UPDATE: OC transport officials delay vote on proposed I-405 toll lanes

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On the heels of often contentious public comments -- mostly in opposition, the Orange County Transportation Authority voted Friday to postpone a decision on a controversial plan to add toll lanes along a stretch of Interstate-405.

"It's a major policy decision," said John Moorlach, county supervisor and OCTA board member. "I think we need more than 30 days to come up with a vision we all can agree on."

The stretch of I-405 from State Route 55 to Interstate 605 is one of the most heavily traveled highways in the U.S.

The board had been scheduled to vote on one of three recommendations to widen the highway, one of which includes plans for a toll lane on the north- and southbound sides of the highway.

The OCTA board voted unanimously to pass a motion made by board chairman Greg Winterbottom to put off the vote until the board's Dec. 9 meeting.

The vote came after more than 40 speakers signed up to address the issue. 

"Continuing to chase Alternative 3 [adding toll lanes] is a waste of time," said State Assemblyman Allan R. Mansoor who represents California's 74th District, which includes cities along I-405.

"Let's put the toll lanes out of their misery," he told the board.

Before he spoke, Mansoor placed a stack of letters on the podium. He said they numbered more than a thousand and came from constituents opposed to the plan. 

A coalition of Orange County cities along I-405 opposes the alternative to add toll lanes, and most speakers Friday were against the plan. But some did speak in favor of it. 

"We need to add the toll lanes to relieve congestion," said Tom Nguyen of Irvine, who owns a management consulting business. "If we can't get from destination A to B quickly, business will be at a standstill."

The I-405 Improvement Project -- with or without the toll lanes -- seeks to widen I-405 between Costa Mesa and Seal Beach to ease traffic congestion.

During Friday's meeting, several OCTA board members said putting off the final vote would allow more time to get "buy-in" from the elected officials in cities along the highway.

"I'm just frustrated as an elected official in this county that I'm being rushed into a decision," said board member and county supervisor Todd Spitzer. "This is a regional and statewide issue. We need to get the elected officials in the region together."

In September, the OCTA voted to consider adding the toll lanes as a way to speed up traffic between Costa Mesa and the Los Angeles county border.

The OCTA said if the toll lanes are added, at least one free lane in each direction would also be included.

A portion of the money to widen the freeway would come from the county's Measure M funds - a voter-approved  half-cent sales tax for transportation.

Adding toll lanes was included in one of three alternatives for the I-405 Improvement Project considered by the OCTA board in 2012. That alternative would have converted an existing carpool lane to a toll lane.  

The board ultimately voted to approve another alternative, which did not include toll lanes, that would widen I-405 by adding one general purpose lane in each direction between Euclid Street and I-605.

OCTA said it's considering the toll lanes again partly because the 2012 federal transportation bill requires cars to travel at 45 mph or more 90 percent of the time. The agency said that's not happening in the carpool lanes along I-405 in Orange County. 

The OCTA said traffic volumes on I-405 are expected to increase significantly as the population grows an expected 11 percent by 2040. 

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