Opening of 405 Freeway Express Lanes in Orange County, Completion of $2 Billion Project

Costa Mesa, CA – December 2, 2023

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Image by trekandshoot from Getty Images

After nearly five years of extensive construction, the mammoth $2 billion 405 Freeway project has reached its culmination, marking a significant milestone in Orange County’s transportation landscape. The newly introduced express lanes, spanning from State Road 73 in Costa Mesa to Interstate 605 at the L.A. County border, officially opened on December 1, 2023.

The ambitious I-405 Improvement Project, aimed at alleviating congestion on one of the nation’s busiest highways, was unveiled by the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA). These express lanes, a key component of the project, offer a quicker commute for those willing to pay a variable toll, while carpoolers can access them for free during non-peak hours.

The $2.16-billion endeavor, primarily funded through a voter-approved tax measure, covered a 16-mile stretch of freeway that witnessed an average daily traffic flow of 370,000 vehicles. In addition to the express lanes, the project introduced one regular lane in each direction, contributing to the overall effort to mitigate congestion. The improvement initiative also involved the reconstruction of 18 bridges, with several now featuring enhanced pedestrian infrastructure such as sidewalks and bike lanes.

For the initial three years, vehicles with two or more occupants can utilize the express lanes free of charge during non-peak hours, while those with three or more passengers can enjoy toll-free access at all times. Peak hours, defined as “6 to 10 a.m. and 2 to 7 p.m. on weekdays”, and “1 to 7 p.m. on weekends,” will see variable tolls ranging from $3 on average to $9.95 for single drivers during peak hours.

“Orange County Transportation Authority” CEO Darrell Johnson expressed that these express lanes, equipped with FasTrak transponders for monitoring usage, are a crucial step towards incentivizing efficient driving habits. The goal is to maintain a consistent speed limit of 65 mph throughout the length of the express lanes, promoting smoother traffic flow.

While the project faced challenges such as unmarked utilities, soil contamination, and the discovery of Native American archaeological remains, the comprehensive reconstruction efforts included the rebuilding of 18 bridges and enhancements to on- and off-ramps. The express lanes, modeled after the successful 91 Freeway version, offer multiple entry and exit points, with toll rates adjusted based on expected traffic volume.

Funding for the 405 Freeway project was sourced from local sales tax revenue, state and federal funds, and a low-interest $629 million federal loan for the express lane section. Despite initial budgetary estimates of $1.9 billion, unforeseen challenges contributed to the final cost.

As Orange County celebrates the successful completion of its last major freeway project, attention turns to future endeavors. The Orange County Transportation Authority’s next major project is the scheduled completion of the OC Streetcar in August 2025, emphasizing the region’s commitment to continued urbanization and transportation innovation.

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