Don't exclude Corona and Norco from the SR-241/91 Express Lane Direct Connector

Circle City and communities north of the 91 along the I-15 must have a means to connect to this high occupancy toll lane infrastructure.

Graphic: Transportation Corridor Agencies

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

A decades-long envisioned high occupancy vehicle lane proposal of linking the 241 Eastern Transportation Corridor to the 91 Express Lanes has entered into the public comment period for its environmental impact process. Transportation Corridor Agencies which operates Orange County's dedicated toll road network is working with Caltrans on the project of developing the direct connector linking the northbound 241 Toll Road to the eastbound 91 Express Lanes and vice versa.

Photo: Transportation Corridor Agencies
One just needs to observe what happens in this area on any given weekday afternoon during rush hour and will come to the conclusion that HOV infrastructure is badly needed and that carpooling and transit use needs to be encouraged on the Toll Roads and connecting HOT Lanes. This connector will make this happen. To waste time sitting in traffic is one thing, but to also pay a toll on top of that is insulting to the Inland Empire worker.

The irony is that this ramp had been officially proposed since 1992 according to Caltrans and has been mired with regulatory red tape. After decades of getting by all of the politics to get this infrastructure built, construction is getting closer. However, we must ensure that no Inland Empire body is excluded from utilizing this infrastructure.

Don't Leave out Corona, Eastvale & Norco

As tremendous as this project will be, there was a troubling design issue buried in Section 2-18 of the SR-241/SR-91 Tolled Express Lanes Connector Project Supplemental EIR/EIS which describes the details of the improvements. This paragraph might surpise motorists who may reside in Corona, Eastvale or Norco. City leaders should take note and might want to convey this to the state government:

To accommodate the addition of the median-to-median connector, eastbound SR-91 would be realigned to the south. (Figure 2.1, Sheets 3 and 4). The northbound SR-241 to eastbound 91 Express Lanes connector would continue on eastbound SR-91, ending approximately 1,000 ft west of Coal Canyon Undercrossing. An eastbound auxiliary express lane would be constructed within
the 91 Express Lanes. The proposed auxiliary express lane would begin approximately 2,000 ft east of Gypsum Canyon Road Undercrossing to Coal Canyon Undercrossing joining the initial phase
of the SR-91 CIP at Coal Canyon Undercrossing. These improvements would provide a four-lane express lane facility, tapering down to three lanes between the connector and Coal Canyon Undercrossing. The number of existing eastbound SR-91 general purpose lanes would be maintained within the project limits. The eastbound 91 Express Lanes would have a 4 ft buffer on the right separating the general purpose lanes, and a 4 ft buffer to the left separating the express connector lane. 

To put all of that technical language into perspective, what that basically means is that if a vanpool, commuter transit bus or toll-paying driver coming out of Irvine is headed to central Corona or any points on the SR-71 or I-15 north of the 91, they will not be able to use this direct access ramp.

That's because according to this paragraph and technical drawings, a buffer will prevent motorists from using the newly configured 91 Express Lanes exit at the County Line. Under this proposal, taking this ramp commits the motorist of using the Riverside County section of the 91 Express Lanes. The following egress point is either the direct connector to the I-15 south or west of McKinley in Riverside.

To be fair, this situation does not hold true going the other way. According to current proposed EIR documents, the connector from the Westbound 91 to the Southbound 241 will be a standard direct access ramp without the buffer restriction, meaning one can enter in the 91 Express Lanes from the County Line ingress point and be able to utilize the direct connector to the 241. However, the simple fact is that people do come home from work in the afternoon.

Central Corona and Inland Empire cities north of the 91 including Norco, Eastvale, Ontario, and Chino must not be excluded and local leaders need to take a leadership role during this public hearing period. Similar exclusion is exactly what happened when the Express Lanes connectivity with the North Main Corona Transit Center was left out of the Riverside County 91 Project which forced the new commuter express bus transit services to bypass the busy peak-hour hub.

State officials need to revisit this proposed design and allow these motorists that use this ramp to be able to exit the 91 Express Lanes at the County Line access point to ensure connectivity to these destinations. San Diego County's I-15 Express Lanes which carries more peak-hour traffic than the 91 shows a good example of how direct access ramps and intermediate access points can be designed.

Source Graphic: SANBAG I-10 Express Lanes EIR
A workable alternative would be to permit continuous access in between the 2 eastbound HOT lanes, the single auxiliary lane and the general purpose lanes between Coal Canyon and Green River Road which would address the weaving issue. The span of 1 1/2 miles of continuous access would be more than enough to ease pressure and conflict so that sudden weaving does not become an issue. A design variation of the I-10 Express Lanes shows what this could look like.

With that said, I do believe this direct connector--if designed right--can really do something to get Southern California moving and can open the door to new transit opportunities. I will share more about this tomorrow.