The US Department of Transportation (US DOT) has awarded $629 million in new funding to the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) for its critical I-405 Improvement Project. The project aims to improve traffic flow on one of the most congested freeways in the country and is expected to generate 26,000 jobs. The new funding will save Orange County taxpayers $158 million.
Provided as a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan, the new funding will lower the interest rate on OCTA’s current federal loan for the I-405 project, thereby saving $158 million over the life of the loan. OCTA is the first transportation agency ever to reset a partially drawn TIFIA loan, taking advantage of historically low interest rates to realize significant savings.
“I’m proud of OCTA for being proactive in taking advantage of low interest rates to help save millions of dollars for our taxpayers,” said OCTA Chairman Andrew Do, noting that the refinance sets “an example for other transportation agencies throughout the country to save public funds that can be reinvested in our infrastructure.” Michael Hennessey, Chairman of OCTA’s Finance and Administration Committee added, “This effort will help create greater revenue potential for future projects in the area.”
The new lower-cost funds will be dedicated to widening a 16-mile corridor of the San Diego Freeway, where the I-405 is the busiest freeway in the nation. The improvements will bring relief to the countless commuters and freight haulers who rely on this artery daily but must contend with heavy congestion in both the regular and carpool lanes. With traffic along the corridor expected to grow approximately 35% by 2040, OCTA says the project is “critical in order to accommodate expected employment, population and housing growth in not only Orange County but throughout Southern California.”
The TIFIA loan will be repaid solely using the revenue collected from drivers who choose to use the new toll lanes (405 Express Lanes) being built as part of the project. The improvements also add one new general-purpose lane in each direction – this portion is an OC Go project and will be funded by a combination of local, state and federal funds, including funds from Orange County’s half-cent transportation sales tax (formally Measure M.)
Overall, the project is expected to generate about 26,000 jobs and will also improve quality of life for residents of the region by creating more reliable and timely access to jobs, schools and essential services. Its design incorporates climate resilience elements, especially against flooding and earthquake risks, as well as pedestrian and bike-friendly elements. Completion is expected by October 2023.
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