OCTA: What’s the Best Way to Widen the I-405?

8_14_09_405.jpgPhoto of the I-405 as it pases the John Wayne Airport: Treotography/Flickr

A brief article in today’s Orange County Register reports that the OCTA, the agency that recently employed Metro CEO Art Leahy as its top boss, is seeking public input on the best way to relieve congestion on the I-405.  While this seems like an inexpensive way to get a snapshot of public opinion; I can’t help but notice that the only options the OCTA is proposing involve massive road widening projects.

The four alternatives are basically a one-lane widening in each direction, a two lane widening in each direction, a two-lane widening that would be one HOT Lane and one general purpose lane, and just widening parts of the 405 in Orange County as funding allows.  No mention of trains, buses, bus-only lanes, or anything of the sort appear anywhere inside the Register’s article or on the OCTA’s project page.

To make matters even worse, the OCTA has already stated its preference for the two traditional widening alternatives. It should be noted that the I-405 in Orange County is already five travel lanes in each direction, so it is more than feasible that the final design for this project could be creating a mammoth 14-lane highway designed to connect Orange and San Diego counties. 

I can’t think of a better sprawl acceleration project than that.  For a quick reminder of what a fourteen lane highway looks like, visit this article on the proposed I-710 widening in Long Beach.  Is that really what we want our roads to look like?

In case you’re wondering, there is no place on the survey to ask how the project conforms with state mandates limiting sprawl or to improve air quality.  For a complete list of public outreach opportunities on this project, please visit the I-405 Improvement page at OCTA.net.

  • DJB

    This is bullsh*t. People should follow that link and tell OCTA that widening the freeway won’t solve the problem: excessive vehicle dependence.

    What’s needed is (some combination of) road pricing, dense, mixed-use real estate development, accommodation of bikes and pedestrians in the street, and aggressive investment in transit.

    Maybe OCTA’s plan to wait until climate change floods wide swaths of Orange County, thus reducing traffic. Brilliant.

  • Mary Finkle

    Check your facts before you flail. I-405 widening is part of Renewed Measure M approved by the OC voters with 70% of the vote, so OCTA is following the voter mandate. The notion that every road improvement leads to more sprawl is simplistic and wrong. The proposed 405 widening is generally within the available right-of-way and is meant to correct existing choke points, lane drops and other operational deficiencies that exist today. Last time I traveled this corridor, I didn’t see where the opportunity was for more “sprawl” since it and all of the property in the surrounding areas is already built out.

    For those interested in promoting more compact development, more transit use and smarter use of our transportation system, I would recommend the HOT lane concept. This would add one new lane and convert the existing HOV lane in each direction to create two lanes each direction that would be priced, much like the Express Lanes on State Route 91 between OC and the Inland Empire. Pricing policy could control congestion; reduce single occupant trips; create a time advantage for vanpools and express bus services; and provide a revenue source for future transit operations costs.

    In the absence a sensible highway pricing strategy, all of the talk about the need for more transit and smarter transportation policy is just that — talk. Stop flailing uselessly and wake up to what OCTA is doing and the potential to achieve these changes with the 405 project.

  • limit

    I am all for 405 expansion and am quite happy that option 2 “Go big, add two lanes in each direction” is leading with 61% currently.

    One of the primary failures in infrastructure planning is not modernizing enough. One lane at a time often is not enough in urban areas.

  • Steven Chan goes into a little bit about what makes the OCTA tick here: http://www.transitrideroc.com/2009/08/distinguishing-octas-board-octas

    “Here’s the confusing thing about OCTA: it’s a two-headed beast. Two heads. Its (1) staff seem to largely support bus service, while many of its (2) boardmembers want to cut transit service to its knees. Let’s take one staff member in particular: the new CEO, Will Kempton.”

    Basically, the new CEO of the OCTA Will Kempton recently did an interview where he said he is currently taking the bus to work and pledged he would leave no stone unturned when it comes to finding money to fund buses.

