MOORLACH UPDATE — I-405 Hold Up — July 26, 2014

Although the locally preferred alternative (LPA) for the widening of the San Diego I-405 Freeway approved by OCTA, Alternative One, was not my preference (it was Alternative Two), Caltrans decided that Alternative Three should be the LPA. You’ve got to love Sacramento bureaucrats. Sacramento is asking you to invest in multiple bridge widenings and when that chore is completed after some five years, they will gladly take the new lane that was built and use it for a managed (toll) lane. It’s like being back on the dairy. Orange County is being told to milk the cows, and Caltrans will then come along and skim off the cream. It’s about as offensive as it can get. And by the e-mails and telephone calls that my office has received, my constituents are not amused.

To bring you up to date on this topic, allow me to refer you to MOORLACH UPDATE — San Diego Freeway — December 10, 2013, MOORLACH UPDATE — Annual CSAC Conference — November 22, 2013, MOORLACH UPDATE — Collaboration — November 9, 2013, MOORLACH UPDATE — Be Scared, Be Very Scared — October 30, 2013,

MOORLACH UPDATE — 405 Toll Lanes — October 29, 2013, MOORLACH UPDATE — HOV vs. HOT — October 28, 2013, MOORLACH UPDATE — OCTA Vote — September 24, 2013, MOORLACH UPDATE — Highway Robbery — September 23, 2013, MOORLACH UPDATE — I-405 Hearing — July 24, 2013, MOORLACH UPDATE — 405 Widening Redux — May 21, 2013, MOORLACH UPDATE — No Toll — October 23, 2012, MOORLACH UPDATE — Alternative 2 — October 22, 2012, and MOORLACH UPDATE — I-405 Toll-Lane Proposal — July 21, 2012.

If you’ve enjoyed the construction on Seal Beach Boulevard and Valley View Street, you’ll love the proposed changes to all of the other bridges up to Harbor Boulevard. Expect some five years of traffic congestion and then no real net benefit after it is concluded.

It appears that Caltrans and OCTA held a press conference on Thursday. The media was requested to embargo the information until an official announcement was made on Friday. The OCTA Board was only informed of the decision yesterday morning, but it was not aware of the prior day’s media efforts to sell the Caltrans position.

The first piece below is from the LA Times. The second is from the OC Register, where I infer that maybe Caltrans can fund the bridge widenings and OCTA can direct the $1.3 billion elsewhere. The third piece is from KPCC 89.3 FM. And the final piece is an editorial submission on the topic in the Daily Pilot.

Maybe this hold up needs to be held up. The OCTA Board has acquiesced to the idea of this highway robbery. Perhaps they need to take another look. The OCTA Board meets on Monday morning and it should be an interesting meeting.

BONUS: Thanks to those who joined us on the Crystal Cove day hike. Special thanks go to Henry Helling, President and CEO of Crystal Cove Alliance, and Michael O’Connell, Executive Director of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, for their expert input and time.

Regarding Caltrans to put toll lanes on 405 Freeway in Orange County

By Paloma Esquivel

The battle over toll lanes on California freeways moved to Orange County on Friday when Caltrans announced it would defy local officials and place what critics call "Lexus lanes" on a 14-mile stretch of the 405 Freeway.

The lanes would be on a notoriously congested section of the freeway between Seal Beach and Costa Mesa. The cost of the tolls has not been finalized, but some existing toll lanes can charge about $10 one way during rush hour.

The move comes as communities throughout Southern California are increasingly considering toll lanes in order to relieve traffic and generate funding.

After years of resistance, Los Angeles officials added toll lanes along parts of the 10 and 110 freeways.

Riverside County is now in the process of creating express lanes on the 91 Freeway in Corona, while San Bernardino County officials are exploring the possibility of toll lanes on the 10 and 15 freeways as well.

But none of those areas have seen the strong opposition that Caltrans has encountered in Orange County, where numerous cities as well as the county’s transportation agency have come out against the idea.

Caltrans officials said Friday that adding high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on the 405 would speed traffic.

"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."

But there was little celebrating in Orange County — at least among many local officials.

