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.