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 February, we showed our love for our drivers by giving away $50 in free toll credits to four lucky winners.
To be eligible to win, we asked drivers to “Like” The Toll Roads on Facebook and leave a comment on the page explaining what they love most about driving The Toll Roads.
We received more than one thousand entries and were overjoyed reading the comments.
One driver shared that she’s been driving the 241 Toll Road every day for the past 10 years to avoid traffic on her commute. While The Toll Roads save her time, what she loves most about her drive is the view. In spring, the hills are green and flowers are growing and in the winter the mountain tops in the distance are covered in snow. In her day-to day-routine of city life, she told us her daily view of nature relaxes her and it’s what she loves most about her drive every morning.
We received many comments from drivers sharing how The Toll Roads help them get to their destination on time with less stress and home to their families quicker at the end of a long day. The heart below displays the words used most in the responses we received.
Drivers also said:
- “I love the fact that it gets me to my grandkids faster. I spend less time on the road and get more time with them.”
- “Light traffic, and the view of Catalina Island from the 73 can’t be beat!”
- “I love it when I work longer than usual and get stuck right at the worst traffic times, then that feeling you get when you can hop on The Toll Road and breeze on through.”
- “There’s nothing like arriving home on a Friday evening in a stress free, relaxed mood after a long week of work!”
Thank you to all of our drivers who entered. We work hard everyday to ensure that you love your drive.
Most people don’t think twice about roads, bridges or tunnels; at least not about how the structures were built or the materials that were used to construct them. And most people certainly don’t think about dirt or give dirt the credit it deserves. Dirt matters – everything around us is supported by dirt, soil or rock.
The Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) is celebrating National Engineers Week (Feb. 21 – 27) by recognizing its engineering team on Facebook and celebrating how engineers make a difference in our communities. Paul Bopp and Juliet Su, both engineering managers at TCA, recently participated in the 2nd annual Girl’s Engineering Day – Transporting the Future – at Dale Junior High School in Anaheim.
Hosted by WTS Orange County, an organization dedicated to the professional advancement of women in transportation; Transportation YOU, an interactive mentoring program that offers young girls ages 13-18 an introduction to a wide variety of transportation careers; and the Anaheim Unified School District, more than 100 young women, grades 7 to 12, from 16 schools participated in a fun and informative day introducing them to engineering and engineering-related fields.
Paul and Juliet led the Geotechnical Engineering station, providing an overview of why dirt matters; why foundations are critical to transportation projects; and how to select the best foundation to match the project soil conditions. Geotechnical engineering is a branch of civil engineering that deals with soil and rock and their relation to the design, construction and operation of engineering projects. Nearly all civil engineering projects, including roads, bridges and tunnels, must be supported by the ground and require geotechnical engineering. In short, dirt matters – for our future and growth of infrastructure.
Students used wood blocks and sticks to serve as foundations and pile supports in trays of sand and clay to compare how foundations behave with and without pile supports in each type of soil.
“It was incredibly rewarding to participate in Girls Engineering Day,” said Juliet Su. “In an industry where men largely outnumber women, it’s a wonderful opportunity to introduce the world of engineering and shape the mind, goals, and future of a young woman.”
Everything around us is supported by dirt, soil or rock and geotechnical engineers are responsible for ensuring that. Paul and Juliet’s hope is that these students become our next generation of civil engineers; but for now we’ll never doubt dirt’s importance – or look at a road, bridge or tunnel the same way. Visit facebook.com/TheTollRoads to read more and learn fun facts about TCA’s engineers.
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.
Phishing Scam Alert: There is a phishing email* being sent to drivers across the nation claiming they owe money for unpaid E-ZPass tolls. This is not an email from The Toll Roads, the Transportation Corridor Agencies, E-ZPass or E-ZPass tolling agencies. E-ZPass is used to collect tolls electronically on the East Coast; FasTrak is used to collect tolls electronically on the West Coast.
Please do not open or respond to the email if you receive it. To see an example of the email, please click here.
*Phishing emails, websites and phone calls are designed to steal money. Cybercriminals can do this by installing malicious software on your computer or stealing personal information off of your computer. To report a phishing email, forward it to: email@example.com.
We’ve implemented a program to help drivers transition to all-electronic toll collection, which went into effect on May 14 when cash toll collection was removed from The Toll Roads (State Routes 73, 133, 241 and 261).
Through Labor Day, The Toll Roads are waiving penalty fees for first-time violators. First-time violators will receive a notice of toll evasion in the mail with instructions for how to pay the toll online, without having to pay penalty. The toll must be paid online within 30 days of receiving the notice of toll evasion.
Violators are drivers who use The Toll Roads without making an attempt to pay their toll(s). Everyday 250,000 people drive The Toll Roads – and most of them pay their tolls with FasTrak or an ExpressAccount.