    On the other side of the coin is a board member named James Moorlach who suggested that eliminating all bus service be studied. Apparently he’s in the minority as other board members have said that bus service is vital.

    Other board members have expressed a deep misunderstanding of transit in the past in regard to the proposed rapid bus network named “Bravo:” http://www.transitrideroc.com/2008/12/bravo-brt-or-har (scroll down to And a long 30- to 45-minute squabble ensued…)

    The 405 widening doesn’t make me angry because as Finkle states it’s voter mandate. 75% highways, 25% transit. But Bravo sounds like such a simple thing to do, and relatively cheap. They’ve got until 2010 to implement it or risk losing some clean air funding or whatever it is. It was supposed to debut in 2008, unfortunately.

    As an aside, I often hear a lot of comments that complain about Orange County’s freeways. You’d think after all this investment in highways drivers would be satisfied.

  • Just because something is voter approved, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea or legal. I guess I should be rooting for the OCTA to move forward with an environmental document that only looks at four different widening projects. If any anti-highway group challenged it in court, the OCTA would get laughed out of the room; regardless of what the voters said.

  • DJB

    This one’s even personal for me, since if the widening went a couple miles past the OC-LA County line it would probably entail the destruction of my parents’ house (or at least give it a first-class soundwall view). Follow the link: it says the widening will happen “generally within existing freeway right-of-way” which is a euphemism for “we need to do some LAND ACQUISITION”.

    So, in a region with an affordable housing crisis, we’re supposed to condemn houses to add more vehicle capacity which will dry up in a few years and increase pollution?

    I’m sick of OC’s largely myopic transportation policies being dumped on our region. I’ve been breathing the results for most of my life.

  • M

    DBJ, I feel for you. After living next to the freeways for years now so that I can use public transportation to get to work (the Universal City Red Line station is adjacent to the freeway. Makes sense, right? I use the freeway a lot while minimizing my car use to the point where I don’t own a car anymore.) I can’t really understand how city planners find it reasonable or even justifiable to expand freeways so that people’s homes are next to freeways and build apartment buildings, other homes and parks so that they are next to the freeways! I guess since the city isn’t paying for the health care of the people, it doesn’t matter how many published studies of the health affects of pollution from cars come out. People can have heart attacks, asthma, can’t go outside because of air quality, can’t utilize the fact that LA’s weather allows for windows to be kept open for air flow instead of using electricity for a/c most of the year because of noise and dirt and countless other hazards such as higher speed vehicles moving close to their homes.

  • I’m with the freeway builders here. OC should be completely paved over. – I hate that place! Who says increased highway capacity induces sprawl? Not me, I’m too busy preparing to be HOT scanned to read reports on land use and transportation policy!

  • DJB, some houses in Anaheim will likely be demolished to make way for high speed rail. I don’t know if that is comparable, but hey, eminent domain can be used for transit too.

    I live in Orange County as well and I oppose more freeway construction. But voter mandate is an important reality. Like it or not, we live in a democracy and those who went to go vote last time this came up voted for Measure M, which is mostly highways and little transit.

    In LA County the voter mandate is for transit. Measure R proved that, but we have to tread lightly in Orange County because this guy, http://www.ocregister.com/opinion/county-transportation-road-1816614-public-transit, is the vice chairman of the OCTA board.

  • limit

    The right of way work: appraisal, acquisition (if forced condemnation), and relocation; will surely fall under the Uniform Act. No need to worry as that always means royal treatment for those directly affected.

  • If only “widening” would mean “increasing the number of people carried” we could have one express bus or taxi lane, two carpool lanes and two normal lanes on the 5-lane parts and build nothing new and save a lot of money.

    Unfortunately OC voters were given the wrong question and so people both near the freeway (noise and pollution) and everyone else on the planet (carbon) has to suffer.

    – From a European-based son of a mother who lives in car-dependent Laguna Woods.

