Near passage: California bill would add toll lanes on 91 Freeway

| 9/2/2010

A bill on its way to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk is intended to clear any legal hurdles for Riverside County’s project to build toll lanes on California’s 91 Freeway.

The California Senate unanimously approved the bill Monday, Aug. 30, clearing the way for AB2098 to move to the governor’s desk. Assembly lawmakers already approved it.

If Schwarzenegger signs the bill into law, the Riverside County Transportation Commission would be allowed to use a new way to complete major expansion on state Route 91.

The project to convert the car pool lanes into express toll lanes and a general use lane in each direction from the Orange County line to Interstate 15 was approved for a process called “design-build” by the California Transportation Commission in the spring. Numerous on- and off-ramps will also be expanded.

The design-build process allows contractors to submit plans to design and construct each project. Typically, one firm designs a highway and another builds it, with the two tasks bid separately.

Adding the construction project to a list of 15 other design-build projects around the state allows the state to avoid a legal fight over whether the process can be used for the roadwork.

With a price tag of $1.2 billion, the project is slated to be open to traffic in 2016. The cost to complete the project is expected to be paid for by selling bonds. Investors would get their money back through tolls.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is concerned about the outlook for getting transportation projects completed.

“There’s a lot of frustration everywhere about the lack of a long-term authorization bill. Without a clear path forward, states like California are more likely to pursue funding mechanisms that may be detrimental and very expensive to highway users,” said OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs Mike Joyce.

“Unfortunately, efforts like this could become very commonplace.”

Assemblyman Jeff Miller, R-Corona, said the toll lane project is worth it. He offered the bill in hopes of preventing the project from being slowed by legal challenges from unions.

“This is a large and detailed project, but it is a simple, straightforward idea,” Miller said in a statement. “It will ease traffic, give taxpayers a break, and create thousands of high-wage jobs where we need them most.”

To view other legislative activities of interest for California, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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