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Costa Mesa may sue OCTA over freeway plan

The city of Costa Mesa is considering legal options to stop the Orange County Transportation Authority from adding toll lanes inside the city limits.

"I've been trying to tell OCTA it's not acceptable to Costa Mesa for many, many reasons," said Peter Naghavi, the city's economic development director. "All options, including legal action, are on the table."

Last week the City Council told City Attorney Tom Duarte to investigate legal challenges to an option known as Alternative 3, which would expand sections of the San Diego (405) Freeway.

The council also directed Duarte to reach out to other Orange County cities that may want to join the fight.

While the city explores its legal options, Costa Mesa's engineers are reviewing OCTA's draft environmental impact report and will submit their criticisms of it before the July 17 deadline, said Public Services Director Ernesto Munoz.

Opponents to Alternative 3, the only of OCTA's three 405 construction proposals that would add toll lanes, are discussing two routes to take. The other proposals add either one or two general-purpose lanes.

Critics also are expected to challenge the EIR. Their arguments could range from the report's conclusions on how the project will impact cities and residents along the 405 between the Corona del Mar (73) and San Gabriel (605) freeways to its traffic flow data.

The other avenue is to challenge the entire concept of a toll lane with what officials like Munoz and Naghavi call "double-dipping." They argue the freeway's expansion is funded by Measure M2, money generated from a half-cent sales tax that county voters approved in 2006.

"It's inaccurate for people to say they're not getting what was promised to them in Measure M," said OCTA spokesman Joel Zlotnik, noting that Alternative 3 is projected to serve more vehicles per hour than the other two, though Alternative 2 actually makes it a faster drive between the 73 and 605 for non-toll road users.

The $1.3 billion in Measure M2 money is only enough for one lane between the 605 and Euclid Street in Fountain Valley, he said.

Alternative 1 adds one general-purpose lane in either direction from the 605 to Euclid, meaning it would be fully funded.

Alternative 2 adds two lanes from the 605 to Euclid and would cost $1.4 billion.

Alternative 3 adds one general-purpose lane and a toll road that would be combined with the current carpool lane all the way to the 73. It would cost $1.7 billion.

OCTA would have to rely on local, state and federal money to cover the $100 million for Alternative 2 and would rely on an estimated $400 million in toll revenue to fund Alternative 3.

"When you do freeway improvements, you do it for traffic demand," Naghavi said. "We are engineers. We are here to improve the situation, not make money. … that's the whole purpose of a toll lane. 'Give me money and I'll let you go through faster.'"

Opposition to the Alternative 3 continues to build ahead of an August OCTA vote.

Costa Mesa has formally opposed the plan, while some residents have criticized it at a series of public meetings OCTA hosted earlier this month.

On its agenda for Wednesday, the Westminster City Council has proposed a resolution formally opposing Alternative 3.

Naghavi estimated more than $200 million has been spent in local, state and federal money on the 405 in Costa Mesa in the last 15 years, from the Fairview Road overpass and Harbor Boulevard onramps to a $53-million freeway widening project done less than 10 years ago.

"We've done our part as far as regional traffic," Naghavi said. "When you look at the 405, it's the other cities that haven't done their part."

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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