  • I’ve also been thinking about this voter mandate thing, and the thing with OCTA’s measures M and M2 (off the top of my head — correct me if I’m wrong) is that they all include misleading transit components, like allocating funds for “Transitways.”

    However, OCTA’s definition of a “Transitway” isn’t like Metro’s upcoming Silver Line, where they run about 100 buses or so per day, up and down the freeway, with stations at major intersections. (Essentially, Bus Rapid Transit.)

    An OCTA “Transitway” is a HOV lane where they run 4 or so very, very empty Express buses per day. I know. I’ve ridden on their Express buses and their stops are pretty useless.

    So in a way, voters pay for “transit” improvements, but frankly, I’d venture to say that the bus system has hardly improved much since I got here. Even though OCTA likes to crow about the fact they added Night Owl and Express service since 2000, that’s just adding a handful of buses versus spending billions in freeway expansion.

  • DJB

    That’s a good link Spokker. I understand that a lot of people feel that way.

    My only response is, if you design cities to address only one issue, the speed at which vehicles move through them, you’ll ignore a lot of other issues: housing, environment, the transportation needs of the poor and people with disabilities, etc.

    It’s true that the OC voters have spoken, but bad ideas are bad ideas, and I think I’ll keep criticizing Measure M anyway.

    You conception of the solution depends on your conception of the problem. For me, traffic is much less of a serious issue than, say, the destruction of the environment and public health.

  • Derek

    There are only a few strategies that can reduce congestion in the long term, and none of them involve adding general-purpose lanes. OCTA should implement them before wasting any more taxpayer money: http://preview.tinyurl.com/7ns8fn

  • “It’s true that the OC voters have spoken, but bad ideas are bad ideas, and I think I’ll keep criticizing Measure M anyway.”

    You should keep criticizing Measure M and I’ll be right there with you.

    I’m only pointing out that there’s tons of work to be done in OC on educating the public about this stuff.

    By the way, if you’re planning on going to an OCTA meeting to speak out against the freeway widening, let me know and I’ll speak out against it too.

  • DJB

    Looks like there will be four scoping meetings at the end of September:
    http://www.octa.net/M2Project.aspx?EntryId=305&TabId=1328. Sounds like a good time.

  • Cool. I will likely attend a Wednesday or Friday meeting.

  • walker o

    “The notion that every road improvement leads to more sprawl is simplistic and wrong. ” The notion that if you put in a train or HOV instead and that promotes sprawl less, is wrong. You swallowed the cool aid.

  • Nathanael

    walker wrote:” The notion that if you put in a train or HOV instead and that promotes sprawl less, is wrong. You swallowed the cool aid.”

    Well, actually, trains do promote sprawl less. Do the research. Streetcar suburbs are much denser than auto suburbs. It’s as simple as that.

  • DJB

    Okay, I plan to attend the September 23rd meeting in Huntington Beach (it’s on my calendar). Look for a tall guy named David.

  • DJB

    Scratch that, I’m going to the October 1st meeting in Rossmoor.

  • lwps

    They want to spend $2 billion dollars for this…you could literally buy every house in Stanton for that much, and still have money left over. And for what? The same old, same old. Just a matter of time before the road is obsolete and jammed again. The surface streets will become flooded with the addition cars. What ever happened to the light rail system that was promised with Measure M?

  • TJL

    Viewed from afar (I currently live out of state, but I own an home relatively close to the 405), this project seems totally ridiculous. The OCTA home page currently features two big buttons: one for this measure (basically widening freeways) and another concerning “Bus Service Reduction Strategies”. So, rather than looking at innovative ways to reduce dependence on cars and to encourage mass transit, the OCTA is doing the exact opposite…

    I completely agree with DJB above: this is bullsh*t. How do the voters let this old-guard machinery continue to waste money on unimaginative policies from the sixties and seventies? Are they putting stupid pills in the water there now or what? I’m all for progress, but this is just dumb. Please post links for online protest.


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