Commentary: OCTA’S 405 compromise doesn’t cut it

Recently, I attended another of the Orange County Transportation Authority’s Stakeholder Working Group meetings to discuss the latest proposals to widen the San Diego (405) Freeway from the San Gabriel (605) Freeway to the Corona del Mar (73) Freeway.

I left the meeting with a new list of concerns for our city.

As many of you have been following, this project is highly controversial because it includes a proposal to add paid toll lanes to the 405 at the expense of the current free carpool lanes. The toll lanes are necessary to fund the $1.7-billion cost to build. Many question whether Measure M, which is paying for this project, envisioned toll lanes when it was originally approved by the voters.

In addition, the toll lane proposal would have disastrous impacts on Costa Mesa, including the destruction and rebuilding of the Fairview Road bridge, which we just destroyed and rebuilt three years ago at a cost of $7 million.

In response to overwhelming community opposition, OCTA has revised its so-called “Alternative 3" and created “Alternative 3-A.” Alternative 3-A retains the toll lanes, but stops the lanes at Harbor Boulevard, thereby negating the need to destroy and rebuild the Fairview bridge.

At first blush, Alternative 3-A sounds like a solution to Costa Mesa’s concerns. However, the proposal fails to provide any specific information on what the new impacts will be. By stopping the toll lanes at Harbor, folks living on the State Streets, near Moon Park, will certainly see additional lighting and signage impacts from the freeway.

What about bottlenecks at Harbor as the toll lane drivers migrate back into the general purpose lanes to either exit, or enter the 73? OCTA is not performing any further traffic or environmental studies, nor is it hosting any further community meetings in order to explain this proposal or identify its impacts to the residents. Something isn’t right here.

What happens when toll revenue pays off the costs of construction? Will those toll lanes revert to free carpool lanes for the use of the general public? No. OCTA plans to keep the excess revenue.

Can you say “slush fund?” How is this fair to the motoring public?

The city of Costa Mesa has made it clear that the traffic problems associated with the 405 begin with the loss of lanes at Euclid and Brookhurst streets. Costa Mesa made accommodations for anticipated additional vehicle travel on the 405 when it built the 73 transition lanes 20 years ago. We did our part. OCTA should do its part.

If toll lanes are the magic bullet to fixing congestion on the 405, construct the toll lanes north of Costa Mesa, where the traffic problems begin. Don’t sell us a half-banked “compromise” and pretend that by saving the Fairview bridge, this toll lane proposal is good for residents. It is not.

The OCTA board is scheduled to vote on these alternatives, including Alternative 3-A, on Sept. 24. I encourage each of you to contact the OCTA board members and demand more time to study this important proposed alternative.

Cosa Mesa Planning Commission Chairman COLIN MCCARHTY is a member of the 405 Freeway Stakeholder’s Working Group. He is running for City Council.