"The state of California and those in Sacramento are trying to implement a concerted agenda to have layers of taxes, fees and tolls to extract dollars out of everyday drivers," said Huntington Beach Mayor Matthew Harper. "I think once voters realize what’s coming down at them, they’re going to rebel and people are going to want to keep the freeways free."

Despite Orange County’s history as a longtime proponent of toll lanes and roads, putting pay-to-drive lanes on the 405 has generated more than a year of rancorous debate.

One reason is that existing carpool lanes would be converted to toll lanes. The project also takes advantage of funds set aside to expand the freeway using money from the county’s half-cent sales tax.

"The taxpayers of Orange County have been paying an additional sales tax to improve traffic, but Sacramento is usurping that," said Supervisor John Moorlach.

As county transportation officials mulled over how best to expand the 405, six cities along the route, including Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa, banded together as the "corridor cities" to fight the 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.

In December, Orange County Transportation Authority board members opted not to support the toll lanes, instead favoring a plan that would add one free lane in each direction.

Although local opposition has been heated, some see high-occupancy toll lanes as the future in a region growing in population but strapped for funds.

The Southern California Assn. of Governments, the metropolitan planning organization for six Southern California counties, is in the process of completing a study on HOT lanes; and preliminary results suggest they are a good option for dealing with traffic, said Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata.

"We should be open to options that relieve congestion and that are going to get us out of the mess we are in," he said. "This is one option that seems to be working."

Martin Wachs, professor emeritus of urban planning at UCLA, said HOT lanes are being gradually incorporated into regional transportation plans throughout the state and especially in Southern California. He favors the option and said the perception that the lanes are only for the rich isn’t necessarily true.

"Lower-and middle-income people use them occasionally, perhaps less often than rich people. But if a person has limited income and their child has to be picked up at child care, then they do a calculation," he said.

It’s not clear how the tolls will be collected in the 405 toll lanes plan. But other stretches of toll roads in Southern California have required lone drivers to carry a transponder, which provides a means for billing the owner.

On those roads, motorists with multiple passengers must have the transponder, but do not pay a toll.

There is no set timeline for the opening of the HOT lanes because funding for them has not yet been secured, Caltrans officials said.

The agency’s plan, recommended by Caltrans’ project development team, would allow the OCTA to move forward with its proposal to add one free lane in each direction before eventually creating the high-occupancy toll lanes at an estimated total project cost of $1.7 billion.

The agency expects the bulk of funding — $1.3 billion — to come from the county’s half-cent sales tax. But it’s unclear how the remaining $400 million will be raised. Chamberlain, the local Caltrans director, mentioned several possibilities, including federal loans, grants and private investors. Once the project’s environmental impact report is finalized in several months, officials will begin looking for funding, said Caltrans spokesman David Richardson.

Chamberlain said he does not anticipate departing from the toll lanes recommendation. He said that HOT lanes benefit commuters because they allow transportation officials to better manage traffic and that they provide a consistent option for faster travel.

Caltrans is also 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, he said.

Diana Carey, a Westminster councilwoman who also represents the corridor cities, said the group will be looking at options to fight back against the proposal.

"They’ve really overstepped their bounds big time," she said.

paloma.esquivel

CALTRANS PRESSES TOLL LANES ON I-405

State officials say the plan will improve traffic flow. Orange County officials have fought previous proposals.

By Morgan Cook

State transportation officials said Friday they want to add toll lanes to I-405, possibly as part of a widening project that will add a standard lane to each direction of the freeway in Orange County between the 73 and the Los Angeles County line.

Previous bids to replace existing carpool lanes with lanes that would include a mix of toll-paying drivers and carpoolers have faced strong opposition in Orange County. Such lanes already exist on the 91 and other California freeways.

The plan announced Friday by Caltrans would add toll lanes in Orange County’s upcoming $1.3-billion construction project to widen a 14-mile stretch of I-405, adding standard lanes in each direction. But it’s unclear whether Caltrans will get the money – estimated at an extra $400 million – to make high-occupancy toll lanes on I-405 a reality.

The new standard lanes were promised to voters in 2006 when they approved Measure M2, a half-cent sales tax to fund transportation improvements in the county. The Orange County Transportation Authority expects to start construction by 2016 and finish by 2021, with or without the toll lanes.

At least one local policymaker downplayed the possibility of tolls.

