Leaders of the six Orange County cities lining the San Diego (405) Freeway between Costa Mesa and the San Gabriel River (605) Freeway have united in opposition to an Orange County Transportation Authority proposal to add toll roads.
"The cities have carefully considered the alternatives for the I-405 Freeway expansion in the [environmental reports] and are unified in our opposition to Alternative 3 with Express Lanes," reads a letter signed by the mayors of Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Los Alamitos, Seal Beach, Westminster and the mayor pro tem of Huntington Beach.
The letter, sent to OCTA on Tuesday, follows each of those cities' formal oppositions to Alternative 3, a $1.7-billion expansion that would add one general-purpose lane and one toll lane and convert the freeway's existing carpool lane into a second toll lane. Rather, those cities are in favor of Alternative 2, which is cheaper and instead adds two lanes for all drivers.
Alternative 2 would also have the smallest impact for Costa Mesa, as the freeway inside the city limits is already up to par. There would be some construction, however, near the State Streets neighborhood by the Santa Ana River.
"The number of lanes that are available 'free' for the public for most of the stretch of the freeway for Alternative 3 remains the same as currently exists, at five lanes total, whereas Alternative 2 proposes seven [free] lanes," the letter states. "Alternative 2, at a cost of approximately $300 million less than Alternative 3, provides a better value for the money in terms of benefits to the communities and commuters."
OCTA is prepared to set aside an estimated $1.3 billion in Measure M2 funds — a half-cent sales tax voters approved in 2006 — to add more lanes to one of Southern California's busiest freeways.
The agency has yet to figure out how to raise the rest of the money if the state doesn't use a toll road. Every overpass along the project's path would have to be rebuilt, including the Fairview Road bridge, which was redone a few years ago.
OCTA officials estimate the traffic between the Corona del Mar (73) Freeway and the 605 will increase by more than 100,000 vehicles per day by 2040. To fully accommodate that traffic, the freeway would need 10 lanes on each side, according to the agency.
Without building a second freeway level or widening the freeway's footprint — and seizing property along with it — adding up to two lanes in the most feasible option, project engineers say.
Ultimately, the choice comes down to the California Department of Transportation.
The city leaders' letter urges OCTA to conclude that Alternative 2, the two-lane option, is the choice preferred by locals, and report it to Caltrans, which will decide in the fall.