Commentary: Say no to toll lanes and keep our freeway free

The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) Board of Directors will be voting next week on a plan that, if adopted, will misuse billions of tax dollars designated for traffic congestion relief to build toll roads on the 405 Freeway. But that's not all of the misappropriation that is planned.

The real plan, as suggested in the July/August 2012 issue of the Auto Club of Southern California's Westways magazine, is to eventually have these toll lanes running throughout the Southland.

To accomplish this, billions of our Measure M tax dollars that have already been spent widening other Orange County "freeways" and building connectors will also be sucked into this toll-road scheme. It is unconscionable that this massive redirection of our tax funds can occur without the approval of the voters.

Interestingly, the language in voter-approved measures M and M2, which continues transportation projects through a tax increase, includes zero mention of the term "toll," but "freeway" is used dozens of times. Clearly, county voters voted for freeway improvements, but not for toll roads.

OCTA tells us that its I-405 toll option adds one general purpose and one toll lane in each direction on the 405. The existing carpool lanes, one in each direction, also become toll lanes.

The net effect is that where we currently have five lanes available for free, we would still have only five free lanes after our billions are spent and gone. There would be no added lane capacity for those who cannot or will not pay tolls.

The other dirty secret is that the proposed 405 toll lanes would improve the drive times only for those who pay to use them. The rest of us would see little improvement in traffic congestion or travel times for our massive investment.

If those disclosures don't already have you fuming, consider the costs: The 405 tolls are expected to range as high as $9.91 northbound and $6.11 southbound. That could amount to hundreds of dollars extra a month for commuters, or thousands a year, on top of gasoline and Measure M2's extra half-cent sales tax.

I believe that the people who use toll lanes make up a small percentage of our commuting public, and so the OCTA proposal to use our self-imposed measures M and M2 tax money to benefit only a small segment of the community is a slap in the face to taxpayers.

ERIC BEVER is the former mayor of Costa Mesa.

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