“Lexus Lanes” on the 405? Stop the latest Toll Road outrage!


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E-mail ALL the OCTA Board Members by clicking HERE.

Traffic on our 405. Now imagine if the only people who could use those two left lanes - going either way - were cars with three people in them, or those who could afford to pay a hefty toll.

Cutting to the chase, briefly:  The OCTA is eager to convert the two left lanes of the 405, from the 605 to the 73, into what we’re calling “Lexus Lanes” – reserved for either those who can afford a toll which is likely to be pretty steep, or cars with three or more riders – leaving the rest of us plebeians, even two-rider cars, stuck in the remaining right lanes which will be more congested than ever.  And the LAST CHANCE for the public to let their feelings about this be known will be this Thursday, 6-8 pm, at the Fountain Valley Senior Center, 17967 Bushard (at Talbert.)

Don’t feel bad, I didn’t know about this myself, until I went to Saturday’s Flag Day bash at the Teamsters Hall.  Even though I first went to the wrong union hall and was too late to play the piano, I KNEW something positive would come of showing up, besides  getting the stink-eye from Jose Solorio and Tom Daly, and stealing Sharon Quirk-Silva’s award.

And what happened was, as part of his acknowledgement of all the elected officials there, Teamster “Godfather” Ray Cordova pointed out someone I hadn’t met or heard of – Diana Lee Carey – who holds two volunteer positions, as one of five members of Westminster’s Traffic Commission, and as the Chairwoman of the  I-405 Freeway Commission.  And Ray, who is prone to hyperbole, introduced her as the “one person who is standing between us and a 405 toll road.”  As it turned out it wasn’t really much of a hyperbole after all.

Immediately me and Diamond turned to each other.  “Who’s doing THIS story, you or me?” demanded the feisty lawyer.  In Orange Juice tradition we “Rochambeaued” for it, much to Sharon’s consternation.  Long story short I won the privilege of going over to meet the exemplary public servant.  And now I will share with you what I learned from Diana Lee Carey.   Now PAY ATTENTION, this is important, and we don’t have much time left!

One of these three alternatives IS GOING to happen:

Our stretch of the 405 is known as the busiest stretch of freeway in the nation, perhaps in the world.   For years OCTA has been considering various plans to mitigate the congestion, in a way that should last us till the year 2045.  (And I’m betting that by 2045 our transportation will be MUCH different, given peak oil, and the inevitability of high speed rail and other modern mass transportation.)

In 2006, we Orange County citizens made the rare move of voting to raise our own sales tax – with Measure M – that’s how much we wanted transportation improvement. The proceeds were to be split 43% to freeways, 25% for public transportation, and 32% for roads.  So this thing IS going to happen, and the voters asked for it, and paid for it.  The only question is which of these three alternatives we are going to choose, one of which will be carried out from 2015 to 2019:

  • ALTERNATIVE 1:  Add One General Purpose Lane in Each Direction from I-605 from to EUCLID – cost $1.3 billion. 
  • ALTERNATIVE 2:  Add TWO General Purpose Lanes, etc. for only 100 million more – cost $1.4 billion.
  • ALTERNATIVE 3:  Express Facility Alternative (Similar to 91 Freeway Toll Facility)  Add one toll lane to the existing carpool lane, GOING FROM THE 605 ALL THE WAY TO THE 73, and one general purpose lane (a la Alternative 1.)  The toll and 3+ carpool lanes will be managed together as an Express Facility.

***EUPHEMISM ALERT!***  You don’t need a pricey focus group run by Frank Luntz to tell you that most people don’t like the sound of “toll road.”  So now they call it “Express Facility.”  REMEMBER THAT!  We at the OJ pride ourselves in making you aware of the latest political euphemisms.  “EXPRESS FACILITY” = TOLL LANES!!!

OK, one of the first things I wanted to know was, how many people are going to be displaced from their homes and businesses with all this freeway widening?  And the surprising answer is – virtually none!  (With the exception of three businesses at Magnolia in Fountain Valley – Boomers, Days Inn, and the skating rink.  Sorry boys… we salute you.)  This is due to the amazing work of a Westminster traffic engineer to whom I’ll give a shout-out below, as well as the laudable flexibility of 2005-era OCTA.  So THAT worry’s gone.

Diana, and I, and most people who hear about this, prefer Alternative 2.   We don’t want toll lanes, or the greater expense of Alternative 3, but compare 2 to 1!  What anti-government-spending zealot would stand in a store and see “One lane for 13 bucks, two for 14!” and not jump on the good deal?  After all, I understand most of the expense will be in rebuilding all the bridges, which will have to happen with any of these alternatives.

But at this point, most of the OCTA board, at the urging of their administrative director Will Kempton, is tilting toward Alternative 3, because of the money that will come in from tolls – and, beyond and bigger that that, the fact that HAVING this toll income will allow them to qualify for more and bigger BONDS at lower interest.  Bonds?  Personally I don’t like the sound of bonds, aren’t those things that our kids have to pay off?  From what I understand (though I may learn more) we should be able to fund these improvements with the revenue from our Measure M sales tax.  I hear that we’re halfway there already, and we’ve still got seven more years till the project’s finished.

Also I should mention two things OCTA is NOT being up front about, according to the tireless Ms Carey:  They won’t say what the toll on this “express facility” might be, but we know that it will be based on what’s called “congestion pricing,” based on the level of traffic, and the promise of getting a car from the 605 to the 73 at rush hour in under 15 minutes.  Thus we can assume that it will be comparable to the cost of the toll lanes on the 91, which are $9.75.

