Commentary: The taxpayers didn’t vote for a toll road


August 1, 2014 | 1:30 p.m.

It’s simply highway robbery.

Caltrans is trying to hijack traffic lanes that would have already been paid for by our local tax dollars on the San Diego Freeway and turn them into toll lanes.

For several years now, Orange County cities along the 405 Freeway have given Caltrans the same, unwavering message: We would like to see the freeway from Seal Beach to Costa Mesa expanded but don’t install the toll lanes.


In fact, in 1990 and again in 2006, Orange County residents approved a half-percent county sales tax (Measure M) to fund local transportation improvements — to widen freeways, expand bridges, build interchanges and improve intersections. In particular, adding lanes to the 405 Freeway was one of the reasons the voters approved the half-cent sales tax.


The taxpayers didn’t vote to fund a toll road.


After a series of public hearings, the Orange County Transportation Authority Board of Directors listened and proposed to add an additional free lane in each direction at a cost of about $1.3 billion.


But Caltrans officials, who have the final say so, recently rejected that option, waving their heavy hand and dictating that a toll lane plan would best relieve congestion on that 14-mile stretch of road.


Now Caltrans wants to take our $1.3 billion in Measure M funds earmarked for new free lanes on the 405 and build toll lanes with it.


This wasn’t what the voters intended the money be spent on. That does not matter. Caltrans has the ultimate control of what happens to all freeways in California.


Caltrans — as our statewide transportation agency — may indeed conclude that toll lanes would best relieve traffic congestion along the 405 in Orange County.


But if that’s the conclusion (and I’d argue there are better alternatives), Caltrans must then figure out how to finance the construction, operation and maintenance of those toll lanes without robbing Measure M funds.


The only way to stop this is for all of us to speak with one clear voice to Gov. Jerry Brown that we strongly object to Caltrans using our money to pay for a tollway we do not want. We also believe it’s an illegal use of tax revenues that were designated for other uses.


That is why I asked our City Council to put an advisory measure on the November ballot so we all can be heard. The question will be: Do you agree with the Costa Mesa City Council, which unanimously opposes the establishment of toll lanes on the I-405 Freeway through Orange County?


It’s time to speak with one voice.


JIM RIGHEIMER is the mayor of Costa Mesa.