Caltrans Approves Toll Lanes on 405 Freeway in Orange County, Despite Past Local Backlash

The project awaits an environmental impact report and construction is expected to begin in 2016, Caltrans said

The California Department of Transportation on Friday announced its support for a plan to add two toll lanes to the 405 Freeway in Orange County that has drawn sharp criticism from area residents and local officials in the past.

The plans won’t be finalized until Caltrans’ Orange County district director signs it after an environmental impact report scheduled to be completed in early 2015, the agency said.

The proposal takes the Orange County Transportation Authority’s existing plans to add one free lane in each direction on a nearly 15-mile stretch of the 405 Freeway between Seal Beach and Costa Mesa, a congested section of the freeway that the OCTA said sees 33,000 cars daily.

It also recommends building an additional toll lane and converting the existing carpool lane into a second toll lane, a plan that Caltrans approved despite backlash over the idea in Orange County in December.

“It moves the most vehicles and people per hour, improves air quality, travel times,
and provides trip reliability,” said Ryan Chamberlain, director of the Caltrans district in Orange County.

The OCTA rejected toll lanes in December when it first approved the new free lanes. Several Orange County mayors and state Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, R-Costa Mesa, voiced their disapproval of toll lanes, even seeking legislation to stop a potential plan for them.

“Once the public’s already paid for a lane with sales taxes or gas taxes it shouldn’t then be taken away from them and only given to people that are willing to pay the eight or 10 dollars a day to use it as a toll lane,” Costa Mesa city council member Jim Righeimer told NBC4 in December.

Construction for the project is expected to begin in 2016, Caltrans said in a statement. The over-$1 billion job to add the free lanes would be mostly funded by the county’s half-cent sales tax for transportation projects, the agency said, and Caltrans will find additional funding to construct the new toll lanes.

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