91 Toll Up for Earlier Traffic

Times Staff Writer

Thousands of motorists who use the 91 Express Lanes on the busy Riverside Freeway will face a new increase for eastbound travel on Friday afternoons, transit officials announced Monday.

The Orange County Transportation Authority, which bought the tollway from a private company in January, will raise rates 75 cents to $5.50 for drivers headed east from 3 to 4 p.m. on Fridays. The new toll goes into effect Nov. 21.

OCTA officials are considering a similar hike for eastbound motorists between 5 and 6 p.m. on Wednesdays.

Peak tolls on the Express Lanes are among the highest-per-mile rates in the nation.

"Oh, for crying out loud," said Mary Monise of Corona, who regularly travels the 91 Express Lanes to work in Irvine. "We are paying $5.50 each way, and the tollway is still congested. It's a real strain."

The increases are part of a new congestion-based toll policy adopted by OCTA and the 91 Express Lanes Advisory Committee in July to help keep traffic flowing at highway speeds.

Under the policy, tolls during the peak times can be raised 75 cents when the number of vehicles headed in one direction is from 3,200 to 3,299 per hour.

Speeds begin to slow or become erratic when the volume reaches 3,400 vehicles an hour.

In August, rates were increased $1 to $5.50 for eastbound motorists using the Express Lanes from 4 to 6 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays.

Ellen Burton, an OCTA official who manages the lanes, said eastbound traffic has reached the critical level earlier than usual on Friday afternoons. Volumes for Wednesday afternoon, she said, are fast approaching the toll threshold.

The 91 Express Lanes run for 10 miles in the middle of the Riverside Freeway, from northern Anaheim to the Riverside County line. OCTA bought the tollway for $207 million, ending a controversial agreement that had prevented Caltrans from widening the freeway.

Despite the toll increases, a new OCTA poll of 400 Express Lane customers shows that about two-thirds are satisfied with their experience on the tollway because it offers them a fast and uneventful trip.

The poll, released Monday, also found that the average customer saves almost 30 minutes by using the Express Lanes. In addition, more than 20% said they use the tollway during times other than the morning and evening rush hours.

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