The first improvements to relieve congestion on the busy Riverside Freeway were announced Friday by the Orange County Transportation Authority during ceremonies marking its purchase of the controversial 91 Express Lanes.
"This is truly a new day for the 91 Freeway and the 250,000 daily motorists who use it," said Tim Keenan, OCTA board chairman. "We hope to pave the way for much-needed congestion relief on this vital link."
With the tollway under government control, OCTA has eliminated a troublesome non-competition agreement that gave the former owners the right to veto any improvements to the Riverside Freeway that threatened toll revenue.
The first of $1.6 billion in planned improvements is an auxiliary lane to reduce a major westbound chokepoint between the Riverside County line and the Coal Canyon exit. Auxiliary lanes add capacity between interchanges.
Construction of the $8-million lane is set to start in the spring and finish by January 2004.
A second auxiliary lane for the same stretch is being planned.
In addition, OCTA officials are studying a new eastbound lane from the Eastern toll road to the Green River exit and a second one from the toll road to California Highway 71.
That work would cost about $36 million.
"We feel the floodgates are open for us to move on," said Ellen Burton, a planning manager for OCTA, which bought the 91 Express Lanes for $207 million Jan. 3.
In a symbolic gesture Friday, officials from Riverside and Orange counties took a chain saw to a mock non-compete agreement during dedication ceremonies for marking the acquisition.
OCTA also plans to introduce express bus service in September between Riverside, Corona and Orange County.
The two proposed routes would originate at the Galleria at Tyler mall in Riverside and the Crossroads Church on Kellogg Avenue in Corona. Both routes will terminate at UC Irvine and the South Coast Metro area.
The buses will run every 30 minutes from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m., and from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.