Orange County officials are considering adding toll lanes to several major freeways to relieve increasing congestion as the county continues to grow.
In the next decade, the 405, 5, 55, 57 and 91 freeways could see added express toll lanes, based on studies presented to the Orange County Transportation Authority.
Although the five major thoroughfares are being considered, all Orange County freeways are fair game for pay-to-drive lanes, said Joel Zlotnik, an OCTA spokesman.
Both the county transportation authority and the California Department of Transportation are studying options for toll lanes and how they would affect traffic congestion and the area’s residents. Express lanes would give drivers the option of a faster route, ideally relieving congestion in general-use lanes as well. At least in some toll lanes, vehicles with three occupants could ride for free.
The county operates 10 miles of toll lanes on the 91 Freeway, and officials say commuters save up to 30 minutes a day in travel time using those lanes.
OCTA is considering adding toll lanes throughout freeways in Orange County, while Caltrans is launching an environmental review for a project that would add pay lanes on the 5 Freeway between Red Hill Avenue and the Los Angeles County line. Both agencies presented their plans to OCTA at a meeting Monday night.
Last week, Los Angeles County transportation officials hired an engineering firm to explore the conversion of the 405 Freeway’s carpool lane to a toll lane through the Sepulveda Pass. Those lanes would run between the 101 Freeway in the San Fernando Valley and the 10 Freeway in West L.A. If the Metropolitan Transportation Authority approves the plan, the toll lanes would open to drivers in the fall of 2027, just before Los Angeles hosts the 2028 Summer Olympics, officials said.
Plans for toll lanes in Orange County are further out, with implementation — if approved — not expected until 2030.
“Express lanes are one tool we can use as we’re looking for the best ways” to accommodate the surge of 165,000 people who are expected to commute to Orange County in the next 20 years, Zlotnik said. “It’s important this be looked at as one piece of a transportation puzzle … as Orange County continues to grow,” he said.
Caltrans and OCTA said no official decisions have been made and noted the process to build toll lanes is a long one, requiring consultation with the public and thorough environmental and financial reviews.
A $1.9-billion project that will add two toll lanes on the 405 Freeway in each direction between the L.A. County line and Costa Mesa is underway. OCTA also is expanding the 5 Freeway to add carpool lanes, which could be turned into express lanes through the Caltrans project.
The agencies said that 75% of carpool lanes are congested during rush hours and the lanes fail to meet federal standards mandating that vehicles should move at a minimum of 45 mph the majority of the time in peak hours.
Caltrans is continuing to seek input while its environmental review is underway. After it’s complete, the agency will have a clearer sense of what the project would entail, spokesman David Matza said.
“It’s too early to say” what it would look like, he said.
“We’re not going to do anything without consulting with not just OCTA, but all our local partners. We see this project as a complement to what OCTA is doing.”
The Orange County Transportation Authority will present the study’s conclusion to its board in the spring.