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Upper Chiquita Canyon Conservation Area is a Special Place

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.

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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.IMG_3472

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.

In 2016 we prayed for rain, but despite the drought, the Gnatcatchers endured. And 2017’s bountiful rain brought out rarely seen reptiles; all at the pristine Upper Chiquita Canyon Conservation Area.

DSC_7696The 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!

Restoration & Revitalization: 25 Years in the Making

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.)

Did You Know_Env

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!

Protect Eco SystemsIn 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.

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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.

What is Earth Day?

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.

Earth-DayAccording 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.

UCCCA

(Photo: flickr)

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.

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(Photo: SOCALPAPA)

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.

 

ICYMI: TCA in the News

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.Tolls

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!

Father's Day WeekendLast 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.”

Time: The Perfect Valentine From Start to Finish

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.

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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.

Smiles Per Gallon

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.

Idea of Quality Time

 

Paying Tolls Online Now as Easy as Typing Your License Plate Number

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.

91 Express Lanes Extended by 8 Miles

Tomorrow morning, FasTrak accountholders will have eight new miles to drive when the Riverside segment of the 91 Express Lanes opens for the morning commute.

The new Riverside segment stretches from the Orange/Riverside County Line to 1.) McKinley Street on State Route 91 and 2.) Ontario Avenue on Interstate 15 South. There will not be direct access to Interstate 15 North from the Express Lanes.

Drivers will be able to travel the existing Orange County segment (between State Route 55 and the Orange/Riverside County Line), the new Riverside segment or the two segments combined for 18 miles of time savings. There will be an entry/exit point at the Orange/Riverside County Line.

Use the 91 Express Lanes and 241 Toll Road in the Same Trip:

Westbound State Route 91 drivers can enter the Express Lanes at McKinley Street (State Route 91) or Ontario Avenue (northbound Interstate 15) and exit at the County Line to access the southbound 241 Toll Road.

Northbound 241 Toll Road drivers can enter the eastbound 91 Express Lanes at the County Line to travel the Express Lanes through Corona.

Paying Tolls:

A toll will be charged for each 91 Express Lanes segment used. Overhead signs at every entry point will display the price for traveling a single segment and the full length of the Express Lanes. Toll rates can also be found at 91ExpressLanes.com.

FasTrak Transponder Required:

All vehicles, including carpoolers, must have a properly mounted FasTrak transponder issued by a California toll agency for toll collection. A transponder can be used to pay tolls on every tolled bridge, lane and road in California. Tolls on the 91 Express Lanes cannot be paid via license plate or with cash.

Carpools of three or more wishing to receive the carpool discount on the 91 Express Lanes must have a FasTrak transponder mounted and travel through the designated HOV3+ lane (the far left lane) at the toll points for both the Orange County and Riverside segments to receive the carpool discount.

Additional Project Improvements:

As part of the Riverside County Transportation Commission’s project, a new general purpose lane is being added in both directions on State Route 91 between State Route 71 and Interstate 15. Auxiliary lanes, interchanges, bridges, ramps and local streets have also been improved through Corona and will open in phases.

More Information:

91ExpressLanes.com/general-info/

 

 

241/91 Driving Courtesy

Anyone who travels between the 241 Toll Road and 91 Freeway knows the challenges that drivers face in this area. Nearly 40,000 cars travel through the northbound Windy Ridge Toll Point every weekday between 3 and 7 p.m.

As those trips descend to the 91 Freeway, they merge with one of the most congested stretches of freeways in the nation.

The significant back up is caused by a lack of capacity or space on the 91 Freeway to accept the commuters merging from the 241 Toll Road. And with the current construction on the 91 Freeway by our transportation partners, the Riverside County Transportation Commission, it’s no surprise that congestion is exacerbated. Long story short, the high demand created by jobs in Orange County and affordable housing in the Inland Empire results in too much traffic for the number of lanes available.

There are four lanes on the northbound 241 Toll Road as drivers approach the 91 Freeway – two on the left merge onto the westbound 91 Freeway and two on the right merge onto the eastbound 91 Freeway.  With the majority of commuters traveling from Orange County to Corona, Riverside and other parts of the Inland Empire, traffic backs up on the 241 Toll Road in the two right lanes, while traffic continues to flow heading west to Anaheim and Yorba Linda. Adding to the bumper-to-bumper frustration are the so-called queue jumpers – drivers who try to bypass the congestion by driving in the left two lanes only to cut-in at the last minute.

These queue-jumpers create more congestion and are a safety hazard. Stopping in free-flow lanes and making an unsafe lane change is illegal. California Highway Patrol (CHP) can cite up to four different vehicle codes when pulling over a driver for unsafe lane changes. If you do this, you can be ticketed, but more importantly, you could cause a major accident.

We see and hear the frustrations our 241 Toll Road drivers share on social media and understand your plight. The Toll Roads of Orange County are working on two efforts to address both these issues:

  1. Short term 241-91-after – To assist CHP with driver safety enforcement, crews recently installed new regulatory signs, raised reflectors and painted a double-double white line for the stretch between the east and west 91 Freeway merge lanes and added markings on the pavement to direct drivers to the correct lanes for their transition to the 91 Freeway. Drivers will see an increase of CHP officers enforcing those who impede traffic or unsafely change lanes. Discourteous drivers, not adhering to the rules, risk getting a citation with a minimum penalty amount of $238. And as our good friend Honk at the OC Register says, “Cutting in at the last moment is rude.

2. Long-term sr241_91hov-6198 – We are working with Caltrans to propose building a direct, median-to-median, tolled connector directly linking the 241 Toll Road to the 91 Express Lanes. This would add an additional option for drivers headed further east into Riverside or down the 15 Freeway to connect directly into the 91 Express Lanes, bypassing any congestion on the existing connector. As part of the environmental phase, a public review period and public hearing was held in fall 2016 to solicit feedback on this proposed project. The final environmental document is expected to be completed in 2018, to learn more, please visit thetollroads.com/241-91connector. Construction of the direct connector may involve hard separation (such as channelizers or a wall barrier) of westbound and eastbound lanes.

So, the next time you drive the northbound 241 Toll Road through the Windy Ridge Toll Point, please remember to be a courteous driver. Stay in the right-hand lanes before you pass the Windy Ridge Toll Point if you are traveling to Riverside County. If you’re heading eastbound on the 91 Freeway, stay out of left lanes when heading down the hill to allow westbound traffic to safely get to their destination. Most of us are rushing out of work to get home and to family functions, but we want to ensure everyone makes it to their destination safe and sound. If you get caught in the westbound lanes, we recommend that you continue west, exit at Weir Canyon and return to the 91 Freeway to head east – that is the safest and most courteous thing to do – and it would make Mom proud!

Cruising the Corridor in the Summer of 1996

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).

Cruise the Corridor collageThis 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 of00010004 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.”

The Toll Roads: Where to Go & What to Know

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:

FasTrak_throughout_CADon’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.

MobileAppBpngPaying 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.

RentalCarMapCalculate 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.