Twenty years later, the 241 Toll Road continues to provide congestion relief for thousands of drivers
The year is 1998 – Bill Clinton is President, Titanic dominates the box office, gas is $1.06 a gallon, Google was just founded, and the first Harry Potter book is released. But, more importantly, a 24-mile segment of the 241 Toll Road, connecting the 91 Freeway to Irvine, opens. This segment provided drivers an alternative route to the congested 55 Freeway when traveling between Orange and Riverside Counties.
At the time, the project was one of the largest design/build contracts in U.S. history and was Orange County’s largest transportation project in a decade. Twenty years later, more than 60 million tolls are collected on the 241 Toll Road each year and it continues to provide congestion relief for hundreds of thousands of drivers every day.
We dug deep in our archives for some great construction photos and here are 20 fun facts to celebrate the 241 Toll Road’s 20th birthday.
The Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) – a joint powers authority including the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency and San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency – was formed in 1986 to address Southern California’s booming population, worsening traffic conditions and diminishing government funds.
- Due to a lack of state funding, private toll revenue bonds and development impact fee revenue was used to finance and construct Orange County’s Toll Roads. The majority of the tolls collected pay back the debt issued to fund construction.
- The Toll Roads were constructed with wildlife in mind. Natural travel patterns of deer and other wildlife were tracked and monitored to determine the paths they most frequently used. The Toll Roads then built wildlife undercrossings at the locations where the animals travel the most, allowing them to move safely and quickly from point A to point B. One of the busiest wildlife undercrossing in Southern California is under the 241 Toll Road.
- TCA was one of the first agencies in the state to use the design-build method for construction of public roads. The approach combined design and construction simultaneously to reduce the construction duration and cost.
- The first 3.2-mile segment of the 241 Toll Road opened in October 1993 near Foothill Ranch and spanned from Portola North to Portola South. Click here to view when other segments of The Toll Roads opened.
- The legislation that gave TCA permission to collect tolls mandated that tolls be collected electronically, which gave birth to FasTrak®. FasTrak is a system that uses a transponder to exchange information with a roadside computer, automatically deducting tolls from the user’s prepaid account as the vehicle passes through the toll points without slowing.
- Beyond Orange County, you can also use your FasTrak transponder for instant access to all of California’s toll roads, lanes and bridges – even the Golden Gate Bridge.
- TCA was the first toll road operator in the nation to offer a free mobile app for toll account management in 2012. To date, the app has been downloaded more than 1.3 million times to help customers manage their account or pay a toll from their smart phone or tablet.
- During construction of the 241 Toll Road construction site, a TCA contracted biologist rescued a baby golden eagle that was found lost and weak in a temporary construction reservoir. The eagle was nursed back to health and released back into the wild.
- A secret hollow rock, known as Bennet Rock, is perched at the top of a slope just north of the 241 Toll Road bridge over Santiago Creek. The legend is that it was constructed in honor of Jerry Bennet, TCA’s Chief Engineer at the time, who wanted to preserve the natural and unique outcropping along the right-of-way. The rock didn’t survive the earthwork, but the contractors had it recreated just for Jerry.
- The iconic red rock formations on the northbound side of the 241 Toll Road as you approach the 91 Freeway are nicknamed the “Badlands,” as they are reminiscent of the famous South Dakota badlands.
- Santiago Creek Bridge is a 90-foot high bridge and sits at about 735 feet above sea level. The Windy Ridge Toll Point is the highest elevation point along the 241 Toll Road at 1,286 feet.
- Irvine Lake, located near Santiago Canyon and the 241 Toll Road, is a reservoir that was built between 1929 and 1931 and provides drinking water to Villa Park and parts of Orange.
- The 241 Toll Road has three tunnels constructed through the cut and cover process. There are three tunnels on The Toll Roads. The one seen here is located at the northbound 133/241 interchange.
- There are four cell phone towers along the 241 Toll Road. Each tower reaches a height of 105 feet and they were intentionally designed to blend in with the natural landscape.
- There are five mainline toll points on Orange County’s Toll Roads. Tomato Springs Toll Point, closest to Lake Forest, was named after the location of a 1912 posse shootout that took place nearby.
- The 51-miles of Toll Roads – State Routes 73, 133, 241 and 261 – represent 20 percent of Orange County’s highway system and make up the largest network of toll roads in California.
