ORANGE COUNTY — You won't be able to buy your way out of gridlock on the Orange Freeway any time soon: County transit officials voted unanimously Monday to back away from a hybrid toll-carpool lane project for the busy freeway.
The so-called HOT lanes, which would allow non-carpool vehicles to use the carpool lanes for a fee, are a concept county transit planners have been flirting with for some time. A similar system is already in place on the privately operated 91 Express Lanes, which run along the median of the Riverside Freeway near the border of Orange and Riverside counties.
But bringing such lanes to the Orange Freeway would have cost between $267 million and $392 million, in part because of costly right-of-way acquisition, and might have worsened a bottleneck at the Orange Crush, according to a yearlong study completed in March. There also is the issue of obtaining permission for any HOT lane project, since building such toll lanes on a California freeway requires special legislation.
The political climate for approval may have proved sticky, with toll roads in the state under harsh scrutiny since the failed attempt to sell the private toll lanes on the Riverside Freeway late last year. Some critics of toll roads, including state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, have said they will block the expansion of toll facilities.
Transit officials say they will now try to unclog the road by adding auxiliary and truck climbing lanes along some stretches. Truck climbing lanes are added on hills so slow-moving trucks don't obstruct other traffic.
"Instead of looking at HOT lanes, we will be concentrating on choke points on the 57," said Dave Simpson, spokesman for the Orange County Transportation Authority.
Transit planners have not ruled out HOT lanes in the future, Simpson said.