Commentary: Toll lanes go against the spirit of Measure M funding

There has been a lot of discussion about whether toll lanes will reduce traffic and travel time on the 405 Freeway, and that is a worthy discussion. Today, I would like to approach it from another perspective — truthful and efficient use of tax dollars.

As many have mentioned, the Measure M promise was a free lane for everyone in each direction. This project is funded by Measure M and will cost approximately $1.3 billion. The cost of adding a second free lane in each direction is only $100 million more. For just an 8% increase, we can have two free lanes without tolls.

As the legislative session came to a close, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1298, which extends the sunset date for tolls on the 10 and 110 freeways in Los Angeles. For the reasons explained below, I voted no on this bill.

In an analysis, the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office stated that SB 1298 “contains a concession requested by the Professional Engineers in California Government (PEG, Caltrans employees), that local toll revenue be used to reimburse the DOT (Caltrans) for highway maintenance costs in the corridor.”

This does not present any problems if funds are used efficiently. But, the report continued: “In May, 2014, the LAO released a review of staff support costs at Caltrans (also known as capital outlay support, or COS). The report determined that COS is overstaffed by 3,500 full time employees, at a cost of more than 500 million per year.”

This $500 million of waste is more than five times the cost of building a second free lane on the 405. It’s also notable that the 3,500 employees pay lots of union dues that go to the political campaigns of politicians that allow this waste.

By putting public employee unions before taxpayers, PEG, Caltrans and the legislative majority that passed SB 1298 will burden working-class taxpayers with exorbitant tolls to drive on roads they’ve already paid for.

Who else is supporting the toll lanes? Wealthy corporate interests like the Orange County Business Council (OCBC). They’re backing a wealthy candidate from Los Angeles in the election to succeed John Moorlach on the Board of Supervisors. Their goal is to use Measure M funds to build the infrastructure to support toll lanes while fulfilling the Measure M promise of adding a lane to the 405. Then at some point in the future, they will convert what has already been built into toll lanes.

This issue really boils down to trust and truth. Without Measure M, Caltrans cannot build toll lanes on the 405 – they need to improve the infrastructure (widen bridges, etc.) first. But we already have the money to give Orange County everything it wants, for free, without tolls if we just cut the waste. County supervisors have a vote on OCTA and can stop the toll lanes from going forward. Let’s clean up the mess before grabbing more taxpayer money.

Assemblyman ALLAN MANSOOR represents Orange County’s 74th Assembly District and is a candidate for the Orange County Board of Supervisors