Orange County Transportation Authority board members pumped the brakes Friday on a decision that could add toll lanes to the 405 Freeway, but the option will be up for discussion again in a month.
The 18-person board unanimously agreed that talks with representatives from the California Department of Transportation and with residents from the cities impacted by the 405 widening project should return at the next board meeting on Dec. 9.
“I’m going to support this continuance with the caveat that we just have to stay on the gas,” Director Gail Eastman said. “This is important, but it’s important for everybody to be heard and for us come to the right conclusion for our county.”
The Regional Planning and Highways Committee recommended OCTA staff move forward in developing a plan to add one general lane in each direction on the 14-mile stretch of the 405 between the 605 interchange in Seal Beach and Costa Mesa, officially labeled Alternative 1.
But initial staff recommendations asked the board to approve Alternative 3, which would add one general-purpose lane in that stretch, but also include a toll lane in each direction as well.
Alternative 2, which would add two general purpose lanes in both directions, has been the favorite choice among residents and various city officials.
Costa Mesa Transportation Services Manager Raja Sethuraman said the additional 30 days to further discuss the issue with city and state officials will be beneficial for the project.
“They’re going to use this time to answer a lot of questions the corridor cities have,” he said. “We’ll see what Caltrans has to say. We haven’t seen that yet.”
But Sethuraman’s colleague, Costa Mesa Public Services Director Ernesto Munoz, said there has been plenty of time for the state transportation agency to answer those concerns, adding that he doesn’t expect to see any answers by December.
“It’s doubtful that the 30-day extension is going to change that,” he said. “We haven’t seen that in the past, and I don’t anticipate that we’re going to see that in the 30 days to come.”
About 100 people congregated Friday at the transportation agency’s headquarters in Orange, with about 40 of them voicing their approval or disapproval of the project.
"[Amid] all of these debates and arguments, we should do something more beneficent for business owners and for the residents,” said Gloria Rull, past president and current officer for the Asian Business Assn. of Orange County who supports Alternative 3.
ABAOC founder and Inland Empire Asian Business Assn. Director Kerry Osaki said the toll lanes would address the heavy congestion on the 405 sooner than later.
However, Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce President Diana Brunjes said her city doesn’t support the addition of paid lanes.
Seal Beach Mayor Pro Tem Ellery Deaton said the toll lanes would create “chaos” on the county line at the 605 and 405 freeways. She said people will take side streets to avoid the tolls, as they do during the morning rush hour.
OCTA Director and Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Matthew Harper said during an intermission in the meeting that he would like to move forward with Alternative 2, but recognizes that some of his fellow board members need further clarification on the agency’s relationship with Caltrans.
“A lot of the members on the board of directors have expressed that they feel pressure by what the Department of Transportation is doing,” he said.
Harper said the issue of adding toll lanes doesn’t end at the 405. Fears of additional toll lanes for other freeways in the county have been a concern to board members as well.
“Is this system of cannibalizing existing freeway lanes into toll lanes going to expand along the 5 [Freeway], the 55, the 57 or other routes?” he said.