Editorial: Put the brakes on 405 toll lanes

Like its counterpart in Huntington Beach, the Costa Mesa City Council met recently to discuss options regarding its strong opposition to toll lanes proposed for the 405 Freeway between the interchanges with the 605 and 73. Officials are weighing whether to sue to block the proposal.

We hope it doesn't come down to costly litigation. Instead, we'd like Caltrans to listen to the will of its constituents in Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley, Westminster, Los Alamitos, Rossmoor and Seal Beach and drop plans to add "Lexus Lanes" to the San Diego Freeway.

It's not that we think toll lanes are inherently bad in all situations, but the folks who live here and use the freeways don't want them — nor do they want to go through another congestion-causing construction project. The will of the affected residents and the elected officials who answer to them should be good enough for state decision makers.

Residents would prefer their freeways to be, well, free. We already pay taxes to fund them, goes the refrain.

Some view paid lanes as elitist, since only those who can afford the tolls use them. Others point to the track record of certain paid lanes, such as the 110 in downtown Los Angeles, which critics say is not attracting enough users. Then there's the 73 toll road in our neck of the woods, which has raised rates and the ire of drivers.

Costa Mesa has even more specific issues. The project would raze and replace the Fairview overpass. That would prove redundant, since taxpayer money was used to redo that span only a few years ago.

Arguments by supporters of toll lanes are not without merit, however, and should be considered when weighing the issue. They posit that by opening lanes to those who can afford to pay, that frees up the other lanes for everyone else.

This, in theory, could improve traffic flow — if the prices are set correctly — and improve air quality since fewer cars would be idling in traffic. In addition, the toll lanes can help maximize the capacity of carpool lanes, which critics argue are under-utilized.

But the politicians and vocal residents in our local cities — who don't always agree on things — agree on this issue: They're opposed. They don't want the toll lanes. And neither do we.

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