So what stopped a tunnel boring machine under Seattle last December? A boulder? An alien spaceship? Richard Sherman? Nope. In fact, it wasn’t anything the machine was facing at all. Instead, those involved in the construction of the future underground highway concluded that a mechanical failure within the TBM is to blame. Inspectors found damage to a sealing system that protects the machine’s bearings, which allows the machine to spin and cut through soil. Unfortunately, any fix would be a nuanced affair and could take months, though officials assert that taxpayers will not be on the hook for delays. Closer to home, a section of the new Oakland Bay Bridge that was designed to be waterproof sprung leaks during the recent storms, according to transportation officials.
In a quest to quash the 710 North freeway tunnel, the five cities opposing the freeway element of the project have formed a compact, with the South Pasadena City Council the most recent entrant. The new compact, called the 5 Cities Alliance, would pay for and compile studies aiming to cast a negative light on the freeway element. Each of the five cities will request separate studies focusing on distinct pieces that the proposed freeway may affect, such as Pasadena focusing on legal issues, Sierra Madre focusing on air quality, and so on. This setup ensures that the cities fighting the project can present their studies without the burdensome expenses involved and the inevitable overlap that would occur if each city did its own study.
The 91 Express Lane extension project entered into its construction phase with a groundbreaking ceremony. Riverside County officials have long proposed extending the HOT lanes from the Orange County line east into Corona with a direct access ramp at the I-15 freeway to/from the south. The groundbreaking was more ceremonial than literal as the event took place on the top deck of the Corona Transit Center parking structure, away from the actual freeway. Transit center and Metrolink station patrons were a bit upset that their parking structure was unavailable during a regular business day even as officials previously notified them to park at the neighboring train stations as an alternative.
Late public dissent over the high occupancy toll lane proposal has begun to surface, potentially caused in part by the negative public reaction of Orange County’s now-shelved I-405 HOT lane proposal. Project 91 is nearly identical to the I-405 Improvement Project. Proposals include doubling the capacity and converting the existing 2+ carpool lane into a 3+ HOT lane, add a general purpose lane, and add additional auxiliary lanes. Numerous bridges will be upgraded as well.
Ordinarily, the Transit Coalition would oppose the conversion of an existing carpool lane into a transponder-mandated HOT lane. Look at what resulted in LA last year. However unlike the I-10, I-110, and the I-405 corridors, when the 91 becomes congested–which it does during commute hours, many holidays, weekends, and hot summer days–the carpool lane is just as slow as the general purpose lanes. 2+ carpool demands are so high that they exceed capacity for the corridor. With the addition of a general purpose lane, the traffic chaos caused by the displacement of 2-person and non-registered 3+ carpoolers from the high occupancy lanes will be minimal for the short term. Meanwhile, Riverside officials should plan between now and opening day a strong marketing campaign to convert the 2-person carpools into 3+. At a later time, public officials from all levels can pay off the bond debt so that the 91 can financially support free non-transponder 3+ carpooling with robust transit infrastructure.
While we’re in that general area of Orange County, the OCTA Board recently voted to expand the 405 Freeway without the controversial toll lanes. Residents of the communities served by the 405 Freeway denounced the initial plan and successfully persuaded the Board to postpone a vote on the plan in November. Since then, legislators stepped in by threatening to prepare a bill that would bar toll lanes on this particular stretch of road. Even OCTA CEO Darrell Johnson acknowledged that the concept was forming a wedge within the agency itself. Nevertheless, OCTA will pursue a widening of the freeway, ending the controversy for most residents.
Trolley tracks formerly ran down the center of the 101 Freeway. A photo shared by the Metro Transportation Library shows this, and Nathan Masters explained that when dignitaries and others dedicated the Cahuenga Pass Freeway on June 15, 1940, its eight concrete lanes were divided by two sets of trolley tracks. Later on, the median was paved for more automobiles. Currently, the Red Line runs through the Cahuenga Pass.
In other transportation notes, another milestone on the 405 Freeway carpool lane project is reached as all ramps of the interchange at Wilshire Boulevard are complete and open for business. In San Bernardino, officials revealed that estimates for an extension of Metrolink service to Redlands have increased from the original $156 million to a range of between $200 million and $300 million. However, the project is on schedule and ready to start construction next year as a request for proposals on building the first mile of track was sent out recently.
