There goes the first bridge! And now? FAQs answered about 405 overhaul
A bridge over the 405 Freeway came tumbling down early Sunday morning, Aug. 19.
Fortunately, its collapse was deliberate.
McFadden Avenue’s bridge – spanning Westminster and Huntington Beach – is the first of 18 that will be replaced over the next five years to jibe with a broadened freeway. Four others will stay in place, but undergo improvements.
Eventually, the 16-mile stretch of pavement between the 73 Freeway in Costa Mesa and the 605 in Long Beach will gain two lanes each way.
The $1.9 billion project will be funded by four sources; Measure M, the county’s half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements, will foot the bulk of the bill at about $1.1 billion. The federal government will chip in $45.6 million, and the state $89.7 million.
A low-interest, 35-year loan of $629 million will be paid off by revenue from pay-to-use lanes.
Following are some frequently asked questions, emailed to the newspaper and pondered on social media. Orange County Transportation Authority officials assisted with the answers.
Q. We keep hearing “two additional lanes” and “two express lanes.” Does this mean we won’t get another regular lane – just fee-based lanes?
A. Drivers indeed will gain another regular lane. Currently, this section of the 405 offers four regular lanes and a carpool lane. After the widening, there will be five regular lanes and two express lanes – for a total of seven lanes. The express lanes will be separated from regular traffic with tall thin cones. Drivers can enter and exit at eight access points.
Q. How will drivers be charged for the express lanes?
A. Express lane users can put a credit card on file with the OCTA. A transponder will be mailed to them, and accounts automatically charged for each use. The express lane fee will range from $10 at rush hour to 50 cents at nighttime.
Q. Will there still be a carpool lane?
A. The carpool lanes get folded into the fee-based express lanes. Vehicles carrying three or more people will be free. Cars with two people will pay during rush hour for the first three and a half year, then will be required to pay at all times to use the express lanes, same as a single driver. Drivers who choose to carpool will need to buy a “switchable” transponder for $15 – which allows them to log the number of people in the vehicle.
Q. Isn’t this sort of an honors system? How will the carpool lanes be monitored?
A. Cars will pass under a mounted system that displays a colored light corresponding with the setting on the transponder. California Highway Patrol officers will keep a visual lookout to make sure the numbers match up.
Q. Why does the expansion include pay-to-use lanes, anyway? Isn’t this double taxation?
A. No money from Measure M, the local sales tax, will go toward construction of the express lanes, OCTA officials said. Measure M will pay for the addition of a general-purpose lane in each direction.
OCTA argues that doing nothing is not an option. The agency estimates traffic on the already congested 405 will grow 35 percent by 2040.
Q. Once the loan is repaid, will the express lanes convert to regular lanes?
A. Probably not, which is why the OCTA calls them express lanes and not toll lanes. Any excess revenue will go toward more freeway improvements.
Q. What bridges are up next for demolition?
A. The second phase of McFadden’s demolition will continue between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 25. Once again, the surrounding area of the freeway will be closed.
Next up, by year’s end, is the Slater Avenue bridge in Fountain Valley. Unlike McFadden, which closed completely Aug. 7 for about a year, Slater will remain in use throughout.
Q. If the Los Angeles County side of the 405 is not widened as well, won’t that create a logjam at Seal Beach Boulevard?
A. The Los Angeles side has enough lanes to accommodate additional lanes on the Orange County side, officials said. That interchange is the nation’s most heavily traveled freeway.
Q. If I can’t afford to use the express lanes, what’s in this for me?
A. OCTA estimates that regular-lane users driving the entire stretch will halve their rush-hour journey to 30 minutes. So if all goes as planned, even those who choose not to pay for the express lanes will benefit from both the extra regular lane and the migration of other drivers to express lanes.
For more information, go to octa.net.