Thursday, December 12, 2013

Should the state really ban I-405 toll lanes in the future?



The Orange County Transportation Authority has shelved the high occupancy toll lane proposal for the I-405 freeway between the I-605 and SR-73 for now. Local officials however have indicated that they might come back with this proposal at a later time. Bring in California State Assemblyman Allan R. Mansoor. Mansoor said he expects to introduce a statewide bill next year that would block toll lanes specifically along this corridor or require residents to vote for their approval.

As much as we, local cities, and the countless Orange County residents don't want the free 2+ carpool lane along the 405 to be converted into a transponder-mandated 3+ HOT lane, Sacramento really should not be legislating one specific local corridor. Yes, the freeway is state-operated, but its improvement projects and carpool lane usage policies need to be decided locally through OCTA and the local Caltrans district. The carpool chaos last decade with the I-10 El Monte Busway clearly demonstrates why.

High occupancy toll lanes can work for the I-405 if usage policies matched those in San Diego County. That is, high occupancy vehicle traffic with 2 or more persons may continue to use the HOV lanes for free and don't have to preregister for a FasTrak toll transponder. Solo's would have the option to buy their way into the upgraded dual carpool lanes if capacity permits at the market rate. Based on the 13 mile distance of the corridor between the I-605 and SR-73, the maximum market rate toll for solos would be about $4.00 during most rush hours, approximately $7-8 on Friday afternoons, and about $.50 during free flow times. If the dual lanes begin to approach full capacity, dynamic signs would designate entry points for carpools only until space frees up. Significant groups of solo drivers have demonstrated nationwide that they are willing to tax themselves into a carpool lane on days they need to be somewhere quickly. Because OCTA was so focused on the dollar and proposed ill-advised usage policies, getting robust high occupancy infrastructure onto the I-405 will even be more difficult to sell to the public.

OCTA should retain power to manage local projects and we should be thankful that its governing board reflected the value of its residents regarding the I-405 toll lanes. Should OCTA have moved forward with the ill-advised conversion, there would have been much anger, expensive litigation, and potential recall campaigns. When governing bodies fail to represent the value of their residents and their republics, voters will hold them accountable. Look at what's going on in Moreno Valley. However, the state should allow local governments to decide how to upgrade transportation infrastructure.

As we've mentioned before, toll lanes should not serve as government money fountains. They need to be about moving people. Banning local agencies from artificially inflating tolls beyond the market rates and stopping wasteful spending so that the outstanding debt for the 91 Express Lanes can be paid off with taxes instead of tolls could be good starting points for robust debate for state lawmakers.

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