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.
I drive to and from Anaheim Hills and Irvine on The Toll Roads every day. I love my congestion-free drive. But before you begin rolling your eyes at the gal who works for The Toll Roads, I’ve learned new reasons and meaning to love and appreciate my drive.
My commute is a free-flowing 25 minutes and provides ample stress-free time to call my Mom from my Bluetooth. I check-in; ask about her day, and how Dad and “the boys” (their three dogs) are doing. Our chats are always engaging and a relaxing way to end my work day, but one thing that never fails is Mom’s daily question, “are you driving the corridor today?” to which I always reply, “Mom, it’s called The Toll Road” (as if a teenager is scolding her Mom for not using cool lingo).
This week marks 20 years since the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) opened the first phase of the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor, known to most people as the 73 Toll Road. And in celebrating this milestone, the word corridor brings new meaning to me, my job and a drive that I don’t take for granted.
In the summer of 1996, I didn’t yet have my driver’s license, but Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby” was a summer chart topper and “Macarena” was one of the coolest songs out there; Independence Day with Will Smith was also a box office hit. The Toll Roads – 51 miles of open road that serve as alternatives to Orange County’s congested freeways – have always been part of my driving experience, and anyone who’s been driving in Orange County since the late 90’s, knows no different. But to my Mom, who still calls them “the corridors,” they provide a much-needed sigh of relief to Orange County’s gridlock and enhanced the county’s transportation landscape while also preserving open space.
On July 20, 1996, TCA invited residents of Orange County to Cruise the Corridor as they celebrated the opening of the first phase of the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor. I found the invitation and program as I dug through our archives. In the summer of ’96, thousands of Orange County residents joined TCA for a fun run to experience the road before it opened to traffic and to celebrate 20 years of planning and nearly four years of construction. The new road was the first seven-mile stretch of a corridor that would ultimately take drivers 15 miles from Laguna Niguel to Newport Beach, providing a new transportation alternative to the 5 and 405 freeways.
Leading up to the opening of the new San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor, Mom read headlines about TCA’s strong environmental programs used throughout construction and the innovative financing and planning to make the roads possible. The term “corridor” has always stuck with her. Back in the 90’s, “corridor” was a modern term commonly used to describe multiple modes of transportation to move people, such as highways, rail and buses.
The San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor was the start of a link between South County and coastal cities and it has proven to be a valuable route. Although over time the name changed to the 73 Toll Road to reflect what the public called the new route, to Mom, it will always be the “corridor.”
In celebrating this milestone, I’ve learned to appreciate how the “corridor” enhanced the quality of life in Orange County by cutting commute times, reducing rush-hour frustration and making Southern California destinations more accessible. In those 20 years while the county continued to grow and expand, the “corridor” has always served the same purpose – trips on the 73 Toll Road have more than doubled in 20 years, logging nearly 31 million transactions last year. It’s hard to imagine what traffic would be like in Orange County without the 73 Toll Road!
So on my drive home when I call Mom tonight, I’ll smile when she asks if I’m driving the corridor and I’ll proudly respond, “yes, Mom, I’m cruising the corridor home today.”
School is out, bags are packed and summer vacation has officially begun. But before you hit the road for your family staycation or road trip, here’s a list of the five things you need to know to beat the summer heat and SoCal traffic:
Don’t Forget to Pack Your FasTrak® Transponder – The 73 Toll Road is a popular route for drivers traveling between Los Angeles and San Diego and the 241 Toll Road is a popular route to get to and from the Inland Empire, mountains and deserts to Orange County’s beaches. Be sure you’ve packed your FasTrak transponder before hitting the road. Because not only can you use FasTrak to pay tolls when driving The Toll Roads in Orange County but it also works on all of California’s tolled bridges, lanes and roads.
Paying Tolls Without an Account? There’s An App for That. – The Toll Roads recently released a new and improved mobile app allowing you to pay tolls on the 73, 133, 241 and 261 Toll Roads in the palm of your hand if you don’t have an account. Download the latest version of The Toll Roads’ app by searching “the toll roads” in the Google Play and Apple App Stores and enjoy a stress-free drive in Orange County. You can also compare account types and sign up with the updated app.
Paying Tolls With a Rental Car is Now Easier than Ever – The Toll Roads have partnered with most major rental car companies to simplify toll payments by allowing tolls to be charged directly to your credit card through rental car agreements. The new rental car toll payment program, eligible only on State Routes 73, 133, 241 and 261 in Southern California, eliminates the chance of a rental car customer receiving a Notice of Toll Evasion after they return their rental vehicle. Visit our rental car page to learn more about options for rental car drivers, including steps to take if you’re already a FasTrak or ExpressAccount® customer.
