Tell the OCTA we want what we paid for: TWO NEW FREE LANES on the 405!


From the fine folks at the OCTA, to me and you:

Reminder: Measure M Annual Public Hearing Tonight!
The Measure M Taxpayers Oversight Committee is conducting the 22nd Annual Measure M Public Hearing this evening, Tuesday evening. Public comments will be taken about the implementation of Measure M.Measure M Logo Small

Event Details
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
6:00 p.m.
OCTA Headquarters
600 S. Main St., Orange
Get here on public transit
Can’t make it to the public hearing?
Submit your comments regarding Measure M actions taken in 2012 via an online comment form.

About Measure M:

In 1990, Orange County voters approved Measure M, a 20-year program for freeway, street, road and transit improvements funded by a half-cent sales tax. In 2006, voters approved the extension of Measure M for another 30 years.The Measure M Taxpayers Oversight Committee(TOC) reviews OCTA’s administration of Measure M every year to make sure the spirit and the letter of Measure M are fulfilled.

Oh, you KNOW I will be there tonight.  But look above – if you’re too busy, they give you the opportunity right there to submit YOUR comments online.  In fact, here you go again.

And, if you’re on the same page as me and most OC taxpayers, voters, and drivers, you’re gonna want to tell them TWO MAIN THINGS about their 405 plans:

  1. Don’t even THINK of bringing back the idea of making Toll Lanes out of lanes we’re paying to build; AND
  2. If you’re gonna spend $1.3 billion of our sales tax money and spend five years tearing down and rebuilding our bridges in order to build ONE new free lane, you had BETTER spend an extra 8% and give us TWO new free lanes – just one will NOT CUT IT.

Let’s Move Forward…

Do you mind if I stop using the terms “Alternative 1, Alternative 2, and Alternative 3” to denote last year’s three main plans to widen and improve the 405 between the 605 and the 55?  It sounds so boring and dull, and … well, so 2012!  I’m not even sure if the OCTA is still using those terms, now that they’ve settled (uncomfortably) on the mediocre one-lane “Alternative 1.”

I would rather say “the one-lane option,” “the two-lane option,” and “the toll-lane option,” if you don’t mind.

And if we can say, provisionally at least, that we’ve defeated the nightmare of toll lanes, then things become clearer, and we can look with a new set of eyes – and with ELEVEN new Board members, and a new CEO – at the real, stark choice between spending over a billion dollars and five years of untold disruption to build only ONE new lane, versus spending only 8% more money – WHICH WE HAVE – to build TWO lanes.

The One-Lane Option:  An Unconscionable Abdication.

The choice between one new lane and two new lanes really helps us focus.

OCTA’s own studies admit that the second free lane would cut rush-hour driving time in half from the one-lane option (which in turn, would cut driving time in half from doing nothing.)  Here are the figures, estimated for the year 2040, of how long it would take a driver to get from the 605 to the 73  (or vice-versa) in 2040 rush hour traffic:

  • IF WE DO NOTHING –  6000 VPH (Vehicles per hour.)   133 minutes;  121 in the carpool lane.
  • ONE NEW LANE – 7200 VPH.     57 minutes;   54 in the carpool lane.
  • TWO NEW LANES – 8400 VPH.    28 minutes; 27 in the carpool lane.

Now that is a huge difference, which will resonate immeasurably in the economic and social lives of our children and grandchildren.

Now let’s look at the difference in COST between that 57-minute alternative and the 28-minute alternative.  OCTA staff, in the grip of toll-lane fever last year, have been squirrelly about giving us precise costs on the non-toll alternatives;  but the one-lane option should be somewhere between $1.2 and $1.3 billion;  and, whatever it is, it appears that adding the second free lane is only about 8% more.  First of all, think about THAT as though you were standing in a grocery store:  ONE BIG CHOCOLATE BAR for $1.30, or TWO for $1.40?

But that’s just the cost in dollars – what about the cost to the communities, the corridor cities of HB, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Westminster, etc, during those five long years of 2015-19, the cost to those local economies as each and every bridge is torn down and rebuilt wider?  Mind you, we’re not complaining – we want those new lanes, we voted for them!  We’re just saying, THAT cost is the same whether we get one new lane or two.  Yes, the work on those bridges is exactly the same whether they make one new lane or two.

Can a cost be put on those five years of disruption?  I don’t think it has.  But if it were – and it’s the same under either option – then that necessarily reduces the 8% difference in cost between one lane versus two.  For example if we said the disruption cost the cities a billion – then the cost difference between one lane and two lanes, between a 28-minute drive for our grandkids versus a 54-minute drive – is more like a 4% or 5% difference.

Returning to the chocolate-bar situation, this is as though the store were a half-mile away, and each time you wanted to get a chocolate bar you had to walk a half a mile.  I think you would shell out the extra DIME for that second bar, all things considered.

