Perfect Circularity: 405 Toll Lanes for the sole purpose of funding 405 Toll Lanes!

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

…that’s sure how it looks anyway.

Just, follow me here.

Since I work Thursday nights I was sadly unable to make it to the big 405 Improvement meeting in Fountain Valley last night, but I hear that there was a splendid turnout – of maybe about 200 citizens ranging from engaged to enraged, many from screwed-over Costa Mesa, and many of my own flying monkeys, who filled me in on what I missed.

Earlier in the day I had a nice conversation with my Supervisor and OCTA Board representative, The Grand Moorlach.   Here I’ll list just a FEW of the interesting things he told me.

He’s been “frustrated” for a long time, with Orange County’s Toll Roads in general, and how they just morph into self-perpetuating, self-justifying debt machines.

He pretty much confirmed what I’d heard from Westminster activist Diana Lee Carey, that the main reason many OCTA Board members and administrators want toll lanes on the 405 is that the revenue will help them qualify for bonds to complete the actual work on the project.

My new friend.

And he agrees with me, that bonds and loans are to be avoided whenever possible, as we’ve saddled our kids and grandkids with quite enough debt already, thank you.

With me still?  As of yesterday, neither activist Diana nor conservative Supervisor Moorlach were sure how much money we have available from Measure M sales tax for the project.  Well, last night we found out, and it’s much more than either of of them thought – we already have 1.3 BILLION dollars!* (see bottom of story for how that’s true.)

Now, if you will recall from my previous story, we are looking at three alternatives:

  • Alt. 1 – one additional general purpose lane, costing $1.3 billion.  So, we have EXACTLY the amount we need to do that, with no bonds.
  • Alt. 2 – TWO additional general purpose lanes, at the bargain (nearly 2-for-1) price of $1.4 billion.  To pay for THAT option, which MOST of us prefer, we’re only $100 million short – and by 2015, if the economy improves, we should have that easily (although construction costs will also rise – lotsa moving parts!)  Still, no bonds should be necessary to complete Alternative 2.
  • Alt. 3 – which converts the two inner lanes to heavily tolled and 3+ passenger lanes, while adding an extra general purpose lane, would be $1.7 billion.  For that, we WILL need to take out a bond.  Which will be financed by these toll lanes.

Do you see the beautiful circularity here, reminiscent of the mythical Ouroboros, the snake which swallows its own tail?  We NEED to build this “express facility,” aka toll lanes, in order to qualify for bonds, so that we can afford to build these toll lanes, so that we can pay off these bonds, so that we can pay off the construction of these toll lanes!  And so on and so forth.

Projections and Algorithms.

No doubt anticipating the public’s awakening to this absurdity, the OCTA folks who prefer toll lanes are now emphasizing their claim that Alternative 3 (with toll lanes to the left and the rest of us stuck off to the right) will allow traffic to move faster.  And they bring out figures derived from computer “algorithms” to demonstrate this.

In these figures below, OCTA projects what 405 rush-hour traffic will look like in the year 2040.  Apparently their algorithms assume that the number of people driving cars on freeways in the coming decades will continue to grow as it has been.  Apparently these algorithms are kept blissfully unaware – hey, they’re only innocent algorithms! – unaware of the phenomenon of peak oil, the probability of gas being $10 to $20 a gallon by that time, and the inevitability of alternative transportation.

But still, let’s see what they came up with.  This is – for each alternative – the number of vehicles per hour (VPH) getting thru the area at rush hour, the number of minutes it’ll take someone in the general purpose lanes to get from the 605 to the 73, and the number of minutes it’ll take someone in one of the left HOV (carpool) or toll lanes to do the same:

  • DO-NOTHING ALTERNATIVE –  6000 VPH.   Plebes, 133 minutes.  Carpools, 121 minutes.  Not good.
  • ALTERNATIVE 1 (1 new lane) – 7200 VPH.    Plebes, 57 minutes.    Carpools, 54 minutes.  Still not good.
  • ALT. 2 (2 new lanes)           –       8400 VPH.  Plebes, 28 minutes. Carpools, 27 minutes.  Now we’re talking!
  • ALT. 3 (toll lanes)                –       9500 VPH.   Plebes, 29 minutes.   Toll lane, 13 minutes!  Hmmm…

Nice for the people who can afford the toll, but NOT WORTH AN EXTRA $400 MILLION THAT WILL HAVE TO BE BORROWED.  Alternative 2 is still best!

The Robin Marcario Alternative, Continuous Access, and the Rick Algorithm.

Garden Grove activist Marcario with one of her mosaics.

If you noticed in the last comments section, Juice friend Robin Marcario has been pushing her own idea, namely:

“…a 4th option to add one general purpose lane as well as an additional car pool lane with continuous access to enter and exit at will. Option 4 would increase traffic flow, encourage carpool usage, make it safer with continuous access and no additional cost to the taxpayer for using our 405 freeway.  We have already paid for additional lanes with Measure B. Keep our 405 free from toll roads!”

This sounded good to this newbie, and I discussed it with The Moorlach, and it was also brought up by a few people at the meeting.  First, a bit on “continuous access.”  I was wondering, is that less safe than the few and far-between carpool-lane exits we have now?  And I learned, to my surprise and pleasure, that continuous access is actually safer than what we have now.    That’s why we’ve moved to that on the 55 and elsewhere.

