A major revamping of the Riverside Freeway, dubbed "the parking lot" by frustrated commuters, was launched Monday by transportation officials who outlined plans for its first 2 1/2 miles of car-pool lanes.
Construction won't actually begin until next month, but officials held a press conference to explain the benefits of the project and warn drivers what to expect as the car-pool lanes are built between the Santa Ana River and the Orange Freeway in Anaheim.
"The (Route) 91 is one of those freeways that needs all the help we can get," said Anaheim Councilman Irv Pickler, also an Orange County Transportation Authority board member.
The first 2 1/2 miles of car-pool lanes won't open for three years because construction crews must reroute water in the Santa Ana River, dry out the soil and rebuild the freeway crossing there.
But once connected to a novel 10-mile, toll-lane experiment to the east and other car-pool lanes to the west, the project will "bring together commuters from the counties of Riverside, Orange and Los Angeles," said Orange County Supervisor William G. Steiner, in whose district the initial segment is located.
Steiner, who also serves on the OCTA board, touted the project's beneficial impact on the local economy.
"It's great that this county can put people to work," Steiner said.
Officials hope that this first segment and the 10-mile stretch of privately owned toll lanes from the Costa Mesa Freeway to the Riverside County line will open at the same time in late 1995 or early 1996.
The toll lanes--two in each direction--are expected to cost about $2 per vehicle each way during rush hour and will be built and operated by Irvine-based California Private Transportation Co., a partnership of U.S. and French firms. Car pools of three or more riders will have free access.
Caltrans officials said they have designed a way to avoid a bottleneck at the Santa Ana River bridge, where traffic from the two toll lanes in each direction will be confronted with only one car-pool lane each way.
Before the toll lanes end, motorists will reach a fork in the road--one branch will lead to a regular freeway lane, the other to the car-pool lane ahead.
From the Costa Mesa Freeway to the Los Angeles County line, the $178-million freeway widening will include reconstruction of four major interchanges, four over-crossings, 11 under-crossings, sound walls, changeable electronic message signs and California Highway Patrol enforcement areas--"buffer zones" where vehicles can be pulled over safely.
Reconstruction of the Riverside Freeway-Orange Freeway interchange will include car-pool ramps that will eliminate the need for drivers to leave the car-pool lanes when switching freeways.
But reconstruction of the interchange won't begin until the initial, 2 1/2-mile segment of car-pool lanes is completed in 1995 or early 1996, officials said.
Although the overall Riverside Freeway project will involve use of state and federal funds for new interchanges, the $178-million in actual freeway improvements will come from Measure M, the half-cent, countywide sales tax for traffic improvements approved by Orange County voters in 1990.
The toll lanes at the eastern end of the overall freeway project will connect with nearly completed car-pool lanes in Riverside County financed with a similar sales tax adopted by voters there.
Steiner described the Riverside Freeway project as the county's No. 2 transportation priority, after the $1.9-billion Santa Ana Freeway widening project, already underway.