Perception Afoot Of Political Considerations In The Delaying Of I-10 Toll Lane Openings

San Bernardino County’s more sophisticated political observers have discerned a connection between the continuing series of delays that have plagued the opening of the first phase of toll lanes on the I-10 Freeway to the abiding ambition and fragile electoral viability of a host of politicians who are up for reelection this year.
The controversial pay-to-use lanes, which were originally slated to open by mid-2022 and no later than early 2023, are at this point unlikely to bear traffic any earlier than late November of this year if not until early 2025. Ironically, while only a few of the officeholders who supported those key decisions relating to the toll lanes nearly a decade ago are up for reelection in November, an effort now appears to be underway to assist any and all incumbents, including one who opposed the project, from being associated with that decision by the county’s voters and therefore voted out of office.
San Bernardino County’s transportation agency now goes by the straightforward title of the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency and its acronym SBCTA. It adopted that new name on January 1, 2016, having previously been known as San Bernardino Associated Governments, or its acronym, SANBAG. Founded as a council of governments and joint powers authority by the County of San Bernardino and its then-14 constituent cities – San Bernardino, Colton, Redlands, Ontario, Upland, Needles, Chino, Rialto, Barstow, Fontana, Montclair, Victorville, Loma Linda and Adelanto – SANBAG was overseen by a 19-member board of directors composed of the five county supervisors as well as representatives from those 14 incorporated cities who were either each city’s mayor or designated council member. Ultimately, with the incorporation of Rancho Cucamonga, Grand Terrace, Big Bear Lake, Highland, Hesperia, Apple Valley, Chino Hills, Twentynine Palms, Yucaipa and Yucca Valley, SANBAG grew to represent 24 municipalities and the county by means of a 29-member board.
Empowered by the ¼-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects at the local governmental level made available through the Transportation Development Act, the first regional issue San Bernardino Associated Governments took on was public transit. On December 3, 1975, SANBAG adopted its bylaws and under the leadership of its maiden president, then-Fifth District Supervisor Nancy Smith, created a public transit agency to provide bus service throughout the San Bernardino Valley, known as Omnitrans. In 1976, SANBAG was officially deemed San Bernardino County’s transportation commission. In 1986 SANBAG was designated the freeway emergency service authority in San Bernardino County, which provided emergency call boxes along the freeway and, later, a public-funded freeway roadside assistance service patrol.
In 1989, the SANBAG board and in particular its members drawn from the county board of supervisors – Marsha Turoci, Jon Mikels , Barbara Cram Riordan, Larry Walker and Bob Hammock – championed Measure I, a countywide ½ cent sales tax override with the proceeds devoted exclusively to improving transportation infrastructure. The county’s residents gave enthusiastic passage to the measure, whereupon SANBAG, as the county’s transportation authority, made a fateful decision. Rather than simply imposing the ½ cent sales tax countywide and allowing the money to accrue in interest-bearing accounts until such time as sufficient funding became available to undertake major needed transportation infrastructure projects on a pay-as-they-went basis, SANBAG at once began borrowing against the anticipated future Measure I proceeds to initiate transportation projects at once. This ultimately created a situation in which a substantial portion of the Measure I revenue over the next generation was being eaten up by interest payments as well as the eventual return of the principal on that loaned money. This rerouting of Measure I money to financiers rather than going directly to traffic-alleviation efforts compromised SANBAG’s image as the “Congestion Management Agency” for San Bernardino County it had designated itself as being in 1990.
The county’s voters renewed Measure I’s ½ cent sales tax authorization for 40 years in 2004, perpetuating the concept/commitment that SANBAG, and now SBCTA, would make some appreciable inroads on the gridlock impacting the freeways throughout the county. One expectation was that the freeways would be widened, and not by a single lane but by two or three lanes. Indeed, SANBAG as early as 2009 had embraced such a concept, but simply lacked the funding to carry it out. There was a suggestion that what the agency should do is declare a moratorium on further traffic projects for three, four, five or half of a dozen years, during which time it would service and retire all of the debt it had so that it could thereafter start anew, banking the incoming Measure I funds it was receiving and from that point on paying as it went, undependent upon borrowing and free of making constant debt payments. Ultimately, however, the SANBAG board rejected that approach.
With its then-current financial picture clouded by debt and ongoing demands for transportation-related improvements, all of which could not be met by the incoming Measure I funds and other state and federal money being passed along to it, SANBAG staff formulated a freeway-widening proposal. The first comprehensive explication of the undertaking was contained in a document completed and filed in January 2012 titled the “Measure I 2010-2040 Ten Year Delivery Plan.” Hidden in the concept was that the new lanes would not be provided as part of the Measure I-funded effort toward “congestion management,” but would be funded by those willing to pay extra to use them. In that document, the toll lanes were not referred to as “toll lanes” but rather as HOT lanes. One needed to go to an “acronym list” at the back of the document to learn that HOT stood for for “High-Occupancy Toll.” The definition explained that “HOT lanes are HOV (i.e. high occupancy vehicle or car pool) lanes that also allow vehicles not meeting minimum occupancy requirements to use the lane by paying a toll.”