Well, why don’t we have it on the 405 already then?  The answer is complicated and has something to do with the fact that we share that freeway with LA’s Metropolitan authority.  But still, we are intending to have continuous access from the carpool lane(s) if we go with Alternative 1 or 2.  Toll lanes, on the other hand, obviously preclude continuous access and necessitate a few, far-apart, exits and entrances like the ones that are causing such contention now.

Which brings up ANOTHER important fact these engineers’ algorithms neglected:  Look at the vast disparity in the Alt. 3 figures above.  Drivers getting ready to leave the toll lanes at Goldenwest or Magnolia are going to have to SLOW DOWN A LOT to get into the crawling traffic to their right;  just as folks who enter at those spots are gonna take some time picking up speed in the toll lanes.  So the miraculous figure we have above of the Lexuses making that stretch in 13 minutes at rush hour is just fairy dust.   Silly algorithms!  Oh well, garbage in garbage out I guess.

OCTA didn’t study the Marcario option, because their computers and algorithms told them that two carpool lanes would be “under-utilized.”  Apparently nobody asked the first question that popped into my mind:  Were they asking their computers about 3+ cars or 2+ cars?  I’d think for the foreseeable future we’d be talking 2+.  Orange County is not ready for 3+.  Yet.

It would be good to know about the Marcario option what we know about the others:  What would be the cost, and what would be the estimated VPH?  Logic suggests that the cost would be similar to Alternative 1 (which is already paid for.)  Logic suggests that the time from the 605 to the 73 for general lanes at rush hour would also be similar to Alt. 1 – a dreary 57 minutes.  BUT logic suggests that the 2+ cars with their two lanes to frolic in, are gonna be rocketing by as fast as they like!

Rick. (artist's conception.)

Which brings us to this:  These computers, poor dumb servants that they are, were obviously NOT equipped with what I’m calling the “Rick Algorithm.”

Basically, what THAT is:  The rate at which folks driving 15 MPH in the general-purpose lanes, under the Marcario option (or even Alt 1 or 2), will look over at the 2+ cars flying by in the two carpool lanes at 75 MPH, and say to themselves:

“You know, Rick IS an asshole.  But this is crazy…. The hell with it.  I’m gonna take him up on his carpool offer.”

Good for the environment, good for our traffic mobility, good for our economy, and especially good for Rick, who will now have someone to subject to his fantasies about all the babes in the office!

And, all other things being equal, there’s the “Fuck THAT Shit” argument.

As Diamond described so eloquently the other day, our great nation is becoming more and more of an aristocracy, the kind of aristocracy we rebelled against 236 years ago.

More and more, only the children of the already wealthy are able to afford a college education, and all the career opportunities that opens up.

More and more, we’re becoming a nation where social mobility – the Horatio Alger myth – is a thing of the nostalgic past, and a thing found much more in other nations.

More and more, our 1% – wealthier by the year while the rest of us languish – ensconce themselves in their gated communities, protected by the tiny minority of us who serve in the military, and enjoying the nation’s best health care while the rest of us scrimp and save for emergencies.

More and more the idea of shared sacrifice, of Americans “being all in it together” is another dim figment of the past, as billionaires buy their pick of politicians to make the rules, or just buy office themselves.

And most of us – left AND right – even here in Orange County, see the sorts of toll lanes proposed in Alternative 3 as one more example of this all-pervasive inequality.  And we don’t like it.

Our Willie DeVille wants his OWN lane, which he feels he deserves because he “worked so hard to be in the top one percent.”  But at least in this case we can stop him from getting that, democratically.

Or we SHOULD be able to.

As Mayor Quimby will be pointing out on this blog VERY SOON, Measure M, which we approved, said NOTHING about toll lanes.  If OCTA makes the wrong call and picks Alternative 3, without allowing the public to vote on this question which will affect all of us … THERE WILL BE HELL TO PAY.  We are all paying attention now.

Oh yeah.  Send your comments to:
Smita Deshpande
Branch Chief – Caltrans District 12
“Attn: 405 DEIR/DEIS Comment Period”
2201 Dupont Drive
Suite 200, Irvine, CA 92612

Or by email to Christina Byrne,
Manager of Community Outreach,
or reach her by telephone at 714-560-5717.


* Yes, we do have 1.3 Billion dollars ready for this project.  I know, the Pot-Stirrer reported that, per OCTA CEO Kempton, there is only $600 million, vaguely “some more” coming in, and we need BONDS.  Not having been there, I’m not exactly sure how misleading Kempton was being.  But if the Pot-Stirrer got that impression … well, Geoff’s nobody’s fool.  Here’s the real deal:

2006’s Measure M-2 allocated an estimated $973 million, in what’s called “escalated dollars.”  Whatever that means, the 2008 Bush recession reduced that amount by 36%, until now we have approximately $600 million left of that amount.  BUT!  The recession also caused a lot of other Measure M-related projects to come in far UNDER budget, SO our 405 improvement project gets another $700 million saved from there.  For a total of $1.3 billion.

Now, have a nice weekend.  Go out and get some fresh air.  I’ll join you in a moment.

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About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.