Another thing that is whispered quietly but not admitted publicly:  Eventually even the 3+ cars will have to pay a toll, albeit a reduced one.

And then there’s the problem of EXITS off this “express facility.”  You know how you’re always having a hard time getting out of a carpool lane as it is, without either breaking the law by crossing the double line, or hurtling past your offramp while cursing?  Well, as originally planned, there was only gonna be ONE exit between the 605 and 73 – at MAGNOLIA.  Miss Westminster Civic Pride Diana, while opposing Alternative 3 altogether, had the influence to make sure that if it DID happen there would also be an exit at GOLDENWEST, saving the Westminster Mall’s bacon.  But  COSTA MESA IS GONNA BE SCREWED.  NO WAY to get to South Coast Plaza if you’re stuck in the Lexus Lanes. The Lexus Lane’s Lexi are gonna throw up their hands and speed on to Fashion Island.  So wake up Costa Mesa!  You’re impacted by this big time.

Who IS the OCTA Board, and do they have to listen to us?

Just some of 'em.

Don’t feel bad, I didn’t know this either.  I asked Diana, does the OCTA Board have to listen to us, or will we just be waving our little fists in the air?  She had two answers – 1) they did listen and respond to public outcry back in ’05 and agreed to help develop a plan which wouldn’t take anyone’s homes and businesses;  and 2)  “they BETTER listen to us, they’re elected!”  Really?!  Funny, I don’t remember ever voting for an OCTA board member.

So I went to look, I realized that she might have said “They’re electedS.”  What a rogues gallery of usual suspects.  The OCTA board is a virtual smorgasbord of Republican Mayors from across the county – including a couple of “Mayors for Life” – Santa Ana’s Pulido and Tustin’s Jerry Amante (who discouragingly already sports the nickname “Toll Road Jerry” – and all five supervisors.  The recently recalled Fullerton councilman Don Bankhead is there.  The only Democrat I recognize is Anaheim’s Lorri Galloway (who recently was stripped of her “Mayor Pro Tem” title by her Republican colleagues for doing the right thing against the Bed Tax Giveaway.)  Nobody at all who’s going to be facing re-election any time soon.

But, we’ll make them listen to us!  We have to.

Thursday’s meeting – the Last One!

I know, I know, nobody told me either.  But the last public meeting on this decision that’s going to affect hundreds of thousands of us is this Thursday night, 6-8 pm, at the Fountain Valley Senior Center, 17967 Bushard (at Talbert.)

Everyone should come – everyone who lives near or drives on the 405 between Long Beach and Newport – listen to the presentation, and make your opinion known.  I know that I don’t want the toll road option, known as Alternative 3, and prefer Alternative 2.  Maybe some of you will disagree with me.  Come and make your voices heard!

There are other concerns some of us citizens will bring up.  It will not be too expensive, all things considered, to MITIGATE the noise and pollution with special walls.

And CERTAIN businesses that are very close to freeway onramps and bridges – the El Torito at Goldenwest and Bolsa comes to mind – will have their parking and/or access impacted by the lengthened bridges.  Again, they should be able to take care of that.

So see you Thursday!  La luta continua!

***

Appendix 1:  KUDOS to 3 parties!

The only known photograph extant of amazing Wesminster traffic engineer Adolfo Ozaeta, ripped from his LinkedIn profile. Update. Diana says this is not Adolfo because Adolfo is young. But, how many Wesminster traffic engineers have that name? Weird. Until another picture materializes, this good-looking gentleman will represent Adolfo.

Diana says that special credit needs to go out, number one, to the amazing City of Westminster Traffic Engineer Adolfo Ozaeta, who (along with the OCTA design team and Parsons Engineering) pulled off the feat of figuring out how to add two lanes to each side of the highway without impacting any homes or (nearly) any businesses.

She also wants to give major props to the OCTA itself for listening to citizens back in 2005-6 and backing off their plan to use eminent domain to force out homeowners and businesses, and to instead begin working with the community.

But the rest of us need to remember that if it weren’t for the hours and years of tireless volunteer work by retired educator Diana Lee Carey, we would all be living in a world of shit already.  In 2005 an acquaintance came up to her and complained, “They’re going to take away my home to widen the freeway, and I don’t know what to do about it.”  Diana said, “I’M gonna do something about this,” found out when the next OCTA meeting was there and raised a fuss.

Then she spent three weeks walking to every home near the 405, from Seal Beach Boulevard to Brookhurst, handing out flyers, letting them know what was happening and when meetings were.  And she raised up such a ruckus that the OCTA caved in and totally altered their plans.

Westminster Mayor Margie Rice, impressed by this selfless and tireless activism, created a Westminster traffic commission and put Diana on it, and named her to the 405 commission.

And now Mayor Rice is retiring, and Diana will be running to take her place on Council.  This blog will be rooting for her too!  It’s not racist, is it, to say that a three-out-of-five Vietnamese Republican male majority is enough on that council, and that it’s time they had a white female Democrat, who’s already given so much to the community?

Appendix 2: Two OCTA videos explaining all this PRETTY well…

Our Coverage Thus Far:

AND NOW, somebody has created the excellent…

No 405 Tolls.Com!

E-mail ALL the OCTA Board Members by clicking HERE.


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County. Performs regularly with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem, and at regular concerts at the Huntington Beach Central Library.