A regional transportation agency on Monday approved a $2.5-million study as a first step toward adding an eastbound lane to alleviate congestion on the Riverside Freeway through the Santa Ana Canyon.
The auxiliary lane will increase from four to five the number of lanes along a five-mile stretch from the highway's intersection with the Foothill-Eastern toll road to the Corona Expressway near Prado Dam.
Orange County Transportation Authority board members said they were funding the environmental impact report as part of a continuing effort to alleviate traffic on the Riverside Freeway. The stretch through the canyon is considered one of its worst chokepoints.
The freeway is regarded as one of the most congested corridors in Southern California.
In addition, the project includes widening existing lanes, shoulders and the median. Construction is expected to begin in 2007. Cost is estimated at nearly $35 million.
OCTA officials said the improvement would ease congestion and also benefit those traveling on the northbound 241 toll road.
The agency will hire a consultant to complete the environmental report. The OCTA board is expected to review the report by late 2005.
In late February, a new westbound lane on the Riverside Freeway significantly lowered commute times from the Inland Empire to Orange County during the morning rush hour.
Both projects are part of a series of widenings planned for the freeway since the OCTA bought the privately owned 91 Express Lanes. The toll lanes run down the middle of the freeway.
By buying the lanes, the OCTA was able to eliminate an agreement between the previous owner and Caltrans that effectively blocked significant improvements to the Riverside Freeway.
Funds from the Express Lanes are being used to pay for the environmental study.