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Residents stress the 'free' in freeway

Dozens gather in Westminster to voice their opposition to any plan that would add toll lanes to the 405.

October 29, 2013|By Bradley Zint

WESTMINSTER — They came en masse under the mantra of keeping the freeways free.

More than 150 people crowded Westminster's Civic Center on Tuesday night to formally voice their opposition to any toll roads within a 14-mile portion of the 405 Freeway, from the 73 Freeway in Costa Mesa to the 605 Freeway outside Rossmoor.

Representatives from communities nearby and along the busy thoroughfare — Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Westminster, Seal Beach, Los Alamitos, Rossmoor and Fountain Valley — were in universal opposition to the toll option, officially called Alternative 3 by the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA).

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The estimated $1.47-billion project would add one general-purpose and one toll lane in each direction, plus convert the existing carpool lane on both sides of the freeway to a toll lane within most of the 14-mile stretch.

Area politicians and residents said they have long favored either the $1.25-billion Alternative 1, which would add one general-purpose lane in each direction, or the $1.35-billion Alternative 2, which would add two general-purpose lanes in each direction.

Last year, Costa Mesa officials said they favored Alternative 2.

All three alternatives would involve reconstructing the bridges over the 405 along the affected route. The proposals have also been changed and pared down slightly; Alternative 3 was pegged at $1.7 billion last year.

Organizers said representatives from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and OCTA were invited to the town hall meeting but did not attend.

"I think it's pretty clear to the community what's at stake here," said Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer. "What's at stake is the future of Orange County with regards to how we move in this county."

Righeimer called the toll roads "Lexus lanes" — as in feasible only for the super-rich — and said if they're added to the 405, they would pave the way for toll roads elsewhere in Orange County, such as on the 5 Freeway.

"We may be the first ones to do it," Righeimer said, "but we're not gonna be the last."

The 405 toll road debate has recently resurfaced. In October 2012, OCTA's board recommended Alternative 1, though recently enacted federal legislation affecting the minimum traveling speeds within carpool lanes has brought the issue to light again.

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