Here are the OC transportation projects and construction you can expect in 2023 – OCRegister

Orange County is on track to have a big year in 2023 in terms of transportation.

By the end of the year, the Orange County Transportation Authority expects to be test driving its OC Streetcar between Santa Ana and Garden Grove and drivers should be cruising new lanes on the 405 Freeway, CEO Darrell Johnson said.

Late in 2023, the Transportation Corridor Agencies expect to begin construction on a transition from the 241 toll road straight onto the 91 Express Lanes.

Construction on a key segment of the 55 Freeway will get started in earnest this year, Johnson said, and work on the 5 Freeway in south Orange County will progress.

“We have more than $4 billion of construction underway right now,” Johnson said. “That is the most in OCTA history.”

Orange County consumers make a lot of OCTA’s construction possible with the half-cent sales tax voters approved in the past under Measure M for transportation projects. State and federal funding also contribute.

Construction launched in 2018 on the widening of the 405 from the 73 and 605 freeways and has been kept on schedule for its 2023 completion. Johnson said the work is about 90% complete at this stage.

The $2.09 billion widening project is turning the five-lane freeway into seven lanes for 16 miles – opening another general-purpose lane in each direction and introducing express lanes.

Much like the 91 Freeway Express Lanes, they will allow drivers to pay for access and avoid traffic.

Johnson said the toll lanes are designed to keep a free flow of traffic, which should take about 16 minutes to transverse the stretch that now can take 30 minutes or more.

And getting those drivers out of the regular lanes of traffic is good for all, he said. “We suspect there is going to be significant improvement in congestion.”

The widening also means construction crews have been rebuilding 18 bridges spanning the freeway – 11 are complete – and the opportunity was taken to improve on- and off-ramps, widen several of the bridges and improve traffic on nearby streets.

“We sort of see this as a network benefit where it all works better today,” Johnson said.

About two-thirds of the way complete and looking to make “significant progress” in 2023 is a 5 Freeway project aimed at relieving the bottleneck around the El Toro Y intersection with the 405.

The $580 million project is adding a regular lane and a carpool lane in each direction for six miles and making improvements at Avery Parkway and La Paz Road and rebuilding the Los Alisos Boulevard bridge.

This year, “the focus is really to get the La Paz Road and Avery interchanges completed and work north through Laguna Hills,” Johnson said.

Work to improve traffic further south on the 5 Freeway nearer the county line is largely on paper in 2023, with decisions on what construction should be done being made in 2024 or 2025.

Not on paper in 2023 is work on the 55 Freeway; it will be an active construction zone between the 5 and 405 freeways.

Preparation for the $475 million project started in July, but the real work is expected to get underway by the second quarter of the year, Johnson said.

Though a second carpool lane and a new regular lane are being added in both directions, as well as improvements to on- and off-ramps, Johnson said the project is pretty straightforward, not like the 405 widening’s extensive bridge work over the freeway that required closing lanes.

“The goal here is to keep the lanes all open,” he said, with minimal overnight closures.

The project is expected to be completed in 2026.

Johnson said one of the things he’s most excited for in 2023 is for people to see the OCTA start testing the OC Streetcar by the end of the year.

“We are more than 75% complete,” he said of the work that has been ongoing to lay tracks for the 4-mile route between the Santa Ana train station and Garden Grove. “It is a major milestone to get more than three-fourths complete.”

The remaining track will be laid and crews will be installing the overhead lines that will power the cars.

Recently debuted was the first of the canopies that will mark the $509 million streetcar’s stops – there will be 10 in each direction.

The train cars are being completed in a Northern California factory.

Though testing is expected to start on the system late in 2023, it will be without people. Service is expected to begin by the second quarter of 2024, if not earlier that year, Johnson said.

Opening in mid-2023 will be an expansion of the Anaheim Canyon station, he said. The $30 million project is adding a new platform, ticket system and other improvements.

The Transportation Corridor Agencies, which operate the 73, 133, 241 and 261 toll roads in Orange County, expects to polish off the plans for a bridge connecting the 241 and 91 Express Lanes and secure any remaining agreements with the project’s partners – the OCTA, Caltrans and Riverside County Transportation Commission – by the end of the year and get some shovels into the ground, said Interim CEO Valarie McFall.

“This project will provide a seamless transition and improve travel times between tolled facilities,” she said, “and the project will also improve traffic flow on the Route 91 general purpose lanes by reducing the number of cars weaving across to access the 91 Express Lanes.”

The TCA is also planning to spend 2023 getting a six-mile widening of the 241 between the 133 and 261 toll roads designed – it would add a lane in each direction, more fencing to protest wildlife and “support the free flow traffic conditions on our system while providing improved access to and from job centers and communities in south Orange County,” McFall said.

Caltrans officials expect several milestones this year with the $1.2 billion Clean California initiative to improve and beautify the state’s roadways.

By the summer, officials said they expect to finish sprucing up near the interchange of the 5 and 55 freeways, including adding some artwork, and up in Placentia on the 57 Freeway at Orangethorpe and Crowther avenues, two large public art pieces – a sculpture and a mural – will be installed.


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