MOORLACH UPDATE — Troubling Toll Lanes — September 23, 2104

Yesterday’s Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) Board meeting allowed for a good debate on the partnership enjoyed (endured) between Caltrans and OCTA. The proposed conversion of the middle four lanes of an expanded San Diego (I-405) Freeway into toll lanes has been troubling to the vast majority of my constituents (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Toll Lane Reverberations — August 20, 2014, MOORLACH UPDATE — Toll Lane Opponents — July 29, 2014 and, for numerous additional links, MOORLACH UPDATE — I-405 Hold Up — July 26, 2014).

When I started my first term, I was asked to Chair the 405 Working Group. Widening the 405 had stalled due to eminent domain concerns voiced by the city of Westminster. After some six years of work, the impacted corridor cities not only agreed to the addition of one lane on both sides of the 405, they agreed to 2 lanes on both sides. This was followed by the preparation of an EIR where Caltrans wanted an alternative that included four toll lanes down the center of the project. This was like having someone come to the party and drop something in the punch bowl. It started the acrimony. So I shared this observation at the OCTA Board meeting and made the simple request to complete the West County Connectors project (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Bridge Bash — August 16, 2013), which should be concluded in a couple of months, add the four general purpose lanes, evaluate how well traffic is moving and then put the discussion of toll lanes on the table, if necessary.

The first piece is from the LA Times, followed by the full-length electronic version for Thursday’s parallel piece in the Huntington Beach Independent. The third piece is from the Los Alamitos-Seal Beach Patch. The fourth piece is from the OC Register, followed by the full-length version in the Voice of OC.

O.C. agency backs 405 widening, possibly clearing way for toll lanes

By Harold Pierce

Orange County transportation leaders voted Monday to move ahead with widening a congested stretch of the 405 Freeway, a project that could clear the way for adding controversial toll lanes

Although the decision affirms an earlier vote to widen the freeway between Costa Mesa and the 605 Freeway with only general purpose lanes, Caltrans — which manages the state’s freeway — voted in July to replace the highway’s carpool lanes with toll lanes.

The toll lane proposal has met with opposition from city leaders and residents along the freeway, some of whom refer to them as "Lexus lanes" that are affordable only to the well-to-do.

The project approved by the Orange County Transportation Authority would leave enough space for an additional carpool or toll lane in each direction.

Some board members wanted to add two general purpose lanes in each direction, excluding the possibility of toll lanes. Others said they had no choice in the matter.

"They’re not our roads," said Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, chairman of the county’s transportation authority.

The added general purpose lanes would be part of the county’s $1.3-billion plan to widen the 405 Freeway. Caltrans has estimated its toll lane proposal would cost $400 million.

"Shame on Caltrans for tolling. This has turned sour like someone did something to our punch," said Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach, who serves on the authority’s board. "To throw this toll in the middle of a project seems unjust."

But Moorlach said his dissenting vote had more to do with cost-efficiency than blocking toll lanes.

Ryan Chamberlain, a Caltrans district director, has said that although the agency has not secured funding for its toll lane plan, it will not tap money from the county’s transportation tax for the job.

After the vote Monday, board member Todd Spitzer called for sending Caltrans and Gov. Jerry Brown a formal resolution opposing the toll lane alternative.

"Some of us want to back up our words," Spitzer said.

The board declined. Some members, while agreeing in theory, said they were wary of upsetting officials at the state agency.

"We have to talk nice. We have a lot of business to vote on with Caltrans," board member Michael Hennessey said.

Harold Pierce writes for Times Community News.

OCTA vote upholds no-toll widening for 405 Freeway

By Harold Pierce

This post has been corrected, as noted below

The Orange County Transportation Authority board of directors voted Monday to move forward with a project to widen the 405 Freeway with additional general-purpose traffic lanes between the 605 Freeway and Costa Mesa.

The decision reaffirmed a December vote to add one general-purpose lane in each direction without toll lanes the California Department of Transportation wants. Caltrans in July announced a plan to replace the carpool lane in each direction with a toll option. That plan also would add a general-purpose lane in each direction. The toll-lane idea has met with opposition from many city leaders and residents along the 14-mile stretch of the freeway.

Monday’s 11-4 decision came after about two hours of debate. Board members Gary Miller, John Moorlach, Todd Spitzer and Tom Tait dissented. Two members were absent.

The project approved by the OCTA would leave enough space for an additional carpool or toll lane in the future. Some board members wanted to add two lanes to each side, excluding the possibility of toll lanes.

Others said they had no choice in the matter. The 405 Freeway, one of the nation’s busiest highways, is managed by Caltrans, the state agency responsible for highway planning, construction and maintenance.

"They’re not our roads," OCTA Chairman Shawn Nelson said. "It’s our legal duty to build one lane in each direction."

