Caltrans Overrides OCTA: 405 Freeway Widening Must Include Toll Lane

Transportation decisions are best made locally, not by the state DOT, right? For those advocating for tolled, managed lanes over free, general purpose lanes, the 405 Freeway in Orange County may prove the exception.
July 29, 2014, 9am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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As posted last December, the Orange County Transportation Agency opted to add a free (general purpose) lane to the 405 Freeway (also known as Interstate 405 and the San Diego Freeway) rather than an Express Lane (also called toll lane, HOT lane, managed lane, or derisively, Lexus Lane).

We also noted that "Caltrans, the state's transportation authority, has to approve the selection, according to KTLA 5."

Paloma Esquivel, Orange County reporter for the Los Angeles Times, reports that Caltrans overrode OCTA's selection, insisting that the widening include one toll lane on the "14-mile...notoriously congested section of the freeway between Seal Beach and Costa Mesa."

Caltrans officials said (July 25th) that adding high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on the 405 would speed traffic.

"We've got over 400,000 people using the 405 corridor every day," said Ryan Chamberlain, Orange County district director for Caltrans. "I'd say there's going to be a lot of people celebrating this decision."

Huntington Beach Mayor Matthew Harper would have none of it. "The state of California and those in Sacramento are trying to implement a concerted agenda to have layers of taxes, fees and tolls to extract dollars out of everyday drivers," he said. "I think once voters realize what's coming down at them, they're going to rebel and people are going to want to keep the freeways free."

However, Caltrans plans to build a free lane first, which may please toll lane critics but upset highway widening opponents as OCTA's plan only called for building one lane.

The agency's plan [see OCTA press release (PDF)], recommended by Caltrans' project development team, would allow the OCTA to move forward with its proposal to add one free lane in each direction before eventually creating the high-occupancy toll lanes at an estimated total project cost of $1.7 billion.

The decision to build two lanes in each direction rather than one pleased the business and labor community but the inclusion of the toll lane infuriated one driver as expressed in his blog.

While a HOT, or High Occupancy Toll lane would normally allow high occupancy vehicles to use the lane at no charge, that doesn't appear to necessarily be the case with the 405 according to Esquivel.

Caltrans is also exploring the possibility of allowing vehicles with two or more occupants to ride free in the toll lanes, but a final decision has not been made, said Chamberlain.

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Published on Friday, July 25, 2014 in Los Angeles Times
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