This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register on July 11, 2023
Around $10 for tolls on the 405 Freeway? That could soon be the reality for some drivers.
With the almost $2.2 billion improvement project on the 405 nearing completion by the end of the year, the Orange County Transportation Authority is preparing for the 405 Express Lanes (two lanes in each direction) to become operational and start collecting tolls.
On Wednesday, July 12, those on OCTA’s Finance and Administration Committee will discuss the toll policy. According to documents released ahead of the meeting, the 405 Express Lanes — to be located in the middle of the freeway like the 91 Express Lanes — will give solo drivers the choice to speed up their commutes for a fee.
Carpoolers can travel for free if there are three or more individuals in their vehicle with a valid account and transponder.
During the first three and a half years after the opening of the 405 Express Lanes, carpoolers with two individuals can travel for free during non-peak hours with a valid account and transponder.
Drivers with a designated veterans or a disabled person license plate will always ride the Express Lanes for free. Clean air vehicles, as designated by the state, will receive a 15% discount. The toll road will be free for motorcycles.
Once the Finance and Administration Committee approves the toll policy, the entire OCTA board will then take it up for consideration at its regularly scheduled board meeting on Monday, July 24.
“The toll policy basically lowers and raises tolls based on congestion,” said Joel Zlotnik, OCTA’s strategic communications manager.
With multiple entry and exit points on the Express Lanes, the toll amount will depend on the stretch of freeway a driver is traveling and the time of day too. The most expensive toll amount planned, $9.95, is for commuters traveling the whole length of the 405 Express Lanes in the northbound direction between 3-5 p.m. on a Friday while southbound drivers can expect to pay up to $6.20 in tolls.
OCTA’s toll rates are less expensive than others in the region. The maximum toll cost per mile on the 405 Express Lanes is $0.73. The comparative toll cost per mile on the 10 Express Lanes and 110 Express Lanes is $2.40.
Once the Express Lanes open at the end of the year, Zlotnik said, there will be an adjustment period when commuters and OCTA adapt to the new normal of a toll road on the 405.
“That adjustment period gives us the opportunity to lower or raise tolls to ensure we’re best meeting the policy goals of the Express Lanes,” Zlotnik said.
Some of the goals of implementing toll roads on the 405 include keeping traffic freely flowing and encouraging commuters to carpool.
Peak hours have been designated as Monday through Friday from 6-10 a.m. and 2-7 p.m. as well as on weekends from 1-7 p.m. However, this could change once the 405 Express Lanes open. For the first 12 weeks, staffers will monitor the traffic on the freeway and will adjust peak hours accordingly.
After that initial period of adjustment, toll rates will be reviewed and adjusted on a quarterly basis, Zlotnik said.
Money collected from the tolls will go toward paying back the $629 million federal loan — through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act passed by Congress in 1980 — OCTA received that went toward the construction of the 405 Express Lanes, Zlotnik said.
OCTA will also create an expenditure plan on where excess toll revenues will go, he said. Under California law, toll revenue needs to be spent within the freeway project area. OCTA also manages some of the express lanes on the 91, and Zlotnik said around $750 million in excess toll revenue from that freeway has been earmarked for projects within the corridor.
Like on other toll roads in California, those using the 405 Express Lanes will need the FasTrak transponder, he said. However, the FasTrak transponder has to be the adjustable one (not the sticker) if drivers want to take advantage of multiple-occupant discounts, Zlotnik said.
The 405 Express Lanes are just one component of the 405 Improvement Project, a voter-approved Measure M project which is also the largest highway project currently under construction in the state.
The improvement plan extends 16 miles from Costa Mesa to the Orange County-Los Angeles County border and includes adding a regular lane in each direction of 405 between Euclid Street and the 605, adding a second lane that will become part of the 405 Express Lanes between SR-73 to the 605, reconstructing 18 bridges that span the freeway, improving local streets and freeway on- and off-ramps and sidewalk and bus lane additions.
The improvement project is 90% complete.