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91 Express Lanes Finances Strong Despite COVID-19 Challenges

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February 2, 2021

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Annual report shows Express Lanes continue to give drivers a reliable option to speed up commutes while helping all drivers along the corridor

ORANGE – The 91 Express Lanes continues to provide a reliable and convenient option to speed up travel times for drivers traveling through the 91 corridor, and it remains in a strong financial position despite the many challenges of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) public health crisis.

Those findings are further detailed in the recent 91 Express Lanes Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2019-20 compiled by the Orange County Transportation Authority, which has owned and operated 10 miles of the facility between State Route 55 in Anaheim and the border with Riverside County since 2003.

In 2017, eight additional miles were added to Interstate 15 in Corona, making the 91 Express Lanes a total of 18 miles of seamless managed lanes.

“We have always taken a conservative approach to managing the finances of the 91 Express Lanes, and that has helped us weather the many challenges brought about by COVID-19 and the impacts on usage,” said OCTA Chair Andrew Do, also Orange County’s First District Supervisor. “That planning means that the Express Lanes continues to meet financial obligations as we continue to advance transportation improvements for everyone who uses the 91 corridor.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, use of the 91 Express Lanes was on track to maintain the impressive growth OCTA has seen during the 17 years it has operated the facility. In February 2020, total trips were up compared to the same period a year earlier by 3.3 percent and gross potential revenue had risen 5.6 percent.

But since March 2020, when California issued stay-at-home orders related to the pandemic, the 91 Express Lanes experienced a 14.6 percent reduction in traffic and a 10.3 percent fall in gross potential revenue.

Even with the lower usage, the 91 Express Lanes still maintains strong ratings from all three bond rating agencies. The ratings reflect consistent revenues and long-term prospects for continued traffic growth and include the following: A+ from Fitch Ratings, AA- from Standard & Poor’s, and A1 from Moody’s Investor Service.

Technological advances also continued on the 91 Express Lanes, with installation completed during the past year on a new electronic toll and traffic management system. The technology streamlines the tolling process, allowing for smaller sticker transponders. Because the new transponders are less expensive to produce, simplified account plans and savings are being passed along to customers.

Additionally, toll revenue collected beyond what it costs to pay for lanes continues to fund transportation improvements for everyone who travels through the 91 corridor – whether or not they choose to use the Express Lanes.

So far, nearly $46 million in toll revenue has been used to add additional lanes on SR-91 and make other improvements to the area, with additional funds in reserve for more projects to ease congestion as the area continues to grow.

In the past year, the OCTA board authorized the use of 91 Express Lanes excess revenues for two projects along the 91 corridor, including between SR-55 and SR-57 and a project in cooperation with Riverside County that will add a sixth general-purpose lane in each direction between SR-241 and the Riverside County line.

For more information about the 91 Express Lanes Annual Report, click here or visit www.91expresslanes.com.