Spitzer said the board’s vote "means that we’ll widen the freeway to a sufficient width so we can add toll lanes. I support the widening because I support the one lane in each direction, but not the toll lanes."

The added general-purpose lanes would be part of the county’s $1.3 billion plan to widen the 405. Caltrans has estimated its toll lane proposal would cost $400 million.

"Shame on Caltrans for tolling. This has turned sour like someone did something to our punch," Moorlach said. "To throw this toll in the middle of a project seems unjust. I think Caltrans can do a little better of a job working with this organization."

But Moorlach said his dissenting vote had more to do with cost efficiency than blocking toll lanes.

"Why widen … to accommodate four lanes and only build two?" he said. "I just think it’s a misuse of taxpayer dollars. If the cement trucks are there, let’s get the job done."

Caltrans touts toll lanes as a way to move vehicles faster. City leaders from Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley, Los Alamitos, Seal Beach and Westminster say the project would disenfranchise those who cannot afford the tolls. Last month, leaders from the 405 Freeway Cities Coalition proposed building one general-purpose lane and one carpool lane in each direction. OCTA’s Regional Planning and Highways Committee rejected the proposal Sept. 15.

Toll lanes also would violate Measure M2, a half-cent sales tax initiative approved by voters in 2006 to fund countywide transportation projects, said Westminster Councilwoman Diana Carey. OCTA says Measure M money would fund its 405 widening project.

"We did not vote to subsidize toll lane infrastructure, and we did not vote to subsidize Caltrans," Carey said.

Caltrans District 12 Director Ryan Chamberlain has said that although the agency has not secured funding for its toll lane plan, it will not use Measure M money for it.

After the vote Monday, Spitzer called for the board to send Caltrans and Gov. Jerry Brown a formal resolution opposing the toll lane alternative.

"Some of us want to back up our words," Spitzer said.

The board declined. Some members, while agreeing in theory, were wary of upsetting officials at the state agency.

"We have to talk nice. We have a lot of business to vote on with Caltrans," Michael Hennessey said.

[For the record, 10:10 a..m. Sept. 23:
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the OCTA vote was 14-4. The vote was 11-4 with 2 members absent.]

OCTA Board Votes to Back Addition of Two Free Lanes on 405

However, it stops short of favoring largely symbolic proposal to oppose a state plan to add two toll lanes to the freeway.

By Penny Arévalo (Patch Staff)

Orange County Transportation Authority board members today went on record for the third time backing construction of two new lanes on the San Diego (405) Freeway that would be free to motorists.

The board however refused to pass a largely symbolic proposal to oppose a state plan to add two toll lanes to the freeway, despite one board member criticizing the toll-road plan as being “for the few on the backs of the many.”

The proposal supported by the board will build one free lane in each direction on the San Diego (405) Freeway from the San Joaquin Hills (73) Freeway to the San Gabriel (605) Freeway. Construction is expected to begin in 2016 and be finished by 2020, according to a board official.

Orange County Supervisor and OCTA board member Todd Spitzer moved to condemn Caltrans’ intention to add single high-occupancy toll lanes in each direction, but the motion, which would have been largely symbolic, was rejected. Board members Al Murray, Steve Jones, Mike Hennessy, Greg Winterbottom, Jeff Lalloway, Lori Dunchak, Frank Ury and Tim Shaw opposed Spitzer’s motion.

The board voted 12 to 4 to spend $1.3 billion from voter-approved Measure M money to construct the two free lanes. Board member and county Supervisor John Moorlach and Spitzer joined board members Gary Miller and Tom Tait in opposition, with county Supervisor and board member Janet Nguyen and Miguel Pulido absent.

Caltrans upset many leaders in the 405 corridor cities in July when officials announced plans to build the toll lanes. State officials say the free lanes would not provide enough relief of traffic congestion and want to build toll lanes available to motorists who are carpooling or driving solo but willing to pay a premium for the convenience.

Caltrans officials, however, need $400 million to build the toll lanes, so it’s unclear when or if the plan will ever get off the ground.

The stretch of the 405 in Orange County carries more than 370,000 vehicles a day and that is expected to jump by 35 percent by 2040.

Spitzer and Moorlach argued that backing the free-lane plan takes away the county’s leverage against Caltrans in building the toll lanes.

Moorlach also said it is wasteful to have two projects being done separately and encouraged Caltrans to work with OCTA on a plan everyone can agree on.

“Good business practices would be if we all worked together and get all four lanes at the same time,” Moorlach said. “Let’s not inconvenience all these people more who have put up with the West-County connector projects for the past eight years… Let’s show the taxpayers we’re being good stewards.”