I don’t see how this is not a no-brainer.  Even though “Alternative 1” did seem like a prudent, safe compromise to most of the Board LAST year, actually going through with it NOW, and not building that extra lane, would be an unconscionable abdication.

2012, the Year of the Toll-Lane Fever Dream.

Supervisor Moorlach – an OCTA Board director – noted in his “Moorlach Update” recently:

It was my impression that during the consideration of the alternatives, OCTA staff continually framed the debate as a limited choice of Alternative 3 (toll lanes) versus Alternative 1 (one lane,) with little meaningful consideration of a modified Alternative 2 (two lanes.)  When Alternative 3 was defeated, I believe many Board members were led to believe that there was no “real” option other than Alternative 1, despite the sentiment of many that “we could do better.”

Let’s just say that, throughout the last half of 2012, weakened and addled by its inarguable need for revenue, OCTA staff was in the grip of a Toll-Lane Fever Dream, which led to several destructive behavioral pathologies.  Cautiously hoping that fever has broken for good, let’s look back on what some of those pathologies were, so as to discount them.

Overall, OCTA staff put all its effort into making the toll lane option seem as desirable and unproblematic as they  could, while exaggerating the costs and difficulties of its great competitor, the two-lane option.  They devoted countless engineer-hours to making the toll lanes work, while cavalierly dismissing our ideas to improve the two-lane option.  At some points they claimed they couldn’t put too much work into studying the two-lane option since the voters had only approved one lane (of course voters never were given the choice of two lanes, NOT TO MENTION we certainly never approved toll lanes.)  At one point they even got their obedient attorney to opine that somehow two lanes were illegal (since not voter-approved) while somehow toll lanes were fine.

Their estimation of the cost of the two non-toll options was really, as I said, “squirrelly.”  When a $70,000 savings was discovered by altering some Fountain Valley onramps so that businesses wouldn’t have to be bought out, I’m PRETTY sure I caught them NOT subtracting $70K from the cost but adding $30K – or basically adding on a gratuitous $100K.  When a couple of directors read my piece and inquired for an explanation, they were rudely ignored and still haven’t received one – so it’s very possible the non-toll options are still $100K cheaper then they’re admitting.

But it’s confusing, because they go back and forth between discussing “design-bid-build” versus “design-build,” the latter of which saves about $100K but requires approval from the state legislature.  Director Carolyn Cavecche, who started as a toll opponent but then became head of “OC Tax” which presumably brings her under the influence of toll profiteer Curt Pringle, began to speak of winning “design-build” permission as “a crap shoot” that should not be counted on.  But *I* spoke to Senator Lou Correa, who told me he could easily steer “design-build” through the leg if that’s what OCTA asked him to do.  D’oh!

And – HEY, I HOPE THE NEW DIRECTORS ARE STILL READING – most shamefully OCTA CEO Will Kempton and his staff played a game of provincial divide-and-conquer with the Board.  No matter how much savings we would find, the two-lane option is always roughly $100K more than the one-lane option, and Kempton convinced several directors that that difference would have to come out of THEIR OWN pet transportation projects, elsewhere in the County.  COME ON, GUYS!  We ALL drive on the 405, it’s a major vital thoroughfare through the County, AND we have the money.

Of course it’s never Simple…

There are complications still, with the two-lane option as with any of the others.  But I don’t lose sleep over them, because I know the OCTA engineers are the best – the envy of the world!  I hear it all the time, and I believe it – they can figure out just about any problem we come across.  Several years ago they were set to expand the 405 in a way that would have required displacing thousands of businesses and residents;  but due to resistance from neighborhood activists like Diana Lee Carey, they went back to the drawing board and figured out a way to add two lanes, going both ways, from the 605 to Harbor, while displacing NEARLY NOBODY.  Now that is impressive.

One exception that still needs to be ironed out:  the final two northbound miles in Seal Beach, where we’d either have to unacceptably destroy and move the “Almond Avenue Wall” if we add two lanes there;  or else “streamline” down to only ONE extra lane for those two miles.  Moorlach and others have been pushing for that latter option, the “modified” or “streamlined” Alternative 2.  Kempton came back and said that streamlining there would create an unacceptable bottleneck in Garden Grove, which immediately lost the support of Janet Nguyen and the Garden Grove Mayor.  But to this date they have refused to show us the study proving that – chalk up another morbid symptom of Toll Lane Fever, I’m guessing.  Let’s get that all figured out in 2013.

Also, Long Beach is bitching about how what we’re doing might affect them – no matter which option we go with – so that’ll still have to be looked at too.  But this is enough for now, I have to go to this meeting.  The rest of you let OCTA know, we want and demand two free lanes, okay?

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.