- Tolls are collected three ways on Orange County’s Toll Roads – FasTrak, ExpressAccounts® and one-time online payments.
- On average, 1,000 new FasTrak accounts and ExpressAccounts are opened every day. As of Oct. 31, 2018, the number of open accounts totaled more than 1.37 million.
- The Toll Roads and saving time go hand-in-hand. A weekday rush hour trip from the El Toro “Y” to the Orange/Riverside County Line saves drivers 15 minutes via the 133 and 241 Toll Roads compared to using the 5 and 55 freeways.
With more than 320,000 daily trips on Orange County’s Toll Roads, that’s 320,000 less trips on the already congested 5, 55, and 405 freeways; thereby improving mobility for everyone – even those who don’t use it! The 73, 133, 241 and 261 Toll Roads continue to be the easiest and most predictable way to get to and through Orange County. Happy birthday – and thank you for providing drivers a choice for over 20 years.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work in transportation? Every year, the Orange County Chapter of Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS-OC) offers a two-week immersion into different facets of the transportation industry for undergraduate and graduate college students of various majors called the Transportation Academy. During the two weeks, students experience transportation first-hand through seminars and onsite tours.
TCA has participated in the WTS Transportation Academy since the program’s inception in 2009. This year 25 students came to TCA for the third day of the academy. This year’s program’s theme? Innovation. On August 1, we kicked off the day with a presentation, sharing how TCA is no stranger to innovation. When new roads were needed, and the State of California lacked funding, toll revenue bonds were sold as the major funding source to build the 73, 133, 241 and 261 Toll Roads. TCA has also pioneered environmental stewardship programs that use innovative strategies, design, management and conservation measures to protect the natural resources of more than 2,000 acres of habitat and open space in Orange County.
The student’s visit included a tour of the Tomato Springs toll point along the 241 Toll Road. Transcore, the company that manages TCA’s toll collection technology, gave a behind the scenes look at where and how tolls are collected electronically. The students watched cars drive by on the 241 Toll Road, while learning how the technology behind transponders and license plate imaging. License plate tolling cameras take photos of vehicle license plates when a FasTrak transponder is not detected. The photo is then connected to an ExpressAccount or becomes a violation notice.
The next stop on the tour was the site of the Oso Parkway Bridge Project. TCA is partnering with the County of Orange to construct a bridge to support safe connection between the southern end of the 241 Toll Road to the newly constructed Los Patrones Parkway. Students heard from civil engineers how they plan to construct the bridge without significantly disrupting traffic.
The last stop before heading back to the office, a quick drive by of TCA’s largest mitigation site, the Upper Chiquita Canyon Conservation Area. At 1,158 acres, environmental planning staff shared with the students how the area was saved from becoming homes and a golf course. The conservation area provides habitat for the federally-listed California gnatcatcher and coastal cactus wren and maintains wildlife connectivity between O’Neill Regional Park and Chiquita Ridge.
The day was capped off with a moderated career panel, allowing the students to learn how employees from different departments contribute to running the roads and ask their own questions. Employees from the Contracts, Toll Operations, Marketing, Engineering, Environmental, and Strategic departments explained how they got their start in the transportation industry, shared college course insights and discussed how they implement innovation within their department or throughout their careers.
Being a part of the Transportation Academy is a great way to see the future of transportation. And that future isn’t just engineers and planners, it’s also people in public policy, communications, environmental studies and geology, just to name a few. One thing is clear, when it comes to working in transportation, it takes a village.
For many of us, Memorial Day marked the unofficial start of summer; however, the official start is June 21…just a couple days away!
On the bright side, things always look sunny on The Toll Roads of Orange County. The 73, 133, 241 and 261 Toll Roads make getting around Orange County easy for locals and out-of-town visitors. Here’s a look at four summer destinations easily accessible via The Toll Roads:
Get artsy with Laguna Beach’s arts and culture
The 73 and 133 Toll Roads offer easy access to Laguna Beach, Orange County’s classic beach town. Visitors can enjoy the creativity and artistry of annual art shows such as the upcoming Sawdust Art Festival and Laguna Art-A-Fair beginning June 29. And, each evening from July 7 – Sept. 1, the Festival of Arts Pageant of the Masters faithfully recreates classic and contemporary works of art into living pictures that feature real people. BONUS: FasTrak® and ExpressAccount® members who are opted in to the Rewards program and who drive at least once in June will be rewarded with 25 percent off Pageant of the Masters tickets and 2-for-1 admission to the Festival of Arts. Click here, to opt-in.