“We’re building our (widening) project; we’re not building a toll facility on the 405,” said Shawn Nelson, an Orange County Supervisor and chairman of OCTA’s board of directors.

Still, Caltrans is powerful when it comes to how freeways are built and operate, and support from local politicians and drivers isn’t always key.

Money, however, is.

Nelson, among others, pointed out that Caltrans has not yet figured out where to get the estimated $400 million it will need to add toll express lanes to I-405.

“Caltrans has no money (for express lanes) and no plan right now,” Nelson said.

As a result, Nelson said it’s unlikely Caltrans will be able to piggyback a toll lane into the county’s construction project.

“Maybe they’ll catch us at the tail end (of construction). But that’s a big if.”

While some view the widening of I- 405 and the toll lanes as separate projects, others see the two elements as intertwined. As such, they think the widening project will make toll lanes more likely and question whether it should move forward.

Diana Carey, a Westminster councilwoman who represents a coalition of six cities along the freeway, pointed out that the I-405 currently has four general purpose lanes and one free carpool lane – a total of five free lanes. Those numbers, she said, won’t change if Caltrans converts the existing carpool lane into a toll lane.

“We (would) end up spending $1.3 billion to add a new lane. But when it’s all over, people who can’t afford to pay would still have (only) five free lanes. We don’t get anything.”

Caltrans officials said that adding tolled express lanes to I-405 is in everyone’s best interest because it will speed up traffic on all lanes, easing gridlock throughout the region.

“It’s a recommendation that, in my opinion, absolutely honors the OCTA commitments via Measure M2 in adding one generalpurpose lane in each direction of the 405 freeway,” said Ryan Chamberlain, director of Caltrans’ District 12.

“But in addition to that, (adding toll lanes) honors what Caltrans’ mission and vision statement is, and honors our commitment to the general public to make improvements to that corridor.”

Unlike OCTA, Caltrans is legally obligated to act in the best interests of all state taxpayers, not just those in a particular county or city. The agency’s stated mission is to provide a “safe, sustainable, integrated, and efficient transportation system to enhance California’s economy and livability.”

Caltrans’ version of the plan – including the future toll lanes – projects that by 2020 drivers in regular lanes of I-405 could travel between the 73 and I-605 in 29 minutes. With only one new general-purpose lane in each direction and no toll lanes, Caltrans says the same trip would take 57 minutes.

Drivers in the tolled express lanes would be able to make the trip in 13 minutes, according to the projections.

The stretch of freeway will be able to move an estimated 9,500 vehicles per hour in rush-hour traffic with the toll lanes, according to the Caltrans projections. That’s about 2,000 vehicles per hour more than the freeway could move with only one new regular lane in each direction.

Decisions, including which vehicles would be allowed to use the express lanes, which vehicles would have to pay a toll, how much tolls would cost and how any excess toll revenue would be used, will be made as the planning process moves forward, according to Caltrans’ Chamberlain.

Chamberlain said excess toll revenue would most likely go to transportation improvements along the I-405 corridor and would benefit drivers in Orange County. He stopped short of saying all excess toll revenue would be spent on projects inside Orange County’s borders.

At least one local policymaker suggested delaying the project as a way to thwart toll lanes on I-405.

“It’s the state’s right-of way, but it’s our $1.3 billion and our inconvenience,” said John ‍Moorlach, an Orange County supervisor and OCTA board member.

“Caltrans would not get the toll lanes if it were not for this $1.3 billion.

“Do we really want to make widening … a top priority? Or would it make more sense to focus on other things right now and find the funding (to widen I-405) later?”

CONTACT THE WRITER: mcook

Caltrans OKs addition of paid lanes on 405 Freeway in Orange County

California Department of Transportation officials announced Friday that they will eventually replace carpool lanes on Interstate 405 in Orange County with paid lanes, despite the decision in December from Orange County Transportation Authority board members to not support toll lanes.

Amid backlash, Caltrans officials stressed that the new paid lanes on the I-405 are not toll lanes, but HOT lanes.

“There is a difference,” said David Richardson, a spokesman for Caltrans District 12 in Orange County. “A toll lane under all circumstances you pay the toll when you go in. A HOT lane has a required level of occupancy, and if you hit that level, then it’s free. And if you’re less than that level, or if you’re by yourself, then you’re able to buy your way in.”

