Commentary: Add capacity to the congested 405 Freeway

In his letter published Aug. 28 ("Commentary: Stop the 'south county Lexus' lanes,"), Costa Mesa Mayor Eric Bever chose to present a distorted indictment of the plans to improve the San Diego (405) Freeway between Costa Mesa and the border with Los Angeles County.

My experience has taught me to look past political spin and bluster. However, in this case, Bever goes beyond those antics and advances misinformation and factually incorrect claims. With that in mind, let's set the record clear.

First and foremost, Bever has been relentless in asserting that Measure M dollars will pay to construct toll lanes if Alternative 3 or a modified version of the alternative (to reduce impacts to Costa Mesa and other cities) were selected. This is simply untrue.

Funded through Measure M, the I-405 Improvement Project promises Orange County residents one regular lane in each direction between Costa Mesa (55) and San Gabriel River (605) freeways. This will be accomplished in all of the alternatives under consideration.

Regardless of which option is selected, this promise made under Measure M will be kept.

The cost of this commitment, referred to as Alternative 1, is $1.3 billion. Adding two regular lanes in each direction, known as Alternative 2, would cost $1.4 billion. One-hundred million dollars would need to be obtained from other sources like state or federal dollars.

Alternative 3, the express-lanes concept, would cost $1.7 billion. This alternative provides one regular lane in each direction, as promised to Orange County voters.

Like alternatives 1 and 2, $1.3 billion of funding for that regular lane would come from Measure M. The additional $400-million cost of this alternative would be funded entirely by those who choose to pay to use a newly constructed express lane facility.

Alternative 3 adds one lane in each direction in the middle of the freeway that would work in conjunction with the existing carpool lanes to create a two-lane express facility in each direction.

The express lanes would operate in a similar fashion to the 91 Express Lanes, where three-plus carpools would be free. We are continuing to evaluate the potential for two-plus carpools to use the lanes for free during nonrush-hour periods.

To use the lanes, a FasTrak transponder — of which nearly 1 million have been issued locally — would be required. Contrary to Bever's assertions, the express lanes would have multiple ingress and egress points and would be very accessible by those in the area.

From a purely operational perspective, Alternative 3 moves the most cars through this stretch of freeway in the shortest amount of time.

Projections show that the express lane facility will move more than 1,000 more vehicles per hour than Alternative 2. As someone who travels this corridor daily, I am quite convinced we need more capacity — not less — on the 405.

That fact alone doesn't mean that the Orange County Transportation Authority board will select Alternative 3 when we are scheduled to vote Sept. 24, but it certainly should be a consideration. As a transportation agency, we would be failing every current and future resident of this county if we don't explore how to most efficiently and effectively move people and goods on our freeways.

Lastly, I take exception to the characterization of how excess toll revenues have been presented. The letter asserts that the reinvestment of toll proceeds along the 405 corridor is "offensive."

I am still trying to reconcile how enhancing our city streets and roads would be offensive to a local elected official. The reinvestment of toll revenues is a long-standing policy on the 91 Express Lanes facility that works to better that corridor.

Why would we not want to replicate success for west Orange County? In fact, the 91 Express Lanes have contributed more than $10 million to improve that corridor to the benefit of all who travel there — in the regular lanes as well as the express lanes.

Claiming this to be some enticement when it is an established policy highlights a disconnection to how things really work in our county transportation system.

The proposed alternatives should not be considered an "audacious scheme." The only thing audacious is to totally ignore the facts and malign our attempt to improve one of the most heavily traveled freeways in the United States.

DON HANSEN is the mayor of Huntington Beach and chairman of the Orange County Transportation Authority Regional Planning and Highways Committee.

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