ORANGE — The Orange County Transportation Authority on Monday approved new lanes for a portion of the 405 Freeway, a decision that scrapped a hotly contested toll road option that area cities have fought for months.
The estimated $1.25-billion project, known as Alternative 1, was one of three proposals to widen a nearly 12-mile stretch of the 405 between the 605 Freeway interchange in Seal Beach and Euclid Street in Fountain Valley. It calls for adding one general-purpose lane in each direction in an attempt to alleviate congestion.
The item passed 11 to 4, with directors Matthew Harper, John Moorlach, Gary Miller and Todd Spitzer dissenting. Director Janet Nguyen abstained. Director Patricia Bates was absent.
The $1.47-billion toll road option, Alternative 3, would have replaced the existing carpool lane with a toll route and added a general-purpose lane. Alternative 2 would have added two general-purpose lanes for $1.35 billion.
Construction on Alternative 1 is scheduled to begin in 2015 and finish by 2020. The project amounts to 20% of Orange County’s freeway projects under Measure M, a voter-approved sales tax for transportation improvements.
Monday’s vote reaffirms the board’s October 2012 decision favoring Alternative 1.
Nguyen, a county supervisor representing District 1, said she didn’t want to vote against adding one general-purpose lane, but abstained because she believes building two lanes would have been the better option.
Moorlach, a supervisor for District 2, made a substitute motion to recommend Alternative 2. His motion failed because of funding concerns.
OCTA staff has estimated that an additional general-purpose lane would cost about $100 million. The authority is already short $720 million for the 405 project.
Harper supported Alternative 2, saying it is “not just good politics, but it’s good policy.”
“More freeway lanes are going to move more people on our freeways, and that’s what we should really press to be able to do,” he said.
The newly elected mayor of Huntington Beach was concerned that Alternative 1 would allow the California Department of Transportation to mandate that OCTA build the toll lanes.
Alternative 1’s construction permits additional space for a second general-purpose lane in the future. Whether the second lane would be free or pay-as-you-go is a topic the agency would discuss at a later date.
“Let’s not push this onto a decision from the Department of Transportation or the governor’s office or those who are in the state that seem to be pressuring this agency to self-inflict tolls on ourselves,” Harper said. “Instead, we need to advocate to the state that we want to make the determination ourselves, and we want freeway lanes here in Orange County, especially on the 405 Freeway, to be able to serve our public.”
Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer favored Alternative 2, but said after the meeting that the county is in a better position than it was in November, when OCTA was close to approving Alternative 3.
“Clearly, we’re a lot better off than we were 30 days ago, when the train had left the station,” he said.
Before the meeting, state Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) hosted a press conference during which he announced plans to introduce legislation that would prevent toll lanes. Outside OCTA’s headquarters, the 74th District representative said he would introduce the bill when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
Caltrans “has never forced toll lanes on any county, and I’m not going to let them do it on Orange County,” he said.
Mansoor, a former Costa Mesa mayor and OCTA board member, also called Alternative 1 a “delay tactic to pave the way for toll lanes.”
“Don’t be fooled,” he said. “The only thing managed about these lanes is OCTA and Caltrans managing to get more of your money. Make no mistake: This is Alternative 3 in Alternative 1’s clothing.”