The largest, most expensive highway improvement project in Orange County history is nearing completion, which will allow relief for commuters along a busy stretch of Interstate 405.
The $2.16 billion I-405 improvement project is set to open to the public on Dec. 1. It adds an additional lane of travel to the regular lanes on the 405 between Euclid Avenue and the 605, as well as two express lanes requiring some drivers to pay tolls.
"This is one of the busiest stretches of freeway in the nation," said Orange County Transportation Authority spokesperson Joel Zlotnik. "I think anyone who drives this on a regular basis knows how busy it is and is going to be really happy when they see the results of this project."
In addition to adding more lanes, the project made improvements to many of the on- and off-ramps along the 405. Eighteen bridges were also reconstructed during the five-year project.
"It's been a long time coming," Zlotnik said. "We appreciate the patience of the community. It hasn't been easy. Construction is never easy. But we're really excited to see the benefits to the drivers."
OCTA estimates the average toll that single-drivers will pay is about $3 to travel the 14-mile stretch of express lanes. The maximum toll rate will be $9.95 during the peak travel period of 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays.
Drivers will be required to have FasTrak transponders. Even though the project required the elimination of a traditional HOV lane, those traveling with two people will be allowed to use the lanes for free for the first three and a half years after the facility opens during non-peak hours.
Drivers with a total of three or more people in the vehicle will be able to use the express lanes for free.
OCTA will soon begin testing of the express lanes, at which point the carpool lane will be closed. That was expected to happen as early as 11 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 25th.
Darrell Johnson, CEO of the Orange County Transportation Authority, said the idea of making the lanes free for everyone wouldn't accomplish their goals of a freeway that allows drivers a traffic-free option.
"The idea of a freeway is that it's free from traffic lights, not free for travel," Johnson said. "We can't build our way out of congestion in urban areas like Southern California, which is the second largest metropolitan area in the country. The only way we can deal with the congestion is to manage it in some sense, not any different than say congestion pricing on hotels or airlines or rail lines.
"We can't go wider and wider on the 405; the community wouldn't accept it and the price wouldn't make sense. So the idea is to take what we have and manage it much better."
During that time, OCTA will be analyzing traffic patterns to set the toll schedule. The express lanes are scheduled to be open to the public beginning Dec. 1 at 12:01am.