Friday, March 10, 2017

The 91 Express Lanes Riverside Extension is almost done

Dual HOT lanes to replace the existing 91 carpool lane through Circle City.

Video Rendering: Riverside County Transportation Commission 91 Project

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


It's a project that's been talked about for years and one that's decades overdue. It's the extension of the 91 Express Lanes from Orange County through Corona to Interstate 15. With the infrastructure nearly built completely, crews are now striping in the dual high occupancy toll lanes. Opening day is scheduled for Monday, March 20.

With the painting of the new lane stripes came the temptation of motorists sneaking into the soon-to-open lanes to bypass stopped traffic which was reportedly occurring last weekend. Sorry folks, the 91 Express Lanes in Corona is not open yet and is still a construction zone. Stay out until opening day! RCTC is working on putting up additional cones and barriers while work and inspections are being finalized.

As far as the existing carpool lane through Corona, it is being replaced with the HOT lanes where 3 or more persons will now be the carpool for toll-free or discounted travel with a FasTrak via the high occupancy vehicle infrastructure. Because HOV demands are so high for the 91 during rush hours and weekends, 3 or more persons needs to be the carpool occupancy requirement--similar travel patterns as the I-10 corridor just east of Los Angeles. I have long wondered how the conversion of the existing carpool lane into the 91 Express Lanes would take place. Now we know...

Upon traveling through the corridor, I found that the existing HOV lane that is to be replaced is quietly being re-striped into the far left general purpose lane whereas the two 91 Express Lanes will be two newly striped lanes just to the left of the former carpool lane once they're opened. It's interesting to note that vehicle occupancy enforcement of the old 2+ HOV lane during the tail end of this construction period was next to impossible because of very limited signage that restricted the far left lane to 2+ carpools. The only temporary carpool lane signs that restricted the left lane that I recently found were the diamond symbols in the left lane with very few "Left Lane Carpools Only" signs near the median. In fact, while traveling through the areas where the new HOT Lanes are striped, the temporary signs were gone and one could not tell whether the far left traffic lane is the current 2+ carpool lane because there were no signs in the area that restricted this lane to 2+ HOV's.

With that said, I found that this method was a workable approach regarding the conversion of this carpool lane. That's because it is just as congested as the regular lanes during rush hours and most weekends and conversion of it to general purpose would minimize HOV displacements in place of routing the carpools via a newly striped lane only to displace them again once the express lanes open.

Speaking of signs, crews continue to replace the 91 Express Lanes signage on the Orange County side. Remember seeing "91 Express Toll Lanes - 2 Miles" or "3+ Lane"? Those and other signs have been updated to comply with federal design guidelines and now read "EXPRESS LANES ENTRANCE - 2 Miles" and "HOV 3+ LANE." New digital toll rate signs using a compliant generic design have replaced the catchy blue and white signs with the 91 Express Lanes branding.

Regarding usage policy and transit access, there are some unresolved problems. The first is linking the North Main Corona Transit Center and Park & Ride lot with the Express Lanes. Although two new RTA CommuterLink bus routes will serve the 91 Express Lanes, central Circle City and points north via the I-15 are excluded. For now, backtracking to McKinley is necessary for carpools, casino buses and RTA Route 216 to connect from this station area with the 91 Express Lanes.

Plus, I find that the enforcement of 3+ carpools needs to be simplified. For example, why do motorists with a switchable FasTrak of which already self-declares their carpool have to merge to a single 3+ Lane at the toll collection points in order to get their carpool discounts? That creates a bottleneck point of conflict with unnecessary weaving. The congestion is already evident on the Orange County side during the afternoon rush hour. If one has a switchable tag set to HOV 3+, that vehicle should be free to travel through in any lane and receive the discount. In addition, the state and feds need to pay down the bond debt so that 3+ HOV's can travel free 24/7 and not be required to set up a toll account.

If those issues are resolved, count on having a first-rate HOT lane transit system for the 91 which will finally place the term "Corona Crawl" into the history books for high occupancy vehicle traveling. But other than that, the 91 Express Lanes will be a tremendous asset and step forward for the 91 corridor. With 18 miles of high occupancy toll lane infrastructure, 3+ HOV's, transit buses and toll-paying non carpools will have another option to get through to Orange County quickly.

March 20th cannot come fast enough.