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L.A. Now Live: Orange County makes U-turn on 405 toll road plan

November 21, 2013
  • Discussion over creating toll lanes on the 405 Freeway in Orange County is heating up. Above, L.A.'s first foray into toll lanes shows that those willing to pay are getting a slightly faster commute, but everyone else is seeing more traffic.
Discussion over creating toll lanes on the 405 Freeway in Orange County… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Discuss the possible toll lanes that could connect Orange and Los Angeles counties at 9 a.m. with L.A. Times reporter Adolfo Flores.

A proposal for a $1.47-billion project to add toll lanes to a traffic-clogged 14-mile stretch of the 405 Freeway from Long Beach to Costa Mesa has met with wide opposition from officials and residents in the six cities along the route. Civic leaders said they fear the plan could be a harbinger of more toll roads to come.

"Who can afford 30 bucks a day to commute? Very few people," said Westminster Councilwoman Diana Carey, who represents one of the six cities. "We have an expression: "We feel like we're not being railroaded. We're being toll-roaded."

At a meeting this month, crowds packed an Orange County Transportation Authority board meeting to denounce the proposal, which has been supported by Caltrans. City leaders expressed worry that the project would push traffic onto their streets, or that motorists traveling in the toll lanes would find it too difficult to pull off the highway and patronize local businesses.

The political shift over toll lanes has several causes. Some of Orange County's toll roads have struggled to attract drivers and each of the major corridors has been forced to refinance its debt to avoid possible default.

There has also been the sticker shock: Taking the 91 Express Lanes can cost nearly $10 each way at the most congested hours, an investment even for Lexus drivers. If the 405 toll lanes are built, the priciest one-way toll would cost $9.91.

As for the 405, much of the anger stems from what Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach called a "bit of a bait-and-switch." When voters approved a countywide half-cent sales tax, they were told funds would go toward adding one general purpose lane in each direction at a cost of $1.25 billion.

Instead, the proposal before the OCTA would add one free lane and one toll lane in each direction — but it would also convert an existing carpool lane in each direction into a second toll lane, with the added $220-million price tag paid through bond sales that in turn would be paid off by tolls.

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