Pack a picnic and head to Irvine Regional Park
Take the 241 or 261 Toll Roads for easy access to the 491-acre Irvine Regional Park, where families have picnicked beneath the groves of oak and sycamore trees for more than 100 years. The OC Zoo is within the park boundaries and there are pony rides and the Irvine Regional Park Railroad, too. For more summer fun, check out the park’s free summer concerts (July 19 and July 26) and outdoor movies (July 27 and Aug. 3).
“Free Your Inner Farmer” at the Orange County Fair
From south Orange County, the 73 Toll Road to the 55 Freeway is the best way to get to the OC Fair. Visit the fairgrounds from July 13 to Aug. 12 for delicious food, carnival rides, concerts, farm animals, arts and crafts, monster trucks and more. BONUS: FasTrak and ExpressAccount members can receive $2 off admission to the OC Fair by opting in to receive promotions from The Toll Roads Rewards program. Click here to learn more.
Rock out at Irvine concerts
Take the 241 and/or 133 Toll Roads to the Orange County Great Park for a concert at the new Five Point Amphitheatre. More than just home to the Big Orange Balloon, the outdoor venue debuts with its first full season of summer shows under the stars, featuring top bands and artists from a variety of genres; plus food and drink options.
If your summer plans take you further north, be sure to pack your FasTrak transponder. FasTrak is used to pay tolls on all of California’s tolled roads, lanes and bridges. You can use it on the 10 and 110 Express Lanes to access L.A. Live, California Science Center or Dodger Stadium.
And be sure to never miss one of Shohei Ohtani’s pitches. Drive the 241 Toll Road to bypass traffic on the 5 and 55 Freeways to catch a game at Angel Stadium. Go Halos!
Did you know if you drive The Toll Roads at least once during the month, you can receive special promotions from a local retail partner as a token of our appreciation?
Monthly deals range from restaurants to theme parks, and whale watching excursions to lift ticket discounts at local mountain resorts. This month’s rewards? The Festival of Arts Pageant of the Masters!
The Toll Roads Rewards members who have opted in to the program and drive at least once in June will be rewarded with 25 percent off Pageant of the Masters tickets and 2-for-1 admission to the Festival of Arts.
It’s simple – just be sure you’re opted-in to receive promotional news and information from The Toll Roads. It’s quick and easy too, here’s how:
- Visit TheTollRoads.com
- Log in to your account
- Scroll to the bottom of your account dashboard, to view “Communication Preferences”
- Here, you can do one of two things:
- Check the “Yes” button to receive:
- The Toll Roads Rewards, Promotions, News and other information about The Toll Roads
- Road Alerts to stay in the know of major road closures, improvements and projects that may impact your drive on The Toll Roads
- Bi-monthly Environmental Newsletter
- OR view the left side of your dashboard and simply check the white box that reads “Opt in to Receive Rewards”
- Check the “Yes” button to receive:
- You’re all set!
Once you’ve opted in to receive these communications, drive The Toll Roads at least once a month and a special offer will be emailed to you. Every month you drive, you’ll get a new offer. BONUS: If you’re opted in by the end of June, you’ll also receive $2 off admission to the OC Fair.
See you on The Toll Roads!
If you’ve driven the 241 Toll Road at or near Oso Parkway in Rancho Santa Margarita, you’ve seen Upper Chiquita Canyon Conservation Area (UCCCA); you probably even smiled to admire such a rare sight – open space in Orange County.
UCCCA is the Transportation Corridor Agencies’ (TCA) largest mitigation site. At 1,158 acres, seven Disneyland’s could fit within its boundaries.
Here, you’re surrounded by rolling hills of coastal sage scrub, patches of Prickly Pear Cactus, tiny coastal California Gnatcatchers, and families of deer.
TCA’s Upper Chiquita Canyon Conservation Area was originally planned for residential development and a golf course; however, in 1996, TCA, in partnership with environmental organizations and the resource agencies, placed the nearly 1,200 acres of land into permanent open space. Conservation of UCCCA plays a critical role in supporting and providing habitat for the federally listed California gnatcatcher and coastal cactus wren. The site also provides valuable connectivity for wildlife movement between O’Neill Regional Park and Chiquita Ridge to the south.
