Proposed 405 Toll Road Drives Opposition

As OCTA hosts a community meeting to discuss proposals for expanding the 405 Wednesday, city leaders around northwest Orange County attempt to stir opposition.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that OCTA representatives could not be reached for comment.

By Jessica Carreir

To many, the Orange County Transportation Authority’s decision to reconsider adding toll roads to the 405 Freeway came as a surprise; mainly because the agency’s board shot down the plan last year following public outcry from city leaders throughout northwest Orange County.

But following an exodus of OCTA board members, the proposal is back on the table along with options for simply adding general or carpool lanes to the freeway. Now city leaders from Seal Beach and Los Alamitos to Fountain Valley and Costa Mesa are scrambling to mount oppositions to a proposed toll road they thought was log dead.

Rebuffed in its request for an extension on the Aug. 12 deadline to comment on the project’s Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement, the Rossmoor Community Services District voted Monday to oppose the High Occupancy Toll roads and denounce Caltrans for failing to extend the deadline.

“The insensitivity of Caltrans and by extension, the motives of the OCTA Board of Directors to ‘bait and switch’ their position on HOT lanes does not pass the smell test,” said RSCD Board President Michael Maynard.

“This has not been a bait and switch. This has been a transparent process,” said OCTA spokesman Joel Zlotnik. “We have sought public input throughout the process, and will continue to do so.”

If the agency’s board were to move forward in September with an option to convert an existing carpool lane into a HOT lane and add two more additional free lanes in each direction, the decision would delay the project by about a year and trigger a whole new round of studies and opportunities for public comment, said Zlotnik.

Caltrans and OCTA are currently looking at three alternatives for expanding the 405 in northwest Orange County. 

The first alternative, which was previously chosen by the OCTA board, would add one general purpose lane to either side of the 405 between Euclid Street and the 605. The second alternative permits the addition of two general purpose lanes in both directions from Euclid Street to the 605.  And the third alternative allows for one additional general purpose lane in both directions, one additional HOT lane in both directions, and converting an existing carpool lane into a second Hot Lane.

The HOT lanes would take the place of regular carpool lanes. Drivers would still need at least one passenger to use these lanes, but cars with two people would incur the regular toll while cars with three or more would be free or discounted.

This is a point of concern for citizens who currently carpool on the 405.  “[The OCTA] thinks [HOT lanes are] an opportunity for people to carpool and pay for the use,” explained Seal Beach Councilman Mike Levitt.  “But people are used to it [being free] now.”  

“I represent most of the seniors in Seal Beach.  I represent Leisure World,” said Levitt. “Many of them are on social security.  They’ve already paid for the 405 with their taxes. And when they go shopping in South County, they get a relative or a friend and they hop in the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lane.”

Levitt worries about how the toll lanes will effect his citizen’s ability to quickly get around the county. He’s not the only one.

“I don’t want to see people paying for something in the future that I could take a stand against now,” said Fountain Valley councilman Michael Vo. “I don’t want to see the West Coast, especially California, end up like the East Coast where people have to stop every 5 or 10 miles to pay for road use.”

Vo worries that instituting toll lanes, like the kind installed in Los Angeles on the 110, could cause a troublesome trend.

The issue appeared resolved in October when the 16-member board at the OCTA voted 12-4 against the toll lanes and opted instead to add one general purpose lane to either side of the 405 freeway.

However, in April, after turnover on the OCTA Board, the agency voted to consider two additional options for expanding the 405 Freeway, including converting a carpool lane into a HOT lane and adding two more free lanes in each direction. The second option would add two free lanes in each direction except between Valley View Street and the 605 Freeway on the northbound side of the 405, which would only have one additional free lane in order to preserve the soundwall serving Seal Beach’s College Park East neighborhood.

The decision to reconsider the HOT lanes was triggered by the Federal Transportation Bill, which threatens federal funding to states that allow low-emission vehicles in congested carpool lanes.

Because carpool lanes on the 405 Freeway and just about every other freeway in Orange County are congested during peak hours, the board was forced to find ways to relieve congestion in the carpool lanes, explained OCTA’s Zlotnik. Options before the board include, adding more carpool lanes, increasing occupancy requirements or introducing HOT lanes, said Zlotnik.

Like many others, Los Alamitos Councilman Richard Murphy was caught off-guard by the board’s decision to reconsider the toll lanes.  With the 45 days for public comment on the Supplemental EIR/EIS Draft ending on August 12, Murphy feels like there’s less time to lobby against the issue this time around.

“They also extended the deadline last time, if I remember correctly,” said Murphy.

The previous draft’s period for public comment was extended by 15 days.

“And if you notice, even with our own Land Use Plan, we delayed it a month just to be sure that our residents could see it,” said Murphy.  It seems to be the opposite is happening here.”

The Supplemental EIR/EIS Draft, attempts to address concerns that the City of Long Beach has about the project’s impact on Long Beach city streets. According to the document, construction on the project would begin in 2015 and finish in 2020. The first build alternative proposed would take the least construction time, with an estimated 48 months.  While the third alternative, which includes HOT lanes, would take 54 months.

