Residents and city leaders are pushing back against a plan to add toll lanes to a 14-mile stretch of the 405 Freeway in Orange County, a $1.47-billion proposal that would involve reconstructing overpasses and eliminating carpool lanes.
Adding toll routes to the freeway — dismissed as "Lexus lanes" by one city mayor — is one of three proposed alternatives for helping untangle the highway congestion from Costa Mesa to the county line in Seal Beach.
The most controversial of the alternatives would add a single general-purpose lane and a toll lane in each direction. The existing carpool lanes on each side of the highway would also be converted to toll lanes.
The other alternatives would add general purpose lanes, but no pay-to-drive lanes.
At a public meeting in Westminster this week, more than 150 people voiced their opposition to any toll lanes within the 14-mile stretch.
"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" and predicted that if they're added to the 405, they would pave the way for more toll roads in Orange County, such as on the 5 Freeway.
Orange County was actually an early pioneer in the toll lane experiment and congestion-based pricing when carpools lanes along a 10-mile portion of the 91 Freeway were converted to the so-called Express Lanes. Toll lanes were recently added to the 110 and 10 freeways in Los Angeles, and Orange County has an extensive network of toll roads that span much of the county.
Under congestion-based pricing, tolls rise during peak crunch times and fall during the hours when traffic typically thins out. The Orange County Transportation Agency projects that tolls along the 405 would peak at $9.91 for northbound trips and $6.11 for southbound trips.
During the public meeting, Huntington Beach Mayor Connie Boardman said that residents are already paying for their roads with gas taxes and Measure M, the county's voter-approved half-cent sales tax for transportation projects.
"This would be a tax on a tax on a tax," she said.
Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach, a Costa Mesa resident, called the alternative "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 just to cross into Los Angeles County. Instead, he said, they would take surface streets.
"Our local streets are going to be very congested if this option is passed," Miller said.
The OCTA is scheduled to discuss the 405 plans at a public meeting Nov. 8.