MOORLACH UPDATE — Collaboration — November 9, 2013

It’s been a busy week in Orange County. The conversion, or cannibalization (as someone characterized it), of general purpose lanes into toll lanes is still on the table. The topic has grown so large, that even the LA Times came to yesterday’s Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) meeting! So, speaking of the LA Times, one of their website pages has a CBS Channel 2 video on the town hall meeting of October 29th (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Be Scared, Be Very Scared — October 30, 2013) which can be seen at http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-oc-toll-lanes-criticized-vote-delayed-20131108,0,5906085.story#axzz2kAS2mASD.

Is there anything really new to report? Yes, there is! The Director of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is Malcolm Dougherty. After Monday’s OCTA Regional Planning and Highways Committee meeting, it was recommended that OCTA meet with Mr. Dougherty, which was accomplished a couple of days later. “Was Caltrans going to force toll lanes on Orange County?” Negative, was the response. To paraphrase, the message was something like, “Caltrans will collaborate with OCTA and review the many tools available in the tool box to improve traffic flow;” with emphasis on the word “collaboration.” Talk about a classic “straw man” argument! We’ve been led to believe that Caltrans is forcing the toll road solution on us, which has been an apparent misrepresentation of their position. Even the OC Register’s editorial staff, which is usually uniformly opposed to any new taxes, bought this false premise to opine yesterday on this massive public policy issue. The man at the top of Caltrans communicated a completely different posture!

Another observation is that those who have been studying this long enough can clearly see that Alternative 2 is the optimum solution and they communicated that loud and clear at yesterday’s OCTA Board meeting. But, those pushing Alternative 3, the toll lane alternative, never mention Alternative 2. Yesterday’s OC Register had a letter to the editor from the Chair of OCTA that only referred to Alternatives 1 and 3, when Alternative 2 moves traffic at the same percentages as Alternative 3. When recently asked to consider a modified Alternative 2, which narrows down to one lane in the northbound side of the freeway bordering Seal Beach, staff put up a slide that showed it was not as helpful as the original Alternative 2. We know that! The comparison was to be between Alternative 1 and the modified Alternative 2. The intellectual dishonesty throughout this ordeal (“decision making process”) has been astounding and heart rending.

The best approach is to honor Measure M2 and build the one lane promised on each side of the 405 and a second lane on both sides at the same time, as some 14 to 17 bridges will be modified to accommodate the four additional lanes. With the conclusion of the West County Connectors project and the addition of four lanes, then review the status of the traffic throughput. If more needs to be done, then consider modifying the occupancy levels in the carpool lanes and move up from there. To jump to a toll lane alternative immediately is too severe and dramatic. The residents of Orange County pay for improvements to the County’s roads with every taxable retail purchase they make. They should be given the courtesy of a systematic approach to this matter and not be told that draconic solutions will be forced on them. Thank you, Mr. Malcolm Dougherty, for clearing the air. I look forward to collaborating with you and with my constituents on this critical public policy matter.

KPCC 89.3 FM is the first article below on the subject, followed by KNX 1070 AM, and a photo from the OC Register. The last piece is from the LA Times, which has been AWOL in the OC for some time. There is one clarification that needs to be made. The 91 Express Lanes were not carpool lanes converted to toll lanes. There was a very large piece of real estate between the east and west bound lanes and toll lanes were built there by a public-private partnership that was eventually acquired by OCTA. For a history on this topic, see my December 1999 and early-2000 LOOK BACKS. The Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) were also new toll roads and not conversions of existing infrastructure. That’s why the conversion of existing lanes on the San Diego Freeway is such an emotional topic. It has not been done anywhere else in Orange County before.

UPDATE: OC transport officials delay vote on proposed I-405 toll lanes

Ed Joyce

Ed Joyce/KPCC The Orange County Transportation Authority met Friday to consider a plan to add toll lanes on a stretch of I-405.

On the heels of often contentious public comments — mostly in opposition, the Orange County Transportation Authority voted Friday to postpone a decision on a controversial plan to add toll lanes along a stretch of Interstate-405.

"It’s a major policy decision," saidJohn Moorlach, county supervisor and OCTA board member. "I think we need more than 30 days to come up with a vision we all can agree on."

The stretch of I-405 from State Route 55 to Interstate 605 is one of the most heavily traveled highways in the U.S.

The board had been scheduled to vote on one of three recommendations to widen the highway, one of which includes plans for a toll lane on the north- and southbound sides of the highway.

The OCTA board voted unanimously to pass a motion made by board chairman Greg Winterbottom to put off the vote until the board’s Dec. 9 meeting.

The vote came after more than 40 speakers signed up to address the issue.

"Continuing to chase Alternative 3 [adding toll lanes] is a waste of time," said State Assemblyman Allan R. Mansoor who represents California’s 74th District, which includes cities along I-405.

"Let’s put the toll lanes out of their misery," he told the board.

Before he spoke, Mansoor placed a stack of letters on the podium. He said they numbered more than a thousand and came from constituents opposed to the plan.

A coalition of Orange County cities along I-405 opposes the alternative to add toll lanes, and most speakers Friday were against the plan. But some did speak in favor of it.

"We need to add the toll lanes to relieve congestion," said Tom Nguyen of Irvine, who owns a management consulting business. "If we can’t get from destination A to B quickly, business will be at a standstill."

The I-405 Improvement Project

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