Caltrans OKs addition of paid lanes on 405 Freeway in Orange County

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California Department of Transportation officials announced Friday that they will eventually replace carpool lanes on Interstate 405 in Orange County with paid lanes, despite the decision in December from Orange County Transportation Authority board members to not support toll lanes. 

Amid backlash, Caltrans officials stressed that the new paid lanes on the I-405 are not toll lanes, but HOT lanes. 

“There is a difference,” said David Richardson, a spokesman for Caltrans District 12 in Orange County. “A toll lane under all circumstances you pay the toll when you go in. A HOT lane has a required level of occupancy, and if you hit that level, then it's free. And if you're less than that level, or if you're by yourself, then you're able to buy your way in.” 

Richardson also said the addition of HOT lanes would be a welcome change to the highly impacted highway. 

“We can’t build our way out of congestion,” Richardson said. “We are not able to add general purpose lanes at the rate congestion builds. So, we need to manage our system, and this allows us to do that. And it allows us to that in a way that is integrated with other facilities throughout the state. And it’s the best for us environmentally.”

But neighboring cities are referring to these new lanes as the “Lexus lanes,” because of the disadvantage commuters will face while driving through Orange County. 

From The Los Angeles Times

As county transportation officials mulled how best to expand the 405, six cities along the route banded together to fight what some derisively referred to as 'Lexus lanes,' saying they would put an unfair burden on commuters, push traffic onto local streets and prevent motorists in toll lanes from pulling off the highway to patronize local businesses.

John Moorlach, an Orange County Supervisor and OCTA Board member, said while he is not shocked by Caltrans decision, he is disappointed. 

“Orange County is a county where the residents voted to tax themselves to improve the freeways and transit in the county,” Moorlach said. “So, what is being done now is that we are being told Orange County spent $1.3 billion to widen all of the bridges on Harbor Blvd. and the 605, widen them to accommodate two more lanes on each side, but only add one lane. And once you added that lane the state will take that lane and the next lane over and convert those to toll lanes. So, at the end of the day we’ve spent $1.3, $1.4 billion, but we really have not added any lanes for what we would call general purpose lanes.”

Moorlach, like other residents, expressed his frustration for residents near the freeway who have had to endure years of construction and traffic for nothing.

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