Freeway north from Brookhurst to Valley View streets and southbound from the Seal Bach Boulevard on-ramp to Brookhurst Street.
Caltrans officials have said that plan would create a bottleneck at the West County connector at the Garden Grove (22) Freeway.
County officials have six months to come up with a plan to address the congestion in the carpool lanes, because federal officials are threatening to withdraw funding in any state where the average speed in those lanes dips below 45 mph at least 90 percent of the time.
Some OCTA board members doubt a study that shows Orange County falls below the federal standard, contending the traffic counts are based calculations in 2011 with systems that are unreliable.
Estimates on tolls could be about $5 southbound and $6 northbound from the Corona del Mar (73) Freeway in Costa Mesa to the San Gabriel River (605) Freeway, which includes the busiest stretch of freeway in Orange Country with more than 370,000 cars a day, said Joel Zlotnik of OCTA.
The project could cost between $1.25 billion to $1.47 billion, Zlotnik said. Officials estimate that high-occupancy toll lanes could generate $1.5 billion, after paying for operations and maintenance, over the next 30 years that could be spent on improving traffic around the freeway in the corridor cities.
Nelson said some of those improvements could include more rail or intersection upgrades.
OCTA officials will return to the board in November with a variety of tolling scenarios. Caltrans officials will make a final decision by year’s end with an environmental impact report due in May.
FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS
Kimberly Kindy of the OC Register provided an interesting campaign analysis with “Board’s Unlikely Secret Allies – COLLEGES: Conservative trustees who rail against teachers unions get crucial help from union-funded PACs.” Here are two paragraphs and a sidebar for one of the candidates.
Political action committees funded by the union secretly paid for campaign fliers for [Donald] Wagner and fellow candidate Nancy Padberg.
Union leaders have not given a public explanation for their decisions. They have refused to discuss either campaign with their rand and file, even though members’ dues financed the fliers.
TRUSTEE CANDIDATES AREA 4
Nancy Padberg, Attorney
Support: District’s teachers union; Assemblyman Bill Morrow, R-Oceanside; Orange County Treasurer John Moorlach; Young Republican Federation of California
Priorities: Restore fiscal controls and accountability; zero tolerance for bigotry in district
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