In Orange County, residents continue to fume over the proposed HOT lanes for the 405 Freeway. To quell the furor, the Orange County Transportation Authority Board, in response to a committee recommendation reported in our last eNewsletter, discussed the issue at its most recent regular meeting. A lengthy discourse ensued, with most attendees expressing disgust at the proposal but a few other groups expressing support for the lanes. The proposal would add toll lanes between the 73 and the 605 Freeways and make other improvements for general users at a cost of $1.47 billion. Caltrans has made it clear that they will not move forward with the toll lanes unless OCTA gives them the go. The OCTA Board will now hold a vote on the proposal at its December 9 meeting, during which the OCTA can hold more public hearings receive more input.
The Orange County Transportation Authority reported that the I-405 freeway corridor between Irvine and Long Beach is one of the most congested freeways in Orange County, carrying more than 300,000 vehicle trips in some sections each day. Based on the stats, most vehicles move between the bedroom suburbs, just to the southwest of Santa Ana, and the robust employment hubs near the Irvine Business Complex and South Coast Plaza. The freeway is generally stable at other times. Caltrans and OCTA have proposed to widen the freeway.
OCTA is looking at converting the existing pair of 2+ carpool lanes into dual 3+ high occupancy tolled express lanes each way. Federal law requires that carpool lanes operate at least 45 mph during 90% of the peak hour. The toll lane would require FasTrak toll transponders for all vehicles and possible mandatory tolls for 3+ carpoolers, much like the 91 Express Lanes. The proposal also includes adding one general purpose lane. The HOV-to-HOT conversion has caused a major public backlash at the local level with city governing bodies getting involved. Some opponents feel like they were victims of a bait-and-switch scheme with OC’s Measure M. The City of Costa Mesa has even threatened legal action. According to OCTA, the I-405 carpool lane fills to capacity and becomes congested, mainly during peak rush hours in the peak direction.
The OCTA Regional Planning and Highways Committee voted yesterday to recommend that the OCTA Board postpone a vote on the lanes until further public outreach is conducted. The Transit Coalition’s A Better Inland Empire weighs in on the debate.
Meanwhile, our blog provided some ideas on how to bring better bus transit infrastructure to the 91 Express Lanes through Corona. Even though the 91 Express Lane extension project is nearly identical to the I-405 project–convert the congested 2+ carpool lane into dual transponder-only 3+ HOT lane and add one general purpose lane–local opposition has been fairly quiet. The Coalition has long advocated that 3+ carpools travel toll free without the need for a FasTrak transponder. However, because infrastructure upgrades are long past due, many commuters are likely to welcome any sort of capacity expansion unlike the I-405 improvement project. The Coalition’s long term focus is improving the corridor’s transit infrastructure to support frequent rapid express bus lines, paying the project’s debt so that the 91 Express Lanes can financially support free non-transponder 3+ carpooling, and improving rail transit options through Metrolink MAX.
A report requested by Congressmember Henry Waxman and recently released to the public outlines the causes of delay for the I-405 northbound carpool lane project. The report singles out failed retaining walls and their ineffective design as the major culprit, although other factors such as lawsuits and utility relocations also factored in. A near collapse of one such wall in 2011 led to the demolition and reconstruction of all 14 such walls along the route and a state ban on using related construction methods.
For its part, Metro stated that the project is 85% complete, with the 3-mile segment of the (temporarily mixed-flow) lane open already shaving minutes off of individual commutes. One letter to the editor provides some perspective, noting that the design-build method shaved years off the typical construction schedule. New bridges will open in the next few months, as well. Ultimately, this project will provide continuous carpool lanes between Orange County and north Los Angeles County.
With the state legislative session winding down for the year, Orange County stands to win when it comes to transportation thanks to recently enacted bills. One of the new laws, AB 401, would allow Caltrans to use design-build for up to 10 highway projects across the state, with the principal intention to use such a procurement method for the proposed widening of the 405 Freeway through upper Orange County. The law will enable a speed up of construction and will reduce project costs. However, the American Council of Engineering Companies opposed the bill because the bill carried a provision that mandates Caltrans, not private companies, must oversee construction. Let’s not forget the pension reform bill passed last month, which allows OCTA buses to operate normally after a dispute between federal labor officials and the state threatened to withhold money to local transit agencies, including OCTA.