Corona, CA: 91 toll lanes could be extended to Corona

The 8-mile extension of the 91 Express Lanes -- designed to ease gridlock between Orange and Riverside counties -- is moving forward with added funding and a new deal to jointly manage the toll lanes.

Riverside County plans to extend the Express Lanes from the Orange County line to the I-15 and will add a new lane in each direction of the 91. Several interchanges will be improved, as well as streets in the city of Corona.

The 91 Express Lanes averages 32,000 drivers a day, Orange County Transportation Authority officials said.

Earlier this month, the project was awarded a $20 million federal grant, providing a portion of needed financing for the $1.3-billion project. Pending the approval of funding, construction is expected to begin in 2013 with the lanes open in 2017.

The 91 links residential communities in Riverside County with employment centers in Orange County and carries more than 300,000 drivers. By 2035, more than 425,000 drivers are expected to travel daily on the 91.

Because of this, officials say it is crucial to extend the toll lanes into Riverside while also widening the 91. This summer, officials broke ground on an $84-million project that adds one general-purpose lane for six miles in each direction of the 91 between the 55 and the 241.

"The Riverside Freeway is one of the busiest in the nation and the 91 Express Lanes has provided a welcome alternative for drivers, saving them an average of 30 minutes during rush hour," said OCTA Chair Patricia Bates, the supervisor from Orange County's Fifth District.

In mid-December, the Orange and Riverside county transportation agencies agreed to co-manage the 91 Express Lanes once they extend into Corona.

The cooperative agreement will enable customers to "experience a seamless transition between the two facilities" and "view the 91 Express Lanes as a single facility."

Through the deal, Riverside County will take over the rights, interests, and obligations of the Express Lanes in that county. And, OCTA's agreement with state officials to manage the lanes was extended to 2065 to coincide with operational dates of the Riverside County Transportation Commission facility.

The Express Lanes will be connected through a new, direct connector and will enable commuters traveling north on the I-15 to directly access the toll lanes. Officials said there will be one customer service center and similar tolling policy and prices.

"Finding solutions to regional traffic problems requires that counties work together and this is one more example of how a successful partnership can bring relief for Southern California commuters," Bates said.

The OCTA bought the 91 Express Lanes in 2003 from the private company that built them. The purchase removed a non-compete clause that prevented improvements to the adjacent freeway and to date, nearly $15 million from 91 Express Lanes revenue has gone to improve the 91, OCTA officials said.

"The 91 Express Lanes is a model nationwide for providing drivers with a free-flowing traffic option and the extension of the lanes will help improve the critical link between our two counties," said Bill Campbell, a member of the OCTA board of directors.

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