Orange County transportation officials have kicked off construction on a $1.9 billion expansion of the Interstate 405 San Diego Freeway between Costa Mesa and the county’s border with Los Angeles. The innovative project is aimed at speeding up commute times on one of the nation’s busiest interstate highway sections.

Funding comes from a combination of federal, state and local funds — including $1.1 million from Orange County’s Measure M2, a half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements. Voters first approved Measure M in 1990 and, after 20 years of progress with more than $4 billion in transportation improvements, renewed the measure in 2006 for an additional 30 years.

The project adds one general-purpose freeway lane in each direction, as promised to voters through Measure M2 — and constructs an additional lane in each direction, which combined with the existing carpool lanes, will create the 405 Express Lanes.

The expansion will cut travel times during congested rush hours on a 16-mile stretch of I-405 that traverses Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Westminster and Seal Beach. Traveling northbound in the afternoon, it currently takes 54 minutes in regular lanes and 51 minutes in the carpool lanes to travel the 16 miles, said OCTA spokesman Joel Zlotnik.

Traffic on I-405 is expected to grow 30 percent by 2040, and projections show that, without the expansion project, travel times would rise to more than 2 hours. “With the project, the estimate is about 30 minutes in the regular lanes and 15 minutes in the express lanes,” said Zlotnik.

“The project is crucial for much-needed congestion relief as employment, population and housing continue to grow in Southern California,” said OCTA Chair Lisa Bartlett.

When the 405 Express Lanes are open, two-person carpools will pay a toll during peak hours, while carpools of three or more people can use the lanes without charge. The tolls will go toward paying a $629 million federal TIFA loan that is helping to fund the expansion. The federal loan will save taxpayers approximately $300 million compared to traditional financing methods. Any leftover toll revenue would go toward maintaining the freeway or other transportation improvements along the corridor.

“This project demonstrates how strong partnerships between Caltrans, the business community, and local and regional agencies can result in viable solutions to some of the state’s most significant congestion problems,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty

In addition to constructing the new lanes, the project will build, widen or replace more than 18 bridges, and improve freeway access and traffic on local streets. Construction is expected to take five years.

Source: Voice of OC