Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
91 Express Lanes
The 91 Express Lanes is a ten-mile high-occupancy toll road / tollway hybrid contained entirely within the median of the Riverside Freeway (California State Route 91) in Orange County, California. During most hours of the day, high-occupancy tolls are charged only to operators of single occupant vehicles using the lanes. But during peak commute hours, the lanes turn into a full toll road, charging all users.
By the early 1990s, rapid development of the areas of the Inland Empire around Riverside had made the Riverside Freeway--the sole freeway connecting the bedroom communities and industrial areas of the Inland Empire to the wealthy suburbs and commercial centers of Orange County--one of the most congested in the Greater Los Angeles region.
In response, the California legislature authorized a private consortium, the California Private Transportation Company (CPTC), to create a fully automated, radio-transponder-activated tollway contained entirely within the median of the existing Riverside Freeway. Opening in 1995, the 91 Express Lanes were the first privately funded tollway built in the United States since the 1940s, and the first fully automated tollway in the world.
The express lanes have been controversial because of a "non-compete" agreement that the state made with CPTC. The clause, which was negotiated by Caltrans and never was brought to the legislature, prevent any improvements along 30 miles of the Riverside Freeway to ensure profit for the express lanes. This includes restricting the state from widening the free lanes or building mass transit near the freeway.
In 2003, their ownership and operation was purchased by the Orange County Transportation Authority, marking the first time the 91 Express Lanes was managed by public officials. Within a few months, OCTA turned the lanes into the HOT / tollway hybrid that it is today.
But as a result of the controversy, more toll road advocates favor creating local agencies similar to Transportation Corridor Agencies to build and maintain future tollways. New toll roads would be financed with tax-exempt bonds on a stand-alone basis -- taxpayers would not be responsible for repaying any debt if toll revenues fall short. And there would be a less restrictive "non-compete" clause: They would only be compensated for any revenue loss caused by improvements near the toll roads.
- Tollway Trial at a Dead End in California by Dan Weikel. Los Angeles Times. July 7, 2002
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