By Eric Bever, Mayor of Costa Mesa
The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) has devised an audacious scheme, and its spin-off, 405 “Alternatives 3 and 3A”, that would use billions of Measure M2 Freeway congestion improvement tax dollars to construct toll lanes on the 405 Freeway between Seal Beach and Costa Mesa. And curiously, Alternative 3A was rolled out AFTER the public comment period was formally closed, eliminating the opportunity to officially analyze and comment on the new proposal.
These taxpayer funded toll lanes will primarily benefit only those who are willing and able to pay tolls in addition to their share of billions in measure M2 taxes allocated to 405 freeway improvements. O.C. taxpayers did not vote to build a 405 Toll Road when we supported Measure M2, did we? Tolls were never part of the Measure M2 discussion.
Alternatives 3 and 3A are Toll road alternatives the OCTA is considering to purportedly “improve” traffic on the San Diego Freeway; alternatives its staff is pushing for the hardest. OCTA officials tried to run their shell game, cajoling corridor cities to buy in, but thankfully several skeptical City Councils along the 405 corridor and hundreds of their residents didn’t fall for it.
Here is OCTA’s pitch (which the media relentlessly repeats): “Alternative 3” would provide an additional “general purpose” lane and an “express” lane in each direction through the central OC 405 Freeway corridor. Two additional lanes in each direction sounds great, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the truth… in fact; OCTA is really planning on adding two limited access (Toll & HOV) lanes. These lanes will not be available to the general public, unless you can actually gain access to the toll lanes, (tough in central OC), and you are willing and able to pay tolls for using the lanes.
The result is that the 405 northbound bottlenecks are not addressed, and the taxpayers fronting the $1.3 Billion in Measure M2 taxes receive zero additional freeway congestion relieving lanes. Where we now have 5 free lanes (4 general and 1 carpool) we will still have only 5 freely accessible lanes after the favored “Alternative 3’s” $1.7 Billion has been spent.
Simply put, OCTA’s preferred “Alternatives 3 and their attempt at mollifying the corridor cities: Alt. 3A, both leave the “free” way as it is and adds 2 lanes only usable by those who have “fastrack” toll transponders and who are willing and able to pay for every trip. At $4-$5 per trip, a typical commuter will add $160- $200 to their monthly commuting costs to use the toll lanes. And forget about the popular “carpool lanes” with access at every major cross street; they are dust under OCTA's 405 toll lane proposals.
OCTA has suggested free high occupancy HOV (3+ passengers) access to the toll lanes, however, this only occurs when traffic is light and any benefit of using the lanes is minimal. During heavy traffic it is likely that everyone will have to pay to use the toll and HOV lanes, no matter how many passengers they carry.
Even if OCTA votes to build toll lanes with toll-free HOV (3+) lanes, (not the current plan) the lack of available access into and out of the lanes severely restricts the freedom and ease of use for those who might otherwise benefit from HOV lanes.
(Recently) at the OCTA 405 Policy Group meeting we were informed that this limited access did not matter, because the lanes are not intended for central county users. Wow, that statement gives credence to the comment of a resident who previously opined that Alt. 3 and 3A are essentially “south county Lexus lanes.”
At today’s 405 Policy meeting we were also informed by OCTA staff that the offensive SR-73 to 405 toll lane connectors that Costa Mesa vehemently opposes ”can be built at a later time."
Clearly, while OCTA works to mollify Costa Mesa with Alt. 3A, which “removes the SR-73 connector and demolition of the Fairview Street bridge” which are part of Alt. 3; the real game plan appears to be to allay our fears with Alt. 3A while cynically planning to shove the massively disruptive connectors through our city at a later date.
We also heard today that the corridor cities will be the recipients of any “excess tolls.” This proposal is offensive, as while OCTA attempts to entice the corridor cities to support their 405 Toll Road scheme with the promise of cold hard cash, they make us complicit in the robbery of the Orange County taxpayer. Thanks, but NO Thanks!
To their credit, the corridor city representatives present at (the recent) policy meeting voted to affirm our position opposing tolls on the 405 and reaffirmed our support for simply adding two lanes each way, accessible to all.
The City Councils of the 405 corridor cities of Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Westminster, Huntington Beach, Seal Beach, Los Alamitos unanimously oppose OCTA’s 405 Toll Alternative 3, and support Alternative 2 with minor modifications, which provides 2 new free (general purpose) lanes, which will address the bottlenecks and improve commutes for everyone with no extra toll charges.
The OCTA Board will be making a decision Sept. 24th on its 405 Freeway proposals, and if you have not yet weighed in, please consider doing so.
OCTA’s 405 Alternative 3 and 3A toll road schemes are highway robbery with the taxpayers as victims, and it’s time to put the notion of charging tolls on our FREEways to rest. Speak up now for Alternative 2, or forever pay the price.