Seal Beach and Westminster to join Costa Mesa in opposing Tolls on 405

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OCTA CEO Will Kempton (right), with boss when he was Caltrans Director

During a raucous  standing-room only meeting in Seal Beach, Vice-Mayor Gary Miller made it clear that the City of Seal Beach would join Costa Mesa in opposing the OCTA proposal to add toll lanes to the 405 Freeway. “100% of our residents are opposed to these tolls.” Mayor Michal Levitt expressed his anger before the meeting. “Why should we have to pay for this project twice? We paid for it once with our taxes, and now they want us to pay tolls?”

At the meeting, Westminster traffic commissioner Diana Carey indicated that she expected the City of Westminster to also formally oppose tolls on the 405 Freeway, citing concerns not just with the concept of tolls, but also with the limited number of access points to the unpopular proposed Express/Toll Lanes.

As with other meetings, not a single public attendee expressed any support for the toll road proposal, while many mentioned the promises made under Measure M.  Official information presented to voters used the word “freeway” over 150 times without ever mentioning “tolls”, “toll lanes”, “Express Lanes”  “HOT Lanes”, or “transponders”.

Another major issue expressed repeatedly was the concern that the effectiveness of the Express Lane concept would be seriously diminished because they ended at the LA County line. OCTA representatives indicated that there was a conspiracy to add toll lanes to additional Orange County and LA County freeways, including the 605 and the 405 through Long Beach. Demonstration toll projects on the Harbor Freeway and the 10 will be evaluated in the near future for their effectiveness.

Residents in the Seal Beach neighborhood of College Park also remain adamantly opposed to demolishing and rebuilding a sound wall closer to homes along Almond Ave, an area where they contend that the freeway alignment should be moved a few feet into the cabbage fields of the Naval Weapons station or the lanes and shoulders should be slightly narrowed in this segment. Caltrans has approved similar modifications to their specifications in every other major urban area, yet OCTA seems curiously unwilling to pursue this option.

OCTA CEO Will Kempton once again alleged consistency of  the toll lane concept with the promises of Measure M. Under Kempton’s rationalization, $1.3 billion in  sales tax money generated by Measure M would only be spent to replace every single bridge crossing the 405 and widen the freeway.  The extra $400 million to install surveillance and accounting systems to enforce the tolls and the additional cost to demolish the new Fairview bridge and widen the 405  in Costa Mesa would be paid for  with bonds to be repaid by future toll income.

Once again, OCTA’s spin wasn’t well received. A flyer passed out at the Seal Beach event pointed out how notoriously inaccurate local toll road projections have been,

After 15 years, the  73 San Joaquin Toll Road has been a financial disaster, operating at just 42.5% of the projected volume. This toll road has turned into a government Ponzi scheme, unable to make bond payments, increasing its debt every year.

The 91 Express Lanes, developed by a private company,  thrived because they had a 35 year agreement that prevented any competition. No new lanes to relieve traffic could be built until OCTA bought out the privateers.

The South Bay Expressway filed for bankruptcy March 22, 2010 after it became clear traffic and revenue would not support the debt incurred in building the 9 mile San Diego toll road.

Once the 405 Freeway is converted to a toll road,  the ONLY guarantee is that it will never be free again.  Future OCTA boards can change the tolls and rules any way they want.

The next public presentation on the toll roads will be at a July 2nd study session in Huntington Beach, where  “anti-tax” Mayor Don Hansen is one of the few OCTA Directors publicly pushing for tolls on local freeways.

As a footnote, the most curious phenomenon of the night was the insistence by OCTA project manager Niall Barrett that the final decision on the project would be made by Caltrans, and that the best way of changing the project would be by submitting comments  through the cumbersome EIR/EIS process. In reality, the decision on the locally preferred alternative will be made by the 16 (currently)  voting members of the OCTA Board of directors long before the EIR process is completed. Since OCTA is providing 100% of the funding for the project, as well as floating any toll road bonds, Caltrans approval will be over the details of the plans, not the alternative chosen

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