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Orange County's Jobs Put Crowds on the 91

Survey studies Inland Empire commuter patterns. Only 17% are headed to L.A. County.

November 16, 2002|Daniel Yi | Times Staff Writer

Nearly three-quarters of commuters who use the chronically congested westbound lanes of the Riverside Freeway every morning are headed to jobs in Orange County's northern, northwestern and central cities, according to a report released Friday.

The survey, the first comprehensive study of commuting patterns on the only major corridor between the rapidly growing Inland Empire and Orange County, found that more than 40% of the westbound traffic ultimately ends up in cities such as Anaheim and Santa Ana.

An additional 20% are workers going to jobs in northwestern towns such as Huntington Beach and Westminster, and about 11% to northern cities, including Fullerton and La Habra.

The findings, presented at the Orange County Transportation Authority's board meeting Friday, will have important implications for solutions to the jampacked conditions on one of Southern California's most congested freeways, officials said.

Motorists make about 250,000 daily trips on the Riverside Freeway. That number is expected to rise to more than 400,000 by 2025.

"What we are doing is trying to learn where they are going so we come up with proposals that make more sense," OCTA spokesman George Urch said.

Urch said the survey -- a collaboration between the OCTA, the Riverside Transportation Commission and the Southern California Assn. of Governments -- confirmed officials' suspicion that the destinations were concentrated in Orange County.

Only 17% of Riverside County commuters on the 91 Freeway are headed to L.A.; 10% are on their way to Orange County's southern communities.

The bulk of the drivers, 82%, traveled alone, and the greatest number of them -- 44% -- came from the Corona and Norco areas, which have experienced tremendous housing growth in recent years.

Another 24% came from the Riverside and Rubidoux areas.

"They have the houses, we have the jobs," Urch said.

The study was conducted by videotaping traffic on the freeway between 4 and 10 a.m. during a two-day period in June. License plates were matched with addresses, and surveys were sent to 53,876 homes. About 7,300 drivers responded.

Transportation officials in both counties are considering a number of solutions to ease the traffic, including adding a parallel freeway and building a 10-mile tunnel underneath the Cleveland National Forest.

In the meantime, Urch said, the OCTA will move quickly to add lanes to the freeway as soon as the agency buys the toll lanes owned by the California Private Transportation Co.

Only about a quarter of survey respondents said they used the toll lanes, which can cost as much as $4.75 during peak hours.

Under a clause between the company and the state, Caltrans was prohibited from making improvements on the freeway. Urch said the OCTA is expected to complete the $207-million purchase of the toll lanes by early next year.

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