Calculate Your Tolls – Want to know what the cost is for a particular trip? Check out our online toll calculator to easily calculate your toll by selecting the road you will drive; your entry and exit points (choose “unknown” if you are not sure); how you will pay; and type of vehicle. Rates to drive on Orange County’s Toll Roads will increase slightly on Friday, July 1, from one cent to 14 cents, depending on the location and time of travel. The toll calculator webpage also features a downloadable map and rate card.
Hosting Family & Friends? –If you’re hosting out-of-town guests or renting or borrowing a vehicle, be sure to temporarily add the vehicle’s license plate number to your FasTrak or ExpressAccount so they can drive The Toll Road without worrying to pay online.
Safe travels and enjoy your drive on The Toll Roads.
In April 2015, the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (F/ETCA) retained Sharon Browning and Associates to conduct a community ascertainment study to gather input and gain insight on how best to collaborate to address regional mobility challenges in South Orange County. The scope of the study was designed to develop an understanding of the community’s definitions of the problem; priorities to be considered in proposing solutions; and preferences for process, planning and decision making.
In-person, confidential interviews were conducted with 45 residents and active community leaders — excluding elected officials — in cities and unincorporated areas in South Orange County. Topics of discussion included Interstate 5 (I-5) mobility challenges, describing the problem, exploring solutions including a need or no need for a State Route 241/I-5 connections, who should lead planning efforts and how planning should be led and exploring the need for consensus.
Below is a brief summary and analysis of the findings that will assist in developing a plan for achieving a consensus.
- The study analyzed the contents of each interview to identify areas of high agreement and areas of lack of agreement, in order for the F/ETCA to focus on areas of agreement in future regional traffic solution planning, particularly around relieving traffic on the I-5 corridor.
- The environment of the study included discussion around existing I-5 construction, the Avenida La Pata extension, and the local culture, political perspective, values and practices of each community.
- The study found high agreement in the community that excessive traffic congestion exists along the I-5, north and south from Oso Parkway to Cristianitos Road on weekends, during peak usage times and when accidents occur. The study confirmed the community is greatly concerned about this problem because of its negative impacts on quality of life.
- The study revealed the community is looking for increased engagement and choices at the local level.
- The study revealed that the community may not expect 100 percent consensus, rather an open, collaborative problem-solving process led by elected officials with community input.
A full report of the community ascertainment study may be viewed in full here.
After cash toll collection ended on Orange County’s toll roads on May 14, a program was implemented to ease drivers’ transition to the new all-electronic toll collection system. The transition program — originally put in place through the long Labor Day weekend — has been extended as The Toll Roads continue to evaluate data about usage, payments, feedback from customers and reports from customer service representatives.
“We will keep the transition program in place while we monitor how drivers are using the roads as summer winds down, tourism lightens and many people get back to their commuting routines,” said Mike Kraman, acting CEO of The Toll Roads. “We also want to keep the transition program in place as we make improvements to our customer service functions to better serve our customers.”
As part of the transition program:
• Penalty fees for first-time violations are waived if the tolls incurred are paid within 30 days of receiving a notice of toll evasion. Approximately 40 percent of violation notices are sent to people who have never before received a violation notice.
• Drivers without a pre-established tolling account can pay tolls online within seven days after driving the roads using the One-Time-Toll™ payment option. One-Time-Toll was developed to be used within 48 hours of driving the roads. Data is being reviewed to determine if the One-Time-Toll payment timeframe will be extended permanently.
The following improvements have been (or are being) implemented:
• Additional road signs have been installed. There are now 414 signs on the roadway informing drivers that they are on a tolled road; that cash is not accepted; that tolls can be paid electronically via a pre-established account or online using the One-Time-Toll payment option; and that a violation will be issued if tolls are not paid.
• Information about the closure of cash booths and how to pay online has been added to changeable message signs located on freeways leading to The Toll Roads.
• Information about the penalty relief for first-time violations is inserted into first-time violation notices. The notice also includes information about how to sign up for a FasTrak® or ExpressAccount® for future trips.
• To support the conversion, 14 employees were added to the customer service department. Six additional temporary customer service representatives have been added and 20 more are in the process of being added.
• Forty-six additional phone lines are being added to the customer call center. To accommodate callers.
• Adjustments have been made to information on the website to address common questions.
• Outreach programs to the general public; Spanish-speaking community; tourism industry; rental car agencies; seniors; college campuses; and military are being expanded and revamped as needed.
