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OCTA to take charge of 405 toll-lane project

The Orange County Transportation Authority is taking the reins on a highly debated proposal to put toll lanes on the 405 Freeway through part of the northern county.

The OCTA board of directors voted 12 to 4 on Monday to approve terms with the California Department of Transportation, spelling out that OCTA would fund, finance, construct and operate the toll lanes. The agency also would be in charge of widening 14 freeway bridges as well as adding general-purpose lanes along the 14-mile stretch of the 405 between the 605 Freeway in Seal Beach and the 73 Freeway in Costa Mesa.

Directors Jim Katapodis, Michelle Steel, Gary Miller and Andrew Do dissented. Board member Tom Tait was absent.

Caltrans has told OCTA since July that it was looking to add two toll lanes in each direction of the corridor. However, the state’s plan was opposed by several OCTA officials and by residents in the area who favored the county’s plan to add a general-purpose lane in each direction.

OCTA Chairman Jeffrey Lalloway said the term sheet approved Monday is a step forward for his agency, giving it authority over the toll lanes, including the cost of the tolls and where any revenue not used to pay for construction would go.

“We have made it clear that we’re not in favor of tolls, but at this point, it is not a discussion about tolls or no tolls,” Lalloway said. “If we don’t do it, Caltrans is going to do it. And if Caltrans does it, no one’s going to like it. [The OCTA] will lose the ability to decide toll policy and where that excess toll revenue goes.”

Lalloway said surplus toll revenue could be used for street projects in the 405 corridor or for countywide projects. Officials plan to study potential revenue from tolls, OCTA spokesman Joel Zlotnik said.

Funding

The initial plan was to have OCTA complete its $1.3 billion 405 widening project before Caltrans added a toll lane in each direction and converted the existing carpool lane in each direction into a toll lane. Adding the toll lanes would cost an estimated $400,000.

Under the new agreement, however, OCTA would be in charge of both projects and construct them together.

Caltrans also would give OCTA $82 million toward overall construction.

The project is to be funded primarily through Measure M2, a half-cent sales tax approved by county voters in 2006 to fund transportation projects. However, no M2 funds will be used toward construction of the toll lanes, Zlotnik said.

Cities’ reactions

Some members of the 405 Freeway Cities Coalition, made up of council members from Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley, Seal Beach and Westminster, said they are still concerned about the project, claiming that the toll lanes would have a negative impact on businesses in those cities.

The proposed toll lanes would have one entry point and one exit point in each direction, near Bolsa Avenue/Goldenwest Street and Warner Avenue/Magnolia Street, and would be separated from the rest of the freeway by reflective pylons, Zlotnik said. Westminster Councilwoman Diana Carey said that would make it more difficult for motorists to exit the toll lanes, making them less likely to shop at businesses in the corridor.

“By not allowing continuous access, the OCTA is saying that it does not support the local businesses and that they’re allowing express-lane drivers to completely bypass our corridor,” she said.

Carey and Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, who did not attend Monday’s meeting, also expressed worries about carpoolers’ access to the toll lanes. According to the term sheet, vehicles with two or more passengers could use the toll lanes for free, though only for about three years.

“If we can have two or more [passengers in a vehicle], that solves a lot of our issues,” Righeimer said in a phone interview.

He added that Costa Mesa would like the carpool entrance and exit points to be at major streets such as Harbor Boulevard in Costa Mesa and Beach Boulevard in Huntington Beach.

Miller, a Seal Beach councilman who voted against the plan, wanted free carpool access for 10 years.

Continuous access to the toll lanes as well as free carpool access will be discussed at future OCTA meetings, Zlotnik said.

OCTA Director Lisa Bartlett, a county supervisor, said the addition of the toll and general-purpose lanes would help businesses in the corridor because of faster travel times along the 405.

OCTA staff estimates that in 2040, it would take motorists about 30 minutes to drive from the 73 to the 605 using a general-purpose lane and about 13 minutes when using a toll lane.

“When the project’s complete, you’re going to find more people going to your cities, and your revenues will increase,” Bartlett said.

Staff writer Bradley Zint contributed to this report.


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