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.