Approximately 250,000 people drive The Toll Roads every day as a way to avoid traffic congestion and save time. A majority of customers — 91 percent — pay with either a FasTrak, ExpressAccount or with the One-Time-Toll online payment feature. Since May 14, 65,269 ExpressAccounts® have been opened and 440,267 drivers have paid using One-Time-Toll™
Five ways to pay tolls on The Toll Roads:
1. FasTrak: Establish a prepaid account, pay tolls that are $1 less than all other drivers pay and receive a transponder that allows you to pay tolls electronically on every tolled bridge, lane and road in California.
2. Charge ExpressAccount: Establish an account with no prepayment. Drive The Toll Roads and your daily tolls are charged to your credit card. You cannot use this account to pay tolls on any other bridge, lane or road.
3. Invoice ExpressAccount: Establish an account with no prepayment. Drive The Toll Roads and, at the end of the month, receive an invoice for your accumulated tolls. This account includes an invoice fee. You cannot use this account to pay tolls on any other bridge, lane or road.
4. Prepaid ExpressAccount: Establish a prepaid account. Drive The Toll Roads and tolls are deducted from your prepaid account. You cannot use this account to pay tolls on any other bridge, lane or roads.
5. One-Time-Toll payment option: Drive The Toll Roads and within 48 hours after your drive, use our website or free app to pay your toll(s) with a credit card.
Beginning Wednesday, May 14 at 12:01 a.m., cash toll collection will cease on The Toll Roads in Orange County, making travel faster and more convenient for the more than 250,000 weekday commuters who choose The Toll Roads.
“Tuesday will be the final day to pay with cash on The Toll Roads,” said Lisa Bartlett, chairwoman of the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency. “The removal of cash tolls is a trend throughout the tolling industry and we’ve surveyed our cash customers to provide new electronic payment options that will work for them.”
In January, the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA), which operates The Toll Roads, introduced four new ways to pay tolls to replace cash toll collection. Along with the hugely-popular FasTrak® payment method, the three new ExpressAccount™ types and the new One-Time-Toll™ option make the drive on The Toll Roads fast and convenient.
More than 82 percent of transactions are already paid electronically using a FasTrak or ExpressAccount, while 13 percent are cash transactions.
“We want all customers to experience the benefits of a free-flowing drive that our FasTrak and ExpressAccount customers enjoy,” said Rush Hill, chairman of the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency. “If they haven’t signed up for a FasTrak or ExpressAccount, now is the time to ensure you always have options.”
Tomorrow is also the final day of work for toll attendants, who have worked at the Toll Roads toll plazas since the first plaza opened in 1993. All toll personnel (toll attendants, lead toll attendants, managers, assistant managers, etc.) are contract employees of Central Parking System, the largest parking management firm in the country, operating approximately 700 parking locations in Orange and Los Angeles counties alone. CPS will seek to find alternate employment options for these employees in other company positions in Southern California.
“We honor the service they’ve provided our customers and they have been part of the success of The Toll Roads,” said Chairman Hill.
In just six days cash toll collection will cease on The Toll Roads. Are you ready? If you have FasTrak® or AN ExpressAccount™ the answer is yes.
If you currently pay with cash when you drive State Routes 73, 133, 241 and 261, now is the time to decide how you will pay after 12:01 a.m. on May 14.
There are five ways to pay tolls on The Toll Roads: FasTrak, three new ExpressAccount types and the new One-Time-Toll option. Click here for information about the different account options and to learn which one is right for you.
TCA is offering new FasTrak and ExpressAccount customers a free week of nonstop driving as soon as they establish an account at thetollroads.com (PROMO CODE: FREETOLL). The offer ends May 11.
Will you join the 450,336 people who have a FasTrak account or the 69,619 who have an ExpressAccount?
Haven’t experienced a nonstop, stress-free commute in Orange County in a while? Now’s the perfect time to give The Toll Roads a try for an entire week — for free.
“We want every motorist in Orange County to experience what 250,000 weekday drivers already know — there’s no stop and go on The Toll Roads when you have FasTrak® or an ExpressAccount™,” said Lisa Telles, The Toll Roads’ chief communications officer.
In anticipation of The Toll Roads removing cash toll collection on May 14 at 12:01 a.m., TCA is offering new FasTrak and ExpressAccount customers a free week of nonstop driving as soon as they establish an account at thetollroads.com (PROMO CODE: FREETOLL). The offer ends May 11.
In January, The Toll Roads introduced more ways to pay tolls to replace cash toll collection. Along with the hugely-popular FasTrak payment method, the three new ExpressAccount types make the drive on The Toll Roads fast and convenient — and most importantly — nonstop. With FasTrak and ExpressAccount, all tolls are collected electronically while motorists travel at highway speeds.
