Wednesday, December 21, 2016

How the SR-241/91 Express Lane Direct Connector can really get SoCal Moving

Imagine a 90 minute rapid transit route from Lake Elsinore all the way to Irvine. That would be a really nice Christmas present for commuters.

Rapid Express Transit: Imagine leaving your car and hopping on a rapid bus at a park & ride in Elsinore and arriving all the way at the Irvine Business Complex in about 90 minutes without transfers.
Background Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Catatonique © CC-BY-SA
Bus Route is concept only. Not endorsed or proposed by RTA.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com



Yesterday, I mentioned that the currently proposed design of the SR-241/91 Express Lane Direct Connector had a connectivity problem where motorists coming out of Irvine and using the ramp will not be able to utilize the eastbound HOT Lane egress point at the County Line. That meant those taking the ramp could only go directly to Riverside or points east, or southeast Corona via the I-15. Central Circle City and destinations north of the 91 at the I-15 including Norco, Eastvale and Ontario were excluded. I have called for local officials to bring this up during the state's comment process. Count on this "public hearing" not closing anytime soon on this mishap.

Graphic: Transportation Corridor Agencies
However once this connectivity issue is dealt with, this direct access ramp really has a potential to significantly cut down on Inland Empire commute times into the job-rich City of Irvine area. This would be a long awaited Christmas present for Inland Empire residents who work in the Irvine Business Complex area.

For starters, if the 91 Express Lanes is able to sustain rush hour speeds of at least 50-55 MPH, that would create a congestion-free corridor from the Corona area all the way into OC's economic hub of high-paying jobs.

To make that happen, here's what officials need to consider:

  • Permit a 1 1/2 mile Continuous Access between the 2 Express Lanes and single Auxiliary Lane between the Green River and Coal Canyon Road junctions. This will ease pressure at the intermediate egress/ingress point now under construction and allow motorists using the northbound 241 direct connector to exit the HOT Lanes at this location.

  • Adopt FasTrak Flex for the 91 Express Lanes so that HOV 3+ vehicles do not need to merge into a single 3+ carpool lane and create bottleneck conflict points at the toll gantries. HOV's would declare their carpool by using the switch on their transponder. This will also ensure that 3+ HOV's that use the new ramp will not be charged an additional 91 Express Lanes toll.

  • Abolish the bond debt! Hold the state and federal government to account of paying for the infrastructure; we pay a lot to both bodies and this intercounty corridor is used by people all over the state. It needs to be fully paid for, period.

  • FasTrak-Registered Carpools Ride Free 24/7 on the 91 to promote carpooling. Currently, 50% tolls are charged during rush hour on the eastbound 91 between 4-6pm which is slated to be abolished as the toll bond debt continues to be paid down. That would grow 3+ carpools and vanpools. Non-HOV tolls would then be adjusted to handle the increase in HOV 3+ traffic in the Express Lanes. This will allow more people to travel in the Express Lanes as opposed to more cars. Carpools will still be charged regular tolls on the 241 since the latter is a dedicated Toll Road. Once the debt service coverage ratio (ie. the amount of cash flow available to meet annual interest and principal payments on debt, including senior and subordinated debt) is projected to be at least 1.2 for a six month period, all 3-person or more registered carpools will able to ride free all day, every day.

  • Abolish the Mandatory FasTrak Requirement for 3+ HOV's once the bond debt is paid off and utilize strong CHP enforcement to stop deliberate carpool/toll payment cheating. Vehicles would declare their carpool either by not mounting a transponder or switching their FasTrak Flex to HOV 3+. That would allow any 3+ HOV to get on the Express Lanes for free and go, 24/7. Carpools without a transponder that use the 241 and pay through the ExpressAccount or One Time Toll option would also be able to utilize the 91 Express Lanes. 91 HOT Lane Non-HOV tolls would once again be adjusted to accommodate the additional carpool traffic.

  • 3+ Carpools Only when HOT lanes near capacity, even with high tolls - As the HOT express lanes approach full capacity based on real-time traffic conditions despite expensive posted tolls, the lanes would automatically become a dedicated 3+ carpool lane. That is, only high occupancy vehicles would be permitted entry into the facilities. Once traffic pressures ease, signs would revert the Express Lanes back to high occupancy toll.

  • The last point is the most important because the last thing this infrastructure needs is a bottleneck point of conflict from the 241 north to the 91 Express Lanes going east as the HOT lanes already operate at or near full capacity during the afternoon rush hour. Such a chokepoint must be avoided and the HOV 3+ restriction would address that. That would fare better than restricting ramp traffic from exiting the Express Lanes at the County Line.

    Concept only. Not endorsed by RTA. Do not use for trip planning.
    Riverside to Irvine Rapid CommuterLink Express Transit Line 795

    In order to further encourage carpooling and HOV use on these toll corridors, the Transit Coalition is calling for a new RTA CommuterLink rapid transit line in between Irvine and Riverside with a peak hour branch down the I-15 to Temecula with the main trunk serving the Corona Transit Center and park & ride lot. It would be funded by a pool of user tolls from the 91 Express Lanes, 241, 261 and the 241 direct access ramp.

    The line will connect Riverside County with the economic engine of the Irvine Business Complex including John Wayne Airport before terminating at UC Irvine. It would be dubbed Route 795 with a short turn trunk branch to Corona and two other extended branches to Riverside and Temecula.

    Each of the three branches would operate six peak hour trips spaced 30 minutes apart in the peak direction during rush hours. Hourly off-peak runs would operate for the Corona short trip in between the North Main Corona Transit Center and UCI with the Corona hub, John Wayne Airport and UCI being the main midday and late night trip generators. Again, user tolls will fund this route combined with regular RTA CommuterLink fare.

    With the HOT Lane infrastructure and guaranteed travel speeds, a typical trip would take about 90 minutes. That's right. All they way from Elsinore to OC's primary job hub in Irvine, a one seat bus trip in an hour and a half is possible with no transfers. The short trip in between Corona and Irvine would be about an hour with the full end-to-end journey from South Temecula all the way to UCI in about 2 hours or less. Also, RTA's CommuterLink monthly pass is only $75; how cool is that for commuting costs plus the short drive to the local park & ride lot!

    If public officials adopt these proposals or something similar and address the connectivity issue between the county line access point and the northbound 241 direct connector, we may finally have an efficient high occupancy vehicle multi-modal solution to the Corona Crawl with virtual transitways for high speed rapid express bus routes like Route 795 operating from early morning until late night.

    I have several other 790-series express bus routes envisioned for the corridor. When toll lanes have HOV transit infrastructure and connect to Inland Empire cities, funded rapid express buses become more and more feasible and desirable.

    Such a travel option will be a blessing for commuters, a gift many can't wait to see appear under their Christmas tree.

    Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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