Orange County Opts for Free Lanes over HOT Lanes

Orange County, birthplace of the nation's first high occupancy toll (HOT) lane, may never see another. Not only did they reject a plan to add one (or two) toll lanes, to the 405 Freeway, legislation to ban them altogether may be introduced.

The nation's first HOT lane, where single occupant vehicles can use lanes reserved for carpools if they pay a toll, opened in Orange County in 1996, now known as the 91 Express Lanes. But on Dec. 9, Orange County officials may have initiated a divorce with them. Paloma Esquivel writes about the alternative selection chosen by the county transportation authority for the San Diego Freeway (I-405) Improvement Project.

Ending months of rancorous debate, Orange County Transportation Authority board members voted to pursue an expansion plan that would add one free lane in each direction along a 11-mile stretch of the 405 from the 605 Freeway to Euclid Street.

On Monday, OCTA CEO Darrell Johnson said the toll lane proposal had become so divisive that the agency was at risk of losing the confidence of voters who years ago approved a half-cent sales tax to widen the freeway.

To ensure that the county never build another HOT lane, "Assemblyman Allan R. Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) said he expects to introduce legislation next year to block toll lanes by either barring them from the 405 or the county or requiring residents to vote to approve toll lanes," writes Esquivel.

However, Caltrans, the state's transportation authority, has to approve the selection, according to KTLA 5. 

"Ryan Chamberlain, Caltrans' district director for Orange County, said federal and state gas taxes simply can't cover the cost of building and maintaining California's vast highway system. He takes issue with people who call the proposed tolls a double tax," Esquivel had written earlier.

Should the decision hold, it will go against a national trend, albeit one that began in Orange County, where states looked to HOT lanes "as a means of revenue generation as well as congestion management", as we noted here last week.

Full Story: O.C. votes to expand 405 Freeway without adding toll lanes

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