For more information about the different account options and which one is right for you, please visit thetollroads.com. An ExpressAccount can only be used on The Toll Roads (State Routes 73, 133, 241 and 261) and the toll is, on average, 20 percent higher than the toll paid by a FasTrak customer.
Below are the most commonly-asked questions from customers via The Toll Roads’ social media (Facebook and Twitter), website and customer call center.
Q. I’ve signed up for an ExpressAccount, now what do I do? What lane do I use?
A. Once you’ve signed up for an ExpressAccount, you may immediately use it on The Toll Roads, driving in the lanes marked “FasTrak” and avoiding the need to stop at toll plazas.
With the new, transponder-free ExpressAccounts, images of a vehicle’s license plate taken on The Toll Roads are linked to an account and the appropriate toll is collected. ExpressAccount customers may choose one of three payment options: prepaid, charge or invoice accounts.
Remember, ExpressAccount only works on The Toll Roads in Orange County (SRs 73, 133, 241 and 261). To travel on other tolled bridges, lanes and roads in California — including the 91 Express Lanes — you must have a FasTrak account.
Q. Do I have to switch from FasTrak to one of the new ExpressAccounts?
A. No. FasTrak customers don’t need to make any changes with the introduction of the new ExpressAccounts. FasTrak is still the preferred way to pay tolls electronically because tolls, on average, are 20 percent lower and FasTrak may be used on all tolled bridges, lanes and roads in California, including the 91 Express Lanes and the LA Metro ExpressLanes. ExpressAccounts use license plate tolling technology and are designed for customers who only use The Toll Roads and use them infrequently.
Q. I have a FasTrak account. With license plate tolling, can I drive without my transponder?
A. If you choose to remain a FasTrak customer, you must keep your transponder mounted to your vehicle’s windshield. This ensures that you are charged the reduced FasTrak toll.
If you choose to switch to an ExpressAccount, which uses images of your license plates to collect tolls and may only be used on the 73, 133, 241 and 261, then you must return your transponder to The Toll Roads and transfer from FasTrak to an ExpressAccount. Please call the customer service center at (949) 727-4800 or visit our walk-in centers in Irvine or San Clemente to process this transaction.
Q. What are the lights I see now flashing at the toll plaza when I drive through?
A. Proven state-of-the-art tolling equipment is being installed at every tolling location in preparation for the removal of cash toll collection in May. The equipment supports FasTrak and the three new ExpressAccount types.
Drivers will notice that the lights on overhead gantries have already changed. Because the ExpressAccount payments use license plate numbers – instead of FasTrak transponders – to collect tolls, each vehicle’s front and back license plates must now be illuminated so that a photo can be taken.
Formerly, only black and white photos were taken of license plates using infrared lighting to identify vehicles that did not pay the toll. Now, color images with a greater level of detail are required. These photos ensure that the correct license plate is linked to the corresponding ExpressAccount. The lights are the same type used on police cars, ambulances and fire trucks around the country as they share the roadway with other drivers. At The Toll Roads’ tolling locations, the light produces a safe, momentary 200 microsecond flash.
Q. I signed up for an ExpressAccount with the “charge” option. When and how will I see toll charges on my credit card?
A. With the new ExpressAccount options, customers may choose three ways to pay:
- Charge – At the end of each day, customers’ tolls are processed to the credit card on file for each trip on The Toll Roads. You may see a transaction that evening or soon thereafter, depending on your bank.
- Prepaid – Customers open an account with a prepaid balance and tolls are deducted from the amount whenever they use The Toll Roads.
- Invoice – Customers are sent an invoice at the close of the month for tolls incurred that month; no need to use a credit card or link a bank account to your account. This account type includes an invoice fee.
Q. When is the last day The Toll Roads will be accepting cash on the roads?
A. Cash toll collection will end in May 2014.TCA is currently working on a final schedule for completing the installation of the new technology and posting new signage on the roads. An exact date in May for the final day of cash collection will be announced as soon as a date is finalized.
Q. How will tourists and out-of-town guests use The Toll Roads without cash toll collection?
A. The Toll Roads have also introduced One-Time-Toll, a payment option designed for infrequent toll road drivers and visitors. They may use The Toll Roads at their convenience and pay their tolls within 48 hours after their trip at TheTollRoads.com or via our free app—all without the need to establish an ExpressAccount or a FasTrak account. The app is available for download by accessing the Apple App Store or Google Play Store from a device and, then, typing in “FasTrak” or “The Toll Roads” in the search function.