SANTA ANA (AP) — State transportation officials want to install toll lanes on a notoriously congested section of 405 Freeway in Orange County, but local officials aren’t happy.
Caltrans on Friday reserved the right to add 14 miles of toll lanes between Seal Beach and Costa Mesa — where a section of the freeway gets more average daily traffic than any other in the nation — but local transportation officials point out the proposal is unfunded and would take away existing carpool lanes.
The stretch of freeway is already slated for a $1.3 billion taxpayer-funded expansion project that would add a regular lane in each direction, according to The Orange County Register. That project is paid for by a half-cent sales tax approved by Orange County voters.
Caltrans proposes converting existing carpool lanes to toll lanes and adding another toll lane in each direction, but it doesn’t have the extra $400 million to make the idea a reality, said Shawn Nelson, an Orange County supervisor and chairman of the Orange County Transportation Authority’s board of directors.
Critics have called the toll lanes “Lexus lanes” because of the high price of using them. The tolls for the proposed lanes haven’t been determined, but other toll lanes in Southern California can charge up to $10 for a one-way trip during rush hour.
Transportation officials around the region have increasingly turned to toll lanes to generate revenue and alleviate traffic, with mixed reviews. Los Angeles officials recently added toll lanes along parts of the 10 and 110 freeways. Riverside County is now in the process of creating express lanes on the 91 Freeway in Corona, while San Bernardino County officials are exploring the possibility of toll lanes on the 10 and 15 freeways as well.
Caltrans’ version of the plan — including the future toll lanes — projects that by 2020 drivers in regular lanes of I-405 could travel between State Route 73 and I-605 in 29 minutes. With only one new general-purpose lane in each direction and no toll lanes, Caltrans says the same trip would take 57 minutes.
Federal Highway Administration numbers released last year showed that a stretch of the freeway through Seal Beach sees more traffic than anywhere else in the United States, with about 379,000 vehicles entering the roadway around Seal Beach on the busiest days. That makes it the busiest interstate in any American city.
The Orange County Transportation Authority expects to start construction on its widening project by 2016 and finish by 2021, with or without the toll lanes.
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