The next time you drive The Toll Roads (State Routes 73, 133, 241 and 261), enjoy the view (and the perks of congestion-free travel!). Most of the slopes and hills adjacent to The Toll Roads were planted with native habitat to blend seamlessly into the surrounding landscape. Thriving native plants have been weaned off supplemental water and fertilizer for decades.
UCCCA is just one of TCA’s 17 open spaces that have been conserved over the past 25 years. Check back soon to see what happens when we provide exclusive access to UCCCA to nearly 40 Plein Air artists to celebrate Earth Day. We can’t wait to see what vibrant and colorful news this spring will bring!
We go together like peas and carrots; green eggs and ham, John Lennon and Yoko Ono. But toll roads and preserving the environment? Yes, it’s true. (Cue the screeching brakes of car coming to a halt.)
The Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) does more than operate Orange County’s 51-miles of toll roads. TCA protects the natural resources of more than 2,100 acres of habitat and open space in 17 locations. 2,100 acres – that’s about two-and-a-half times as big as New York City’s Central Park!
In the 1970s, when Earth Day was getting underway, studies showed the need for new roads to serve Orange County’s growing population. By 1981, the future routes for what would become The Toll Roads, were roughly sketched onto county road plans. By 1990, TCA was working with the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, California Coastal Commission, California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Federal Highway Administration to secure environmental approvals and permits outlining the mitigation and restoration needed to move forward with construction.
Along The Toll Roads, nature’s bright show has been more than 25 years in the making. The slopes and nearby hillsides were first seeded with a mix of native plants back when The Toll Roads first opened. Custom seed mixes designed for each slope’s sun and moisture conditions sprouted into the mix of wildflowers, sages and shrubs seen today. The sustenance of the area’s California gnatcatcher population over decades is one way we know the planning and planting were successful. Today, the small birds nest in sagebrush and eat insects attracted to the wildflowers and other plants. The colorful spring views for drivers along The Toll Roads are just a beautiful bonus.
Check out our Environmental Initiatives to learn how TCA has replanted native vegetation, restored habitats for threatened species, conducted scientific studies, removed invasive and non-native plants and improved waterways and creeks.
In 1970, a gallon of gas cost 36 cents and 18-year-olds could vote. In 1970, folks rocked out to the likes of Jimi Hendrix and The Who with a lava lamp in their room. And, specifically on April 22, 1970, Earth Day was born.
According to the nonprofit organization Earth Day Network, the first Earth Day celebrations took place at 2,000 colleges and universities across the U.S. and 20 million Americans participated. Inspired by an oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969, the intent of Earth Day is to promote change in human behavior and provoke policy changes to protect the Earth our future generations will inherit.
Nearly half a century later, more than one billion people celebrate Earth Day throughout the world. Various events are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection.
How do The Toll Roads celebrate Earth Day? For more than a quarter century, the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) has been a leading agency in environmental stewardship, restoration and preservation. TCA has replanted native vegetation and restored habitats for threatened species at 17 sites throughout Orange County; resulting in more than 2,100 acres of habitat set aside for native animals to continue thrive as Orange County grows.
And this year, we’re celebrating Earth Day by providing exclusive access to the Upper Chiquita Canyon Conservation Area to nearly 40 Plein Air artists from SOCALPAPA. In French, “plein air” means “open air” or “outside” and the picturesque Upper Chiquita Canyon is a painter’s delight. We’re thrilled to open a pristine outdoor setting that is rarely open to the public, located near the south end of the 241 Toll Road in Rancho Santa Margarita.
Fun Fact – Earth Day Network has announced their ambitious plan to plant 7.8 billion trees by Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary in 2020. They report “trees are essential tools in the fight for a cleaner, sustainable environment and in one year, a single acre of mature trees absorbs the same amount of carbon dioxide produced by driving the average consumer car 26,000 miles.”
Read on to learn more fun Earth Day facts and stay tuned to see how we prepare for this unique special event.
In case you missed it, here is some recent news reports about The Toll Roads:
What to say when you hear nobody drives The Toll Roads? Fake news! The Orange County Register highlights The Toll Roads’ record breaking year with ridership increasing nearly 20 percent during the last three years. Traffic may be bad on OC’s freeways, but more than 300,000 daily drivers are finding relief on the 73, 133, 241 and 261 Toll Roads.
Wondering where the tolls you pay go? Paying off construction debt. Because of the strong ridership and revenue growth, the Transportation Corridor Agencies, the government agency overseeing operations of Orange County’s 51-miles of Toll Roads, are on solid financial ground.