Moorlach added Caltrans officials should not try to ram through a plan without local support. He also argued that motorists who can pay a little more should not get an advantage over other drivers who have already contributed with sales tax revenue in Measure M.

“It’s Caltrans saying we believe this is the best way to move the traffic, and we’re saying that might be true, but it’s for the few on the backs of the many,” Moorlach said.

Moorlach and OCTA Chairman Shawn Nelson said Caltrans should have developed a statewide policy on the toll lanes before jumping into the Orange County debate.

“If they believe toll lanes are the future they should show how it all links together all the way from Mexico to Oregon,” Moorlach said.

“I just think and hope that the state will do a top-to-bottom look how comprehensively to solve this and then the 405 people won’t feel so picked on,” Nelson said.

Nelson, however, praised Caltrans officials for not blocking the two free lanes and making approval of the project linked to the toll lanes.

“Caltrans could have made it contingent on (the state’s approval),” Nelson said. “But they let us go ahead with the project we wanted to build. Caltrans didn’t have to let us do that… It was a favor to Orange County they didn’t have to do.”

David Richardson of Caltrans said the free lanes won’t solve the problem of congestion in Orange County, and adding a second toll lane in each direction “gives us options” such as a bus lane that will get more motorists off the road.

“Forty people on a bus takes 40 people out of general-purpose lanes,” Richardson said.

The state plans to consider borrowing money and pursuing federal grants to pay for the toll lanes, Richardson said.

Construction on the two new free lanes is expected to begin in 2016 and be done by 2020, Nelson said.

–City News Service

OCTA members toil over I-405 toll lanes

The board votes not to challenge state on Caltrans plans despite initial anger.

BY NICK GERDA

VOICE OF OC

Orange County’s top transportation officials clashed with each other Monday on whether to confront state plans to put toll lanes on America’s busiest stretch of freeway.

Ultimately, a majority of Orange County Transportation Authority board members rejected proposals to challenge the state more directly.

State officials plan to approve a $1.3 billion plan, largely funded by local Measure M2 sales tax money, to add a free lane on I-405 between Costa Mesa and Seal Beach and rebuild 17 bridges to make space for more lanes.

Yet the California Department of Transportation plans to use the space created by that local tax to then install toll lanes along the freeway.

Numerous city officials and state legislators are opposed to the plan and tried to get OCTA board members to support an alternative plan they say would not involve tolls.

“I continue to hear overwhelming objection to toll lanes, and not just in the (I-405) corridor cities,” said board member Matt Harper, mayor of Huntington Beach and a candidate for state Assembly.

“Why does Caltrans and OCTA seek input from the Orange County people and then they ignore it?” said board member Gary Miller, a Seal Beach councilman.

OCTA staff, meanwhile, argued that pursuing that alternative would delay the project by 18 months, with the delay alone boosting the project’s cost by about $60 million.

Those extra costs could endanger funding for other freeway projects in Orange County, several board members argued.

OCTA staff members have said the higher costs – related to delays – come from expected increases in prices for construction materials.

A majority of the OCTA board made it clear they don’t support the cities’ plan, which they argued would require another $100 million to $150 million in funding.

“Unless somebody has the $100 million ready to go, and it’s an alternate source outside of OCTA,” the current plan should still move forward, said board member Frank Ury, a Mission Viejo councilman.

The final vote was 11-4 to support the current path, with board members Tom Tait, Miller, John ‍Moorlach and Todd Spitzer opposing. Board members Janet Nguyen and Miguel Pulido were absent for the vote.

Board members also rejected an effort by Harper to have OCTA staff study whether the cities’ proposal, which would add a free lane and a carpool lane in each direction, is viable.

Supporters of proposed high-occupancy toll lanes say the tolls would likely only apply to cars with only a single person inside, allowing carpools to have free access like they currently do.

It would be the fastest way to move people and goods on the freeway, they add.

Opponents, meanwhile, say the so-called “Lexus lanes” would violate the trust of voters because they would be enabled by a freeway widening using hundreds of millions of dollars from the county’s half percent sales tax for transportation.

They argue that any additional lanes beyond the one free lane envisioned by M2 should get major financing from Caltrans.

As for where things go from here, the transportation board’s majority said their energy was best focused, among other issues, on ensuring Caltrans keeps toll lanes free for cars with two or more people inside. Ensuring the toll revenue is spent locally was another issue board members were keen on pursuing. It’s a position that largely mirrors that of the Orange County Business Council, the most prominent business advocacy group in county politics.

For a longer version of this story, see voiceofoc.org   Voice of OC is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on public policy in Orange County.

Transportation Officials Battle Over Toll Lanes Proposal

By NICK GERDA Voice of OC

Orange County’s top transportation officials clashed with each other Monday morning on whether to confront state plans to put toll lanes on America’s busiest stretch of freeway.

