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  California - State Route 91

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State Route 91 (California)

State Route 91 Express Lanes

State Route 91 (SR91) is 10-miles of toll lanes along the Riverside Freeway in Orange County, California. Originally built by a public-private partnership the SR91 Express Lanes are now publicly operated.

A limited partnership was formed to lease the right-of-way for $1 per year, build and operate the toll road lanes. The California Private Transportation Company (CPTC) was granted a 35-year franchise in 1990. Robert Poole a private-public partnership advocate and director of the Reason Foundation transportation studies worked on the creation of SR 91. The highway opened in December 1995 and was operated by CPTC for seven years.

Detailed financial information about the privately held CPTC has never been released to the public.

Initially the toll lanes were seen to benefit the public, but that perception ended when a non-compete clause in their contract barred public transportation agencies from increasing highway capacity on other roads within one-and-one-half-miles of SR91. Increasing traffic congestion and the inability to enhance nearby highway capacity reversed the positive public opinion about the private road lanes. The adverse impact of the contractual non-compete clause eventually caused the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) to buyout CPTC in early 2003 at a public cost of $207.5 million. The OCTA has operated the SR91 Express Lanes since 2003. The non-compete clause that existed under the CPTC ownership was removed with the buyout.

A Public-Private Toll Road Disaster

"When the state first embraced toll roads, think tanks, politicians and government officials couldn't find enough superlatives to describe them."

Sounds familiar doesn't it? But the public-private toll plan turned into disaster. The once proponents couldn't run away from it fast enough!

"We must never allow the state's obligation to build a first-rate public highway system to be compromised again" —California state Senator Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks)

The motives were the same in California as they now are in Texas, a shortage of transportation funds. Why is it that so many are willing to believe that a toll way will generate 'new' money without also creating equal or greater 'new' costs?

"Facing an acute shortage of transportation funds at the time, legislators said tollways would take the pressure off snarled freeways and accommodate future residential and commercial development ..."

Source: "Tollway Trial at a Dead End in California," Dan Weikel, © 2002 Los Angeles Times [Published July 7, 2002]




Assembly Bill 680 (1989) authorized Caltrans to enter into agreements with private entities for development, construction and operation of four demonstration transportation projects at private sector expense without the use of state funds. Development franchise agreements were executed in December 1990 and January 1991 for the following four projects.

Route 91 Express Lanes (Orange County)

This $130 million privately financed, fully automated facility is a 10-mile, four-lane toll project is located within the median of an existing eight-lane freeway between State Route 55 in Orange County and the Riverside County line. This project connects rapidly growing residential areas in Riverside and San Bernardino counties with major employment centers in Orange and Los Angeles counties. The facility was opened to traffic on December 27, 1995 and is America's first toll road to employ variable congestion pricing. To maintain free-flow conditions, tolls vary during the day with traffic volumes, directional flow and other factors. The facility is the world's first fully automated toll road utilizing electronic transponders to collect tolls.

This award winning project was developed in partnership with Caltrans by California Private Transportation Company (CPTC), an entity formed by subsidiaries of Level 3 Communiations, Inc., Compagnie Financiere et Industrielle des Autoroutes (Cofiroute), the world's largest private toll road operator, and Granite Construction Inc. Prior to opening the project to traffic, CPTC formally transferred ownership of the facility to the State of California. Caltrans then leased the improvements back to CPTC for a 35-year operating period. The new lanes have been officially designated a part of the California State Highway System and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) is responsible for providing police services at CPTC's expense. Maintenance and operational costs for the facility are also the responsibility of CPTC . In addition to the initial $130 million capital cost savings to the State by private development and construction of the project, it is estimated that the State will also save $120 million in CHP, operations and maintenance expenses over the 35 year franchise period. Financial benefits also accrue to Orange County since CPTC, as a private entity, is subject to property taxes. In the first 6 years of operation CPTC has provided $6.8 million in tax revenues to the county.

The facilities debt financing was provided by a group of commercial banks and institutional lenders including Citicorp USA, Banque National de Paris, Societe Generale, Deutsche Bank and CIGNA Investments.

In April, 2002 the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) reached an agreement in concept to purchase the private toll road project for $207.5 M. In September 2002, AB 1010, Chapter 688 (2002) allowed OCTA to purchase the Toll Road from CPTC. OCTA took possession of the Toll Road on January 3, 2003.

The project has been honored with 10 major industry and government awards. These include:

    Toll Innovation Award

      International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association

    Excellence in Highway Design

Federal Highway Administration 

    Distinguished Innovative Project

      National Council of Public/Private Partnerships

    Innovative Project Award

      Institute of Transportation Engineers 

    Innovative Highway Finance Award

      Federal Highway Administration

    Excellence in Transportation Award

      California Department of Transportation

    Deal of the Year

      Institutional Investor Magazine 

    10 Most Creative Deals

      Infrastructure Finance Magazine 

    1996 Transportation Achievement Award

      Institute of Transportation Engineers

    Innovations in American Government Award

      Ford Foundation, Harvard University (Kennedy School of Government)




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