With the steady hum of morning traffic behind them, public officials from cities along Orange County's 405 Freeway corridor gathered in Costa Mesa on Thursday to decry a state proposal to add toll lanes to the busy thoroughfare.
Led by Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) at his South Coast Drive field office, the group from Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Seal Beach and other areas sharply criticized the California Department of Transportation's recent announcement of plans to replace the 405 carpool lane with a toll option on a 14-mile stretch of the freeway, from Costa Mesa to the 605 Freeway near Rossmoor.
Caltrans' decision comes amid universal opposition to the idea from the Orange County Transportation Authority board and affected cities along the 405. OCTA's board in December had approved a toll-free option.
Mansoor, a former Costa Mesa mayor now running for county supervisor, called Caltrans' decision "a money grab."
"Never has anything of this magnitude been done without local cooperation and local funding," he said. "So this is going forward, or appears to be going forward, without any real direction."
The toll road plan, estimated to cost $1.7 billion, also would add one new general-purpose lane in each direction.
The state agency expects $1.3 billion for the project to come from Measure M funds. Voters agreed to the small sales tax increase to finance local transportation projects.
Los Alamitos Mayor Gerri Graham-Mejia compared Caltrans to a schoolyard bully taking lunch money from Orange County residents who approved the tax.
Nowhere in the Measure M wording is funding for toll roads mentioned, said county Supervisor John Moorlach.
Seal Beach Councilman Michael Levitt, who represents Leisure World, said the the tolls would be a financial burden on hundreds of fixed-income seniors.
Over the years, they have relied on the free carpool lanes, he said.
"Caltrans wants to take that away from us.... Now that free lane is going to cost $10 or $12," Levitt said.
Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer, referring to the 405 corridor cities' persistent protests of the toll idea, said: "What is wrong with the answer 'no'?"
The Costa Mesa City Council is expected to consider a resolution Tuesday "confirming the city's opposition to the use of Measure M funds in building toll lanes on the 405 Freeway without voter approval," according to a city news release.