During the project’s opening year in 2020, the intersections Long Beach officials were concerned with in their initial comments to the OCTA would be least effected by the first alternative and most effected by the second, according to the report.

“They’re trying to get [HOT lanes] back by using Long Beach as an excuse,” said Seal Beach’s Levitt.  

Levitt, who works on the Orange County Vector Control board with County Supervisor, and OCTA board member, John Moorlach, reminded Moorlach of his stance on HOT lanes at a recent Vector Control meeting.

The Los Alamitos City Council also voted last Monday to send Moorlach a letter stating their position against HOT lanes.

OCTA will be holding a public hearing Wednesday, July 24, from 6-8 p.m. at Hill Middle School in Long Beach.  

Cynthia July 24, 2013 at 01:17 PM
affected, not effected....please
Joel Zlotnik July 24, 2013 at 01:19 PM
There are some facts in this story that need to be set straight. I first want to say we have always had a good relationship with Patch and worked closely with the editor and reporters on numerous 405 stories. In this case, it’s very disappointing to see the reporter say OCTA officials could not be reached for comment because no one tried to reach me. If I had been contacted, I would have explained that the supplemental draft EIR/EIS was done in direct response to a request from the city of Long Beach. This report looks at how all three project alternatives would impact streets only in that city. It has nothing to do with reopening the discussion of HOT lanes on I-405. In October 2012, the OCTA board did select as the locally preferred alternative adding one general-purpose lane in each direction. However, this is just one step in the process and not the final decision. That is expected to be made by Caltrans with input from OCTA this fall. In April, the OCTA board asked that preliminary work be done to explore two additional concepts for the improvement project. One of those concepts would add two regular lanes on I-405 in each direction between Euclid Street and I-605 and convert the existing single carpool lane into a HOT lane. The other concept would add two regular lanes in each direction and on the northbound side one of those lanes would end at Valley View Street. The studies on these two concepts will come to the OCTA board in September during a regular meeting open to the public. If the board chooses to move forward with a HOT lane concept, additional study would need to be done and that would take about a year. It’s important to point out that the meeting in which the board voted to explore these two new concepts was a well-attended regularly scheduled OCTA board meeting. Throughout this process, we have reached out to city councils, city staff and the public in all of the cities along the I-405 and we will continue to do that. The environmental studies are expected to be finalized next summer and if all goes as currently planned, construction would begin in 2015 and finish in 2020. If you’re reading this, I don’t have to tell you how congested the 405 gets during rush hour. You likely are impacted by that traffic in one or another every day. And while there are a number of decisions that remain, I hope you’ll remember the big picture here, OCTA and Caltrans want to make the drive better for everyone who uses the 405, whether you live in Los Alamitos, Long Beach or are driving through from San Diego to Los Angeles. This has been done and will continue to be done with feedback from all of you. - Joel Zlotnik, OCTA Media Relations Officer
Seth Eaker July 24, 2013 at 01:31 PM
The Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce continues to be opposed to the introduction of toll lanes. This is not in alignment with our business needs or the needs of our constituents and members. Further, as a member of the Legislative Action Committee of West Orange County, that group also has taken an oppose position to the toll lanes.
enea ostrich July 25, 2013 at 12:14 AM
The opposition has been going on for years on Toll Roads. Build them and it's the people on the freeway who suffer, especially the ones who are going to vote for it. JUST TRY DRIVING on a toll road in the general purpose lane and look at how many ACTUAL people are driving on the toll side---it's very little and such a WASTE! You want to pay for something good OCTA???? Why don't you put the money into doing your best on this freeway which will not get better at the transition ever. The only thing we will see is more pollution. THANKS for the cancer, for I already have dead people I had to say goodbye to in the past years in my neighborhood....now I will say goodbye to more!!!! Oh, and don't touch the freeway wall in Seal Beach either....if it goes---MANY more people will gripe than Seal Beach....I promise you that!
The Beast ! September 22, 2013 at 03:33 PM
I luv the idea of a massive toll road. So convient and makes it alot easier to zip down to the South Coast Plaza at anytime of the day.
enea ostrich September 22, 2013 at 04:52 PM
Beast---you obviously don't live in the 16 mile corridor, so your comnents reflect that. To Mr. Zlotnik's input here, however it doesn't help to revisit all the past hard work all the cities did in this corridor by voicing in letters and in live forums. If our state is going to be that stupid to pass the buck on Caltrans and OCTA to resolve, I say that is NOT democract at work. If you want toll roads to pay for your damn construction....I GUARANTEE that it will pay for every lung on that corridor who lives by the freeway. Just ask residents along the 91 freeway if they appreciate the gridlock. This is a fact for any sane person who drives on that part if the freeway. If we listen to the state and actually believe there is no more money fir our freeways, then as is stated here in comments, we become just like the east coast. I don't believe our state can't budget it Why are you in such a damn hurry to fix things? I would rather wait to get things done right when I have money. What you are proposing is to tack on a toll road charge so it continually pays for ignorant bureaucrats that want these toll roads. Just watch tomorrow on who votes this up. Those will be the idiots who will be responsible fir adding more toll roads, including Beast's area which is inundated with traffic gridlock.


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