Richardson also said the addition of HOT lanes would be a welcome change to the highly impacted highway.

“We can’t build our way out of congestion,” Richardson said. “We are not able to add general purpose lanes at the rate congestion builds. So, we need to manage our system, and this allows us to do that. And it allows us to that in a way that is integrated with other facilities throughout the state. And it’s the best for us environmentally.”

But neighboring cities are referring to these new lanes as the “Lexus lanes,” because of the disadvantage commuters will face while driving through Orange County.

From The Los Angeles Times:

As 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.

John Moorlach, an Orange County Supervisor and OCTA Board member, said while he is not shocked by Caltrans decision, he is disappointed.

“Orange County is a county where the residents voted to tax themselves to improve the freeways and transit in the county,” Moorlach said. “So, what is being done now is that we are being told Orange County spent $1.3 billion to widen all of the bridges on Harbor Blvd. and the 605, widen them to accommodate two more lanes on each side, but only add one lane. And once you added that lane the state will take that lane and the next lane over and convert those to toll lanes. So, at the end of the day we’ve spent $1.3, $1.4 billion, but we really have not added any lanes for what we would call general purpose lanes.”

Moorlach, like other residents, expressed his frustration for residents near the freeway who have had to endure years of construction and traffic for nothing.

Commentary: I am committed to stopping 405 toll lanes

By Matthew Harper

What will voters decide when it comes to the impending decisions about taxing and tolling today’s totally tapped-out drivers?

The California Department of Transportation, under the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown, continues to pressure local agencies like the Orange County Transportation Authority to impose tolls on local drivers.

We don’t need to cannibalize freeways to create toll lanes that kick drivers off the road unless they pay up. It doesn’t make sense to reduce the mobility of many in order to enhance the mobility of a few.

Don’t get me wrong. I think we need to improve our transportation system by building new capacity. In order to get the 91 Express Lanes built, it took financing through collected tolls.

However, the proposal to convert freeway lanes into toll lanes on the 405 Freeway in Orange County uses Measure M sales tax dollars. The measure was approved by the voters for freeway construction, and the money should not go toward tollway construction. Nor should it be used to convert existing freeway lanes into toll lanes.

This isn’t just an issue in Orange County. We are a decision point for the entire state. Once toll lane proponents can capture a couple of lanes on each freeway, then there is little stopping them from taking each freeway lane over, one by one, until the entire system becomes tolls only.

The good news is that many leaders in Orange County oppose the conversion of freeway lanes into toll lanes: Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer, Fountain Valley Mayor Michael Vo, Seal Beach Mayor Ellery Deaton, Westminster Mayor Tri Ta and many others. On the board of the Orange County Transportation Authority, directors John Moorlach and Gary Miller have joined me in steadfast opposition to the conversion of freeway lanes into toll lanes.

Unfortunately for Orange County’s drivers, other elected officials, including Councilman Keith Curry from Newport Beach, are willing to go along with the Brown administration’s plan to convert freeway lanes into toll lanes.

Many of the same elected officials want to impose a mileage tax as well. The state Legislature is considering the new tax, which would levy a charge on drivers for every mile driven.

During a recent candidates forum hosted by the Orange County Taxpayers Assn., Curry, my opponent in the Assembly race, acknowledged that he supports a mileage tax to pay for transportation needs in California. I disagreed, countering that transportation needs should be met by making tough decisions within the constraints of existing revenue.

The layers of taxes and tolls are going to break the backs of many drivers, who will be left questioning why elected officials want to impose even more burdens on top of existing gasoline taxes and Orange County’s Measure M sales tax. As if the layers of taxes are not enough, toll lanes will price drivers off the freeways, leaving many with far less mobility than they had before.

No matter how much pressure I get, I will oppose new taxes and I will oppose the conversion of freeway lanes into toll lanes — as a director for the Orange County Transportation Authority, or if elected to the California State Assembly in November over Curry.

I am looking forward to the debate with my opponent to ask why he thinks Californians are undertaxed. I disagree. I believe that we could tax and toll away prosperity and that the future of Orange County and California is too important.

Huntington Beach Mayor MATTHEW HARPER is running for state Assembly in the 74th District.

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