There has been significant debate in recent weeks regarding the plan by the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) and the California Department of Transportation to improve the San Diego (405) Freeway through one of the most congested areas of the county, between the Corona del Mar (73) and San Gabriel (605) freeways.
There are three construction options:
•Alternative 1: Adds one regular lane in each direction between Euclid Street in Fountain Valley and the 605.
•Alternative 2: Includes the regular lane in Alternative 1 and adds a second northbound lane between Brookhurst Street and the Garden Grove (22) Freeway, and a southbound lane between Seal Beach Boulevard and Brookhurst.
•Alternative 3: Includes the regular lane from Alternative 1 and adds one express lane in each direction between the 73 and 605.
The express lanes would work in conjunction with the existing carpool lane and allow solo drivers to pay a toll similar to the express lanes on the Riverside (91) Freeway. Buses, vanpools and carpools with three or more people would travel for free.
Much of the discussion has centered on the express lanes option, and I would like to clear up some incorrect information that has been circulating.
First, Measure M2 taxpayer dollars will not be used to build any toll lanes. Measure M2, the half-cent sales tax approved by 70% of Orange County voters, promised to deliver one regular lane in each direction along the 405. That promise will be delivered in all of the alternatives, including the express lanes option. We have not and will not waver from our promise to the voters and taxpayers of Orange County.
There is $1.3 billion available in M2 funds for the project and that would pay for adding one lane in each direction, delivering on the M2 promise. Adding two lanes in each direction would cost $1.4 billion, an additional $100 million for which a source has not been identified.
The express lanes option would cost $1.7 billion. That additional $400 million would come from the sale of bonds that will be paid off through tolls of those who choose to use the express lanes, not M2 dollars.
Secondly, the reason we are exploring the express lanes alternative is not to generate revenue. The express lanes option is being considered because it would move the most people through that stretch of freeway in the shortest amount of time. It also gives people a choice to reliably travel through the area — even in the most congested time periods.
Our experience with the 91 Express Lanes shows that you can move about 40% more cars in each express lane per hour than in a regular congested lane.
To accommodate traffic growth during the next 20 years, we would need to double the size of the 405, and that’s not an option. Not only do we not have the funding to double the size of the freeway, OCTA committed to the cities along the freeway that we would design the project to minimize impacts to homes and businesses.
Finally, I want to stress that OCTA has not taken a position on any of the alternatives and each will be evaluated equally through the environmental process. The board will look at the impacts and the benefits of each option, as well as consider the public comments, prior to selecting a locally preferred alternative later this summer. Caltrans, as the owner and operator of the state highway system, will decide the final alternative shortly thereafter.
Whichever option is ultimately selected, our decision must be based on ensuring the county’s long-term economic prosperity and our quality of life.
PAUL GLAAB is the chairman of the Orange County Transportation Authority and the mayor of Laguna Niguel.