Project 91 Breaks Ground

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The 91 Express Lane extension project entered into its construction phase with a groundbreaking ceremony which lasted two hours according to Press Enterprise blogger Peter Fischetti. 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 closed off during a regular business day even as officials notified them ahead of time to park at the neighboring train stations as an alternative.

According to news reports, The Coalition and the public learned two things from the ceremony. Elected officials looked forward for this day which was long overdue and significant inter-agency coordination and cooperation with the private sector were necessary to fullfil the project's challenges. That was basically the show. It took two hours and 16 speakers to get this message to the public.

When Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal spoke explaining why the project was long past due, a political partisanship road block was brought up. That statement certainly is questionable to say the least. A 91 Express Lanes non-compete clause obstructed all infrastructure upgrades for eight years starting in 1995 when the toll lanes first opened. In 2003 when Orange County taxpayers bought the facility through OCTA, the clause was voided and upgrades could then continue. A few years later, the economic recession combined with inflated public infrastructure costs caused by continuous special interest pandering at the state level further obstructed funding resources to the corridor. Those were the true road blocks.

Late dissent over the high occupancy toll lane proposal has begun to surface based on comments left in the PE article. The project is nearly identical to the now-shelved I-405 toll lanes in Orange County which includes a conversion a carpool lane and capacity expansion. The 91 Project proposes to double the capacity and convert 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. However unlike the I-10, I-110, and the I-405 corridors, when the 91 becomes congested--which it very well does during the peak congestion, many holidays and hot summer days--the carpool lane is just as slow as the general purpose lanes. One will generally not be at a destination any faster by using the single dedicated lane. That's because 2+ carpool demands are so high that they well exceed capacity for the corridor. Therefore, the traffic chaos caused by the displacement of 2-person and non-registered 3+ carpoolers from the high occupancy lane will be minimal at least 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+.

Coalition Concept: Free 3+ carpooling along the 91.
Note: Concept Only. Not endorsed by OCTA.
Because ridesharing demands are so high for the 91, our current position is extend the dual HOT lanes as proposed, keep the carpool occupancy requirement at 3+ but gets its debt paid off as soon as possible so that it can financially support free non-transponder 3+ carpooling and upgraded transit infrastructure later down the road. That is, high occupancy vehicles with 3 or more persons would be able to use the HOT lanes free anytime and not have to pre-register for a toll transponder. 3+ HOV's and transit fleets would be able to access the lanes directly from nearby transit stations. Tolls for non-carpools would also be reduced to the market rate. Dual 3+ carpool lanes combined with expanded transit options will certainly be able to accommodate the existing HOV demands and future growth for years to come.