Officials from the Orange County Transportation Authority and Riverside County Transportation Commission last week signed a cooperative agreement to construct and operate a long-planned 8-mi extension of the State Route 91 express lanes system.

Photo courtesy of OCTA
The SR-91 express lanes in Orange County

The officials had also just received word that the project would receive a $20 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant that will support a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan financing up to one-third of the cost of the $1.3-billion project.

OCTA and RCTC have worked collaboratively to extend the lanes since legislation authorized the extension in 2008. The agreement between the two transportation agencies addresses design, construction and operation of the lanes and will lead the way for construction work to begin in 2013 with an anticipated completion in 2017. The agreement also creates cost savings for both agencies by utilizing joint contracts for services related to maintenance and operation of the 91 Express Lanes.

RCTC says it plans to use the design-build model to extend the lanes from the Orange County line to Interstate 15 in Riverside. The toll facility currently stretches 10 mi from the Costa Mesa Freeway (SR-55) to the county line. The project will also add one general-purpose lane in each direction along the project route.

John Standiford, spokesman for RCTC, said an RFQ has been issued and an environmental review is up next. Four prequalified design-build teams have been identified: Atkinson/Walsh JV, Kiewit, Flatiron/Skanska/Rados JV and Shimmick/Obayashi/FNF.

According to OCTA spokeswoman Laura Scheper, the authority bought the 91 Express Lanes in 2003 from the private company (California Private Transportation Co.) 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 Riverside Freeway (SR-91).

The 91 Express Lanes has been lauded as an innovative toll program: It is the first privately financed toll road in the U.S. in more than 50 years, one of the world’s first fully automated toll facilities and the first application of value pricing in the country. Motorists pay tolls using the windshield mounted FasTrak transponder system and toll rates are adjusted throughout the day based on the number of vehicles on the toll road.

The 91 Express Lanes averages 32,000 drivers per day, according to OCTA.