OCTA: No Lexus Lanes Without Our Support Please
By: Jose Solorio, RSCCD Trustee/Former Assemblyman
Imagine some real housewives of Orange County in pricey SUVs and Lexus plunking down a $15 freeway toll to get home on the 405 from Huntington Beach to Coto de Caza. While that scenario sounds like reality TV, it could be the real deal if county and state transportation officials have their way. Officials from Caltrans and the Orange County Transportation Authority have put forth a proposal to instal toll lanes on the 405 freeway.
Orange County is a toll lane pioneer, offering a less-traveled alternative to those willing to pay for a special 10-mile privilege on the 91 freeway. Even though the idea has been copied, with toll lanes recently added to the 110 Freeway in Los Angeles and other more hidden toll lanes in Orange County, the latest proposal for such lanes on the 405 is an unfair way to use money from our voter-approved Measure M program.
As a former OCTA staffer for eight years and State Assembly transportation committee member, I’m really disappointed with OCTA/Caltrans’ decision to use funds collected through voter-approved Measure M to create – even study – toll lanes. Measure M promised to lessen traffic through tried and true solutions that had public support. The ballot language included nothing about collecting new tolls in our county.
The 405 and 5 are the backbone of our state’s freeway system. Before converting any current or future lanes on these two FREEways into toll lanes, there should be serious and open discussions at the local and state level. This is a big decision.
What’s further soured the issue is the posture of some transportation officials. They have not responded adequately to voter concerns about their plans or where the toll revenue would go. Despite receiving an invitation to a recent toll road public hearing in Westminster, no one from OCTA or Caltrans showed up. As I said at the hearing, this is “not the OCTA way that I remember.” Even so, the meeting drew 150 residents concerned about the impact of these lanes. Not one spoke in favor of a toll road. Yet the words were like trees falling in a far away forest because no county transportation staff heard them.
This sort of decision-making bodes poorly for the image of all public officials. It leaves the impression that it’s acceptable to put before voters a measure, subsequently take a different direction and then ignore the electorate when they want to object. Let’s make sure that brand of governance remains fictitious stuff for television drama shows, and that our OCTA board of directors does the right thing and puts a brake on this toll lane proposal.