So much so, that the Orange County Business Journal is calling it a Toll Road Turnaround. OCBJ lists the top 10 largest issuers of municipal debt in Orange County – the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency, responsible for the 133, 241 and 261 Toll Roads, and the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency, responsible for the 73 Toll Road – ranked the top two. The key takeaway? “The result is that The Toll Roads handily meet debt their debt obligations. Plus, the TCA has more than $1 billion in reserves in case of shortfalls,” reports OCBJ.
TCA’s Fiscal Year 2017 Annual Report highlights record-setting days on The Toll Roads when ridership reached numbers never-before-seen in TCA’s 25-year history. For example, what typically falls in the middle of June? Celebrating Dads and Grads!
Last year, Saturday, June 17, was a record high Saturday with 243,615 transactions and Monday, June 19, was a record high Monday with 306,382 transactions. Combined, that’s more than 12 times the amount of daily Disneyland visitors!
Check out more fun facts about ridership by viewing our In The Driver’s Seat information series.
“More people are using Orange County’s Toll Roads every day. The value our roads as an alternative to Orange County’s congested freeways is underscored by how many trips were taken and accounts opened in Fiscal Year 2017,” said Mike Kraman, TCA’s CEO. “The growth in revenue is a sign of a healthy economy and allows us to maintain a strong financial position and continue to invest in The Toll Roads.”
If only there were more hours in the day – to spend time with family, read a book, cook a meal, binge watch TV or, better yet, catch some ZZZzzs. It’s too bad, we’re spending more time behind the wheel instead of doing what we want.
According to the Global Traffic Scorecard, an annual study by transportation analytics company Inrix, in 2017, Southern California commuters experienced the most gridlock in the world. The. World.
Thankfully, there is the 73, 133, 241 and 261 Toll Roads as an option to avoid Orange County’s congested freeways. Not just for commuters, The Toll Roads are also great for day trips and weekend getaways.
Heading to Newport Beach? Jump on the 73 Toll Road and bypass all the traffic on the 405 Freeway while you enjoy scenic views. Traveling from Corona to the Irvine Spectrum? Take the 241 and 133 Toll Roads and get there in half the time.
What’s not to love about getting to your destination quicker and with an ETA you can safely predict? For this Valentine’s Day, you don’t have to skip the flowers or chocolate; drive The Toll Roads and arrive on time to meet your Valentine.
An upgrade to The Toll Roads’ online toll payment option allows drivers who don’t have an existing account to pay online with just a vehicle license plate number. This means drivers no longer need to input where they entered and exited The Toll Roads in order to calculate their toll.
The new system feature is particularly helpful to visitors and those driving The Toll Roads for the first time — and those who only make 2-3 trips a year and choose not to have an account. . Instead of remembering the details of their trip, drivers can use the option to and let the system present the tolls due.
“All you have to do is enter your license plate number and dates of travel online and we’ll calculate the tolls for you,” said Lisa Telles, Chief Communications Officer for the Transportation Corridor Agencies. “We wanted to make it easier than ever for people traveling through Orange County to drive the largest toll road network in California.”
Cameras capture the license plates of vehicles traveling on The Toll Roads. When a driver inputs a license plate number, the online payment system scans the database to identify any unpaid tolls for the date range specified. Once payment is processed, drivers receive a detailed statement with their trip details listed. Drivers who choose to can still use the original method by selecting “I’ll Calculate My Tolls” and enter specific trip details to pay their tolls.
Drivers have five days to pay tolls online, through The Toll Roads mobile app or by phone after driving the 73, 133, 241 and 261 Toll Roads. Users access the online payment system from TheTollRoads.com by choosing “Pay Toll Now.”
Paying tolls for a rental car is even easier. The Toll Roads of Orange County partner with most major rental car companies to allow tolls to be paid through car rental agreements. This minimizes the need to remember paying the toll and removes the potential of a rental car customer receiving a violation from the Toll Roads. Check with individual rental car companies to find out how they bill for tolls and if any additional fees apply.
No matter the reason for a visit to Orange County, driving The Toll Roads is a great way to get there faster and stress-free. Thanks to upgrades to the online payment option, it’s easier than ever for anyone driving The Toll Roads to pay tolls and enjoy driving on 51-miles of congestion-free and stress-free roads.