Over 15 million vehicles passed through just 10 miles of toll lanes, bringing in $48.9 million in toll revenue in 2021. Those are stats for Southern California’s state route 91 toll lanes, which have brought in nearly a billion dollars since their inception in 2003. But as Fox 11 L.A. investigated, much of that money hasn’t gone to maintaining those same roads.
The roads were first purchased by OCTA in 2003 for $200 million from a private company that had been operating them. The roads have helped millions of commuters since then, but it’s been a cash grab for the agency.
Fox’s attempts to contact someone, anyone running the show to get answers fell on deaf ears. From the managing agency OCTA (Orange County Transportation Authority) to local and state representatives. All of them ignored requests from the station to comment.
But the station was able to get a hold of some figures from OCTA. They showed that just $46 million has gone to road improvements. For instance, $6 to $8 million annually goes to an outside company just to manage the roads.
Another $283 million went to operating costs, which included $6 to 8 million a year to the company Cofiroute, USA to manage the lanes, the company was also one of the original investors. About a million a year also went just to credit card processing fees. The rest went to the California Highway Patrol, Caltrans maintenance, lease payments and violation processing fees.
Local residents are mad. As they should be. One man told Fox 11 he spends $1,200 to $1,500 a year just in toll fees for the hour and a half it saves him on his commute. OCTA claims it’s always been transparent in where and how the money it’s collected is being used, saying in a statement that “OCTA’s purchase of the 91 Express Lanes has directly resulted in the investment of nearly $2 billion to improve the regular 91 lanes and another $1 billion is planned over the next 20 years. Any assertion that toll revenues are not being thoughtfully invested for the public’s benefit is incorrect. We are proud of our finances and transparency.”
But one local attorney, Rodger Buffington, who’s represented drivers that have sued over the fees thinks something more is going on, saying someone is making a fortune from these tolls, and “it isn’t the people of California.”