For infrequent trips, the One-Time-Toll payment option allows drivers to use The Toll Roads without an account and pay the toll online at thetollroads.com or via The Toll Roads’ free app within 48 hours after using the roads to avoid a violation.
To help all drivers transition to all-electronic toll collection, The Toll Roads have hired 10 additional customer service representatives to work in the Customer Call Center. With 14 customer service representatives added to the call center before May 14, there will soon be a total of 54 representatives helping customers in four languages.
Out on the roads, 236 new signs were posted with the conversion to cash-less tolling — of those, 111 are for One-Time-Toll drivers. Additional signs are being added and will include flashing lights to better alert drivers to changes and how to pay tolls.
CALIFORNIA’S FIRST SUCCESSFUL NATIVE HABITAT RESTORATION ON A CLOSED LANDFILL CELEBRATES 20TH ANNIVERSARY
Twenty years ago, the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) made history when they planted 122 acres of coastal sage scrub on the former Coyote Canyon Landfill in Newport Beach, Calif. It was the first time that native habitat for an endangered species had ever been planted on a closed landfill. Today, it is a thriving habitat that supports native wildlife and requires no maintenance.
“Coyote Canyon proves to everyone that habitat restoration that is carefully planned and flawlessly executed can produce great results. It truly is one of the great environmental success stories in Orange County,” said Rush Hill, mayor of Newport Beach and chairman of the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency.
Central Orange County’s solid waste was disposed of at the Coyote Canyon Landfill for 27 years (1963 to 1990). During that time, more than 60 million cubic yards of waste were buried on approximately 395 acres. Since 1982, the gas produced by the decomposing waste has been fueling electricity production and currently generates roughly seven megawatts of power, supplying electricity for at least 6,000 homes for 32 years.
When it closed in 1990, Coyote Canyon Landfill’s closure plan was the first in the nation to include specifications to create habitat for a federally-listed bird species, the California gnatcatcher. The landfill was designated as a special linkage for birds and animals between the San Joaquin Hills and Upper Newport Bay in the Nature Reserve of Orange County’s Natural Community Conservation Plan.
“TCA spearheaded the restoration of the Coyote Canyon Landfill as mitigation for construction of the 73 Toll Road and because it is a critical part of a comprehensive plan to provide a wildlife link from the Back Bay to the San Joaquin Hills,” added Hill. “The goal was to establish a resilient habitat that needed no maintenance after initial establishment.”
Coastal sage scrub — a low-growing, aromatic and drought-deciduous shrub found in coastal California — developed across the landfill after seeding in the fall of 1994. Because coastal sage scrub includes deep-rooting plants, four and a half feet of soil was added on top of the Coyote Canyon Landfill to accommodate the habitat. Soil monitoring was conducted to ensure the native plants’ moisture and roots did not negatively affect the landfill’s clay cap and gas recovery system. The monitoring and resulting reports were the first demonstration in the southwest U.S. that native vegetation could be planted and maintained without compromising a landfill closure cover or gas recovery system.
Listed as “Threatened” by the federal government in 1993, the California gnatcatcher is a small, non-migratory bird that frequents dense coastal sage scrub. The first California gnatcatcher pair arrived at the Coyote Canyon Landfill ahead of schedule — just two years after the habitat was planted. By 1999, the site’s fifth year, fifteen pairs of California gnatcatchers were successfully breeding in the habitat; 58 percent produced one brood successfully and 33 percent successfully produced two broods. These percentages were comparable to other populations in the region and the Coyote Canyon Landfill habitat was deemed acceptable as mitigation for the California gnatcatcher.
The coastal sage scrub habitat has met all federal permit requirements and the performance standards established by the Biological Opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the 73 Toll Road.
TCA is comprised of two joint powers authorities formed by the California legislature in 1986 to plan, finance, construct and operate Orange County’s 67-mile public toll road system in the most environmentally sensitive way possible.
TCA has conserved and restored 15 locations in Orange County. Hundreds of birds and animals – including the California gnatcatcher – have found a safe home on TCA’s more than 2,100 acres of coastal sage scrub, wetlands, riparian and salt-water marsh. At least 75 baby gnatcatchers, more than 40 species of birds, five species of rodents, 13 invertebrates and larger mammals such as coyote, bobcat and mountain lions utilize TCA’s habitat mitigation areas.
Since 1996, TCA has been a proud participant and active contributor to the Central/Coastal Natural Community Conservation Plan (NCCP), a reserve created to set aside 38,783 acres of prime habitat in Orange County for 42 individual species. During the three years it took to create the plan, TCA contributed its mitigation sites to the reserve and provided $6.6 million of a $10 million endowment, which funds the ongoing management of the reserve. The goal of the NCCP is to conserve native animal and plant species while continuing to allow appropriate development and growth. An estimated 699 acres of TCA’s mitigation areas are included within the reserve and the agencies plan to continue participation through ongoing oversight of the preserved lands.