OCTA responds to city leaders' criticism

The Orange County Transportation Authority told the leaders of Costa Mesa and five other Orange County cities bordering the San Diego (405) Freeway that their concerns over the freeway's proposed improvement will be taken into consideration, according to a letter sent Tuesday.

"OCTA understands that there is an ongoing policy discussion about user fees/tolls to manage and fund congestion relief and infrastructure," wrote OCTA Chairman Paul Glaab. "The OCTA board will consider the full range of public perspectives on this as it deliberates on the I-405 project in the coming weeks. Please rest assured that your comments related to tolling will be properly captured and acknowledged when the staff presents the final recommendation to the board."

The letter was sent to Costa Mesa Mayor Eric Bever, the mayors of Fountain Valley, Los Alamitos, Seal Beach and Westminster, and Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Devin Dwyer.

"I'm fundamentally against the toll road," Dwyer said Wednesday. "There's really no way to appease me except for [Alternative 2]."

In July, the group collectively sent a letter to OCTA opposing Alternative 3 for improving the 405, which would add one general purpose lane and convert the carpool lane into a toll road to go along with a second, added toll lane. That option costs $1.7 billion, with about $400 million of the funding expected to come from toll road revenues.

Bever said he reiterated the cities' philosophical opposition to tolling drivers on the 405 at an OCTA finance and administration committee meeting Wednesday.

The six city officials endorsed Alternative 2 instead, which adds two general purpose lanes and leaves the carpool lane as is. It has a $1.4 billion price tag.

Alternative 1, which virtually no one supports, would add a single general purpose lane for $1.3 billion. The bulk of the costs are tied to tearing down and rebuilding every bridge along the project's span, stretching from the Corona del Mar (73) Freeway in Costa Mesa to the San Gabriel (605) Freeway in Seal Beach.

All three options would use about $1.3 billion of Measure M2 money, a county tax voters approved in 2006.

Since OCTA received the city leaders' letter, it has worked to adjust each alternative to appease critics. For Costa Mesa, a major sticking point was that Alternative 3 was the only one that involved significant construction in city limits and required the Fairview Road bridge to be rebuilt. It was widened a few years ago for millions of dollars.

A new option, called Alternative 3-A, would start the toll road north of Fairview, sparing its reconstruction.

"OCTA and its project partner, the State of California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to work with the I-405 freeway corridor cities to minimize local impacts," Glaab's letter reads.

"Simply put: The corridor cities do not support tolls on the 405 Freeway," Bever wrote in an email Wednesday. "Not Alternative 3, Not Alternative 3A, Not Alternative 53A, no tolls."

The letter addresses a number of criticisms from the mayors' letter, including clarifying that Alternative 2 would have a larger footprint in the Los Alamitos and Seal Beach areas. Transponders would be required for Alternative 3, but they are part of a growing trend in Southern California and can be acquired for free, according to Glaab's letter.

As anyone who has been stuck in rush hour traffic along the 405 between Costa Mesa and Seal Beach knows, the carpool lane moves just as slowly as the rest of the lanes, he said. Even if Alternative 3 isn't chosen, the county will eventually have to address the carpool lanes.

"Because the [carpool] lanes on the I-405 are often congested, they are classified as operationally deficient during peak hours," he wrote. "[Federal legislation] requires Caltrans to take actions to correct [carpool] deficiencies which include increasing the occupancy requirement."

Corridor city leaders are drafting a response to send to the OCTA, Bever said.

joseph.serna@latimes.com

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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