Ultimately, a majority of Orange County Transportation Authority board members rejected proposals to challenge the state more directly.

State officials plan to approve a $1.3 billion plan, largely funded by local Measure M2 sales tax money, to add a free lane on the I-405 between Costa Mesa and Seal Beach and rebuild 17 bridges to make space for more lanes.

Yet Caltrans – the state transportation agency – plans to use the space created by that local tax to then install paid toll lanes along the freeway.

Numerous local city officials and state legislators are vehemently opposed to the plan, and tried this week to get OCTA board members to support an alternative plan they say would not involve tolls.

“I continue to hear overwhelming objection to toll lanes, and not just in the corridor cities,” said board member Matthew Harper, mayor of Huntington Beach and a candidate for state Assembly.

“Why does Caltrans and OCTA seek input from the Orange County people, and then they ignore it?” asked board member Gary Miller, who is also a Seal Beach councilman.

OCTA staff, meanwhile, argued that pursuing that alternative would delay the project by 18 months, with the delay alone boosting the project’s cost by about $60 million.

Those extra costs could endanger funding for other freeway projects in Orange County, several board members argued.

“A delay or additional cost in putting other projects at risk here, is not something I can vote in favor” of, said board member Jeff Lalloway, who is also an Irvine councilman.

A large majority of the OCTA board made it clear they don’t support the cities’ plan, which they argued would require another $100 million to $150 million in funding.

“Unless somebody has the $100 million ready to go, and it’s an alternate source outside of OCTA,” the current plan should still move forward, said board member Frank Ury, who is also a Mission Viejo councilman.

“If you don’t show us the money, it’s kind of a one-side discussion.”

The final vote tally was 11-4 to support the current path, with board members Miller, Tom Tait, John Moorlach and Todd Spitzer opposing. Board members Janet Nguyen and Miguel Pulido were absent.

Pulido had been present for the early part of the meeting but was absent for the toll lanes discussion and votes.

Board members also rejected an effort by Harper to have OCTA staff study whether the cities’ proposal, which would add a free lane and a carpool lane in each direction, is viable.

Monday’s discussion also included an intense confrontation involving board member Todd Spitzer.

It stemmed from members in support of staying the current path saying throughout the meeting that they opposed toll lanes.

Spitzer asked that they take a formal vote to register their verbal opposition.

In particular, he wanted his colleagues to vote to state their opposition to the state’s toll lanes proposal and send it to Caltrans and Gov. Jerry Brown.

Caltrans’ top Orange County official, Ryan Chamberlain, then said such a move could delay the project.

OCTA Darrell Johnson chimed in that approving the motion on the floor, Spitzer’s proposal, "would have some level of delay, at a minimum, just to understand” what it means and drive up costs.

Spitzer went off on Caltrans officials, questioning what kind of "partner" they really are.

“Now they’re floating out there, ‘Oh really, you want to go on record and…actually vote as you said it, as opposed to just saying it on the side? Now we’re going to put a delay on the table,’ ” Spitzer said.

“The fact that some of us simply want to go on the public record…suddenly they play the delay card.”

Lalloway and others noted that Caltrans is in control of the freeways, which it owns.

“We can’t pick and choose who our partner is here, and it’s Caltrans,” said Lalloway, adding that he can’t support Spitzer’s request given the delays it would cause.

Spitzer took another shot at Caltrans.

“That’s an inappropriate threat that was thrown out there,” Spitzer said of Chamberlain.

Chamberlain took exception to Spitzer’s claims.

“I don’t appreciate some accusations being slung at Caltrans when this project has been moving forward cooperatively” over the last decade, said Chamberlain.

Supporters of the high-occupancy toll lanes say the tolls would likely only apply to cars with only a single person inside, allowing carpools to have free access like they currently do.

It would be the fastest way to move people and goods on the freeway, they add.

Opponents, meanwhile, say the so-called “Lexus lanes” would violate the trust of voters because it would be enabled by a freeway widening using hundreds of millions of dollars from the county’s half-percent sales tax for transportation.

They argued that any additional lanes beyond the one free lane envisioned by M2 should get major financing from Caltrans.

As for where things go from here, the transportation board’s majority said their energy was best focused, among other issues, on ensuring Caltrans keeps toll lanes free for cars with two or more people inside.

Ensuring the toll revenue is spent locally was another issue board members were keen on pursuing.

It’s a position that largely mirrors that of the Orange County Business Council, the most prominent business advocacy group in county politics.

“If we want to have a conversation with them about what is done with this revenue, we kind of have to talk nice,” said board member Michael Hennessey.

Update: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that board member Matthew Harper voted against the current approach and indicated that Tom Tait supported it. We regret the error.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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