The stretch of California State Route 91 (SR 91) between Anaheim and Corona has long been considered one of the worst areas for traffic congestion in the U.S.
But that reputation is changing, thanks to some much-needed relief that arrived in March with the completion of the 91 Express Lanes project.
“The 91 Express Lanes adds eight miles of roadway, providing a total of 18 free-flowing miles,” said Vickie Dewey, tolling project manager for WSP USA.
Construction of the $1.4 billion project began in July 2014 and opened to traffic on March 20. The completed project was unveiled at a grand opening celebration on March 31. Attendees included local political figures, such as Corona Mayor Dick Haley, who said that residents are “getting their street back.”
WSP served as strategic advisor to Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) and performed preliminary design, cost estimates and value engineering review for the project. The firm was also responsible for the initial toll feasibility report and preliminary toll system design; as well as preparation of the project report, environmental documents, toll system report, and modified access report.
“During each step of the project, our firm has provided professional services to ensure that the express lanes opened on time and functioned as expected to collect revenue,” Dewey said.
Through agency coordination efforts and value engineering, WSP managed to shave about $10 million from the project budget, which will be used to fund additional improvement projects within the Riverside County vicinity. “A major factor in the completion of the project within the 60-month time schedule and under budget was the high quality documents prepared by the team,” Dewey said.
The project included the addition of one regular lane of traffic in each direction, as well as two express lanes in each direction. The express lanes offer motorists the option of paying a toll to enter a designated roadway that it is expected to save motorists about 78 minutes for a round trip during peak hours.
But the improvements will also benefit motorists who continue to use the general purpose lanes. With the additional lane and cars opting for the express lanes, the expected round-trip time savings on the regular roadway is estimated at 12 minutes.
“State Route 91 is the only significant highway corridor that provides the home-to-work connection for Riverside County residents working in Orange County,” Dewey said.
The project included improvements to six interchanges, the construction of 30 new or reconstructed bridges, the widening of 19 existing bridges, and improvements to 22 local intersections.
The 91 Express Lanes provides additional convenience for vehicles with a driver and at least two passengers.
“The ‘three ride free’ program encourages carpooling,” Dewey said. “At each toll gantry, there is a third lane to allow vehicles to travel in the HOV3+ lane to declare their trip as free, or for a discounted rate.” Qualifying vehicles travel for free in the HOV3+ lane, with the exception of eastbound travel between 4-6 p.m., where the toll is half the regular rate.
The SR 91 freeway, located near the Orange County and Riverside County line, is used by more than 280,000 vehicles per day. RCTC estimates that 30,000 vehicles a day are now using the toll lanes.
“The client is pleased with the project and the response of use,” Dewey said. “The public has been very supportive, and that is evident with the number of vehicles utilizing the express lanes.”
Traffic along this corridor is expected to increase dramatically, by as much as 60-70 percent – or about 450,000 vehicles – by 2030. Fortunately, the 91 Express Lanes project was designed to handle that future growth as well.
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