Octa's transportation blog

405 Express Lanes Opens to Ease Congestion for OC Commuters

This article originally appeared in Spectrum News

The next time Sydnie Thomas drives from her home in Huntington Beach to Los Angeles, she’ll likely jump on the new 405 express lanes.

“I think it’s fantastic!” she said.

Thomas works in sales and said she regularly goes to see clients in LA, where she also visits family. The drive can easily take her at least an hour.

“That’s a nightmare,” she said.

So, to help speed things up, the Orange County Transportation Authority broke ground on the roughly $2 billion project about five years ago. It adds a regular lane in each direction funded through Measure M.

The agency also transformed the existing carpool lane into dual express lanes, offering commuters with a FasTrak transponder a new option between the 605 and the 73.

“I would pay whatever it is. Three bucks, four bucks,” Thomas said.

The tolls range from $1 or $2, up to about $10, depending on congestion and whether it’s during peak hours. It’s always free for carpools of three or more.

“I don’t know that I’d pay $10 unless I was really late for a meeting,” Thomas added.

But for Leah Garland, it’s a matter of fairness and access. She said she won’t be using the new lanes at all, despite her commute twice a week from LA to Irvine. She feels the toll system is inequitable.

“This is just another moment where we’re being nickled and dimed, where things seem to be costing more and more,” Garland said.

But OCTA said the express lanes portion of the project was paid for by a federal loan and that will be repaid only by drivers using the toll lanes.

“What we want to do is be able to monitor the express lanes to make sure if there’s an incident we can quickly respond to that,” said OCTA Senior Program Manager Jeff Mills, who was in charge of the 405 Express Lanes Project. He was showing off the OCTA’s Traffic Operations Center—basically the eyes and ears for these new express lanes.

“I feel like a bit of a proud father at this moment,” Mills said.

He said this section of the 405 Freeway sees more than 370,000 vehicles each day, one of the heaviest traveled in the nation, but the improvements extend beyond the freeway.

“We replaced 18 bridges that went up and over the freeway. Those are local street bridges, and we improved all of those to their ultimate width,” Mills said, creating more room for bicyclists and pedestrians.