By City News Service
Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach hoped Tuesday tonight to rally the public to oppose a plan to transform high-occupancy lanes into toll lanes on the San Diego (405) Freeway at a town hall forum on the issue.
Moorlach, who also serves on the Orange County Transportation Authority Board, was on the wrong side of a vote last month when his fellow members of the OCTA board decided to approve further study on adding toll lanes on the freeway.
Moorlach was joined Tuesday by other area elected officials from the coastal cities in northern Orange County – including Los Alamitos and Seal Beach – who oppose the plan. If he gets a sense Orange County motorists won't mind paying for the convenience of driving past traffic jams then so be it, Moorlach said.
"What I want tonight is I want the people to say you should be upset about this or for them to say lighten up this is the way we want it to go, it makes sense," Moorlach told City News Service before the town hall forum.
Moorlach objects to how state officials have told Orange County officials that they need to consider toll lanes on the San Diego Freeway because studies have shown traffic isn't moving fast enough during peak hours in the carpool lanes.
"For 20-plus years this county has been taxing itself -- conservative Orange County -- and now the state unilaterally shows up and like the grasshopper to the ant says thanks for all the hard work, we're taking over now," Moorlach said, referring to how the county has paved the way for the toll lanes by widening freeways with voter-approved Measure M money.
"The delivery (of the message) is so poor -- that it's being done to us, not with us," Moorlach said. "It's bureaucracy at its finest. It's just poorly done."
The toll lanes wouldn't even be possible without the county's widening projects and rehabilitation of bridges for its freeways, Moorlach said.
A Caltrans official in Orange County declined to comment.
Caltrans has final say over the imposition of toll lanes on the San Diego Freeway.
Last month, Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson, who also serves on the OCTA board, said it was in the county's best interest to stay involved in the toll lane studies instead of fighting the state outright.
Nelson sided with the vote to conduct further studies of a conversion of the carpool lanes to toll lanes because he would rather the county manage it instead of the state. Nelson is also concerned that the state could take toll revenue earned locally and spend it elsewhere.
Moorlach, meanwhile, hopes that if enough Orange County drivers raise a fuss over the toll lanes then Caltrans might alter its plans.
Last month, Moorlach supported a plan to add one lane on the San Diego Freeway in each direction on top of the already planned ones on the San Diego Freeway north from Brookhurst to Valley View streets and southbound from the Seal Bach Boulevard on-ramp to Brookhurst Street.
Caltrans officials have said that plan would create a bottleneck at the West County connector at the Garden Grove (22) Freeway.
County officials have six months to come up with a plan to address the congestion in the carpool lanes, because federal officials are threatening to withdraw funding in any state where the average speed in those lanes dips below 45 mph at least 90 percent of the time.
Some OCTA board members doubt a study that shows Orange County falls below the federal standard, contending the traffic counts are based calculations in 2011 with systems that are unreliable.
Estimates on tolls could be about $5 southbound and $6 northbound from the Corona del Mar (73) Freeway in Costa Mesa to the San Gabriel River (605) Freeway, which includes the busiest stretch of freeway in Orange Country with more than 370,000 cars a day, said Joel Zlotnik of OCTA.
The project could cost between $1.25 billion to $1.47 billion, Zlotnik said. Officials estimate that high-occupancy toll lanes could generate $1.5 billion, after paying for operations and maintenance, over the next 30 years that could be spent on improving traffic around the freeway in the corridor cities.
Nelson said some of those improvements could include more rail or intersection upgrades.
OCTA officials will return to the board in November with a variety of tolling scenarios. Caltrans officials will make a final decision by year's end with an environmental impact report due in May.