Tolls on the 405 – Cooking the Books with Two Very Different Sets of Numbers

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If you listen to the highly-paid OCTA staffers defending the idea of converting free car pool lanes to toll lanes, future traffic on our local freeways will reach nightmarish proportions. Two hours to travel 13 miles on the 405 with no improvement? Even with new free lanes, a 13 mile trip will take almost half an hour. But just let  OCTA  charge tolls and you can make that trip in 13 minutes as long as you are willing to pay $10 for the privilege. Even that single mom working two jobs will gladly pay if she can collect her baby from child care, where they would start charging for every minute she’s late.

But if you start looking closely at their numbers, you see that OCTA is using two sets of forecasts, one to scare the bejeezus out of you, the other to  forecast traffic and revenue if they add tolls to the 405.

How different are the two different projections?  In the most crowded segment, there is a 23.7% difference in the two forecasts.

The scary traffic forecast is published in the Environmental Impact Report, which was circulated in April of 2012. The second forecast is contained in the Stantec report produced in December, 2010 to forecast revenue for four different  toll road options.

You might think that the EIR report published  17 months after the Stantec report  would have the most current numbers, but you would be wrong. The EIR uses outdated traffic counts, and more optimistic projections of employment and population growth.

It’s common sense. People stopped driving as much when the economy tanked and the price of gas soared.  When Stantec did their Phase 2 report, they went out and actually counted cars on the 405 in 2010, and used the latest economic forecasts after the recessions had reduced both employment and growth forecasts dramatically. ( As a point of reference, traffic on the 73 toll road has dropped by over 18%, losing 5.5 million vehicles per year since the peak in 2008)

Here’s one example.

Compare the busiest single segment of the 405, the three mile section between the 22 and the 605 during the busiest period of the day in the busiest direction. And let’s double check to see that both reports are projecting traffic for Alternative 3, which will convert two free car pool lanes* to  toll lanes, and charge tolls to the two-thirds of the vehicles two or more people .  For this southbound stretch, one report projects a total of  15,192 vehcles per hour in 2020.** The other report projects  23.7% more traffic during the same time period, a total of 18,884 vehicles per hour***.

Which version of traffic forecasts is used to determine those travel times that OCTA uses to scare us? Of course, it’s the higher set of numbers.

It is obvious that the report with the lower projections was available to the consultants who prepared the EIR.  But they never manage to even reference the 60 page Stantec report or include a copy in their 6,733 page traffic report.

Converting freeways to toll lanes is about one thing – the billions of dollars they think they can collect for anything they want to spend it on without the restrictions written into the voter-approved Measure M.

Don’t believe their phony argument that it’s just a once in a lifetime opportunity to  provide more capacity.

* A second car pool lane is under construction now between the 22 and the 605, included in the $277 million West County Connector project.  This project also a adds carpool lane to carpool lane connectors between the 405 and 605.

**Page 47 Stantec Report to Parsons, December 2010Meanwhile, in the Stantec report, the projected peak hour is 12,008 vph in the free lanes lanes and 2705 vph in the toll lanes for a total of 15,192 vph.

*** Table 2.7.1 Alternative 3 (2020) I-405 Mainline Peak Hour Level of Service in Traffic Study prepared for Caltrans in support of 405 EIR and EIS by Albert Grover and Associates shows 15,484 vehicles per hour in the free lanes and 3,400 vehicles per hour in the toll lanes for a total of  18,884  vehicles per hour

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