There was resistance to the idea. At the heart of that resistance was the recognition that the county’s voters in 1989 and again in 2004 and the county’s consumers ever since had gone along with a higher sales tax out of the belief that government would make good on its commitment in delivering improved transportation facilities. For some, SANBAG’s inability or unwillingness to live up to that commitment was maddening.
The proposed additions to the freeway were denounced as “Rolls Royce lanes” or “Cadillac lanes” or Mercedes lanes” or “Lexus lanes” by opponents, who said only the wealthy would be able to afford to use them. There were arguments presented against the toll lanes along practical grounds, including that they would not lessen gridlock but intensify it, as is on occasion the case with toll roads elsewhere in Southern California, particularly in Los Angeles County and Orange County, with traffic snarl-ups in which three, four or even five lanes of traffic will be very slow moving or not moving at all, while next to them is or are one or two lanes being hardly used at all in which cars are zooming by at speeds nearing, at or exceeding the speed limit. Advocates against permitting toll lanes in San Bernardino County asked that the decision-makers not squander travel space on the freeway, as, out of principle or financial consideration, the majority of freeway motorists in Southern California are unwilling to pay the money required to utilize toll lanes.
The concept was opposed by former San Bernardino County Supervisor Josie Gonzales, former San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford, Chino Councilwoman/Mayor Eunice Ulloa, Ontario Mayor Paul Leon, Loma Linda Mayor/Councilman Rhodes Rigsby, former Grand Terrace Mayor Walt Stanckiewitz, former Fontana Councilman Michael Tahan, former Adelanto Mayor Rich Kerr and former Colton Councilwoman Deirdre Bennett, most of whom were outspoken in their opposition. The late-Montclair Mayor Paul Eaton librated between opposition to and support of the project, expressing different vies at different times.
Toll lane supporters slowly built a consensus toward constructing the toll lanes, all the while keeping their heads down and doing so in a low-profiled manner, fearing that if the general public caught wind of what was to occur, there would be a political reckoning.
Former First District County Supervisor Robert Lovingood San Bernardino County Fourth District Supervisor Curt Hagman, former Fifth District County Supervisor James Ramos, Highland Mayor Larry McCallon, Rancho Cucamonga Mayor Lloyd Dennis Michael, Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren, former Barstow Mayor Julie McIntyre, former San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis, former Upland Mayor Debbie Stone, former Big Bear Councilman/Mayor Bill Jahn, former Upland Mayor Ray Musser, former Chino Mayor Dennis Yates, former Grand Terrace Mayor Darcy McNaboe, former Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, Montclair Councilman/Mayor John Dutrey, former Victorville Councilman Ryan McEachron, former Chino Hills Councilman Ed Graham, former Yucaipa Councilman Dick Riddell, former Redlands Councilman Jon Harrison, former Yucaipa Councilman David Avila, former Yucca Valley Councilman George Huntington, former Hesperia Councilman Mike Leonard, Apple Valley Town Councilman Curt Emick, Colton Councilman/now Mayor Frank Navarro, Yucca Valley Town Councilman Rick Denison. former Needles Mayor Edward Paget and Ontario Councilman Alan Wapner all have supported constructing the toll lanes, as did former Adelanto Mayor Cari Thomas, Rialto Councilman Ed Scott, former Apple Valley Town Councilman Rick Roelle, former San Bernardino Mayor Patrick Morris, former Twentynine Palms Councilman Jim Harris, along with nd former San Bernardino County Supervisors Neil Derry, Brad Mitzelfelt and Gary Ovitt.
On July 12, 2017, when the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency at last was tasked with deciding on whether the toll lane project would proceed, Ontario Councilman Alan Wapner, as the board’s chairman at that time, along with Apple Valley Councilman Curt Emick, Colton Mayor Frank Navarro, Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren, Grand Terrace Mayor Darcy McNaboe, Highland Coucilman Larry McCallon, Montclair City Councilman John Dutrey, Needles Mayor Edward Paget, Rancho Cucamonga Mayor Lloyd Dennis Michael, Redlands City Councilman Jon Harrison, San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis, Upland Mayor Debbie Stone, Yucaipa Councilman David Avila, Yucca Valley Councilman Rick Denison, First District County Supervisor Robert Lovingood and Third District County Supervisor James Ramos voted to move ahead. Casting votes in opposition were Chino Mayor Eunice Ulloa and Third District County Supervisor Josie Gonzales. Not present for the vote were Adelanto Mayor Rich Kerr, Barstow Mayor Julie McIntyre, Big Bear Lake Mayor Bill Jahn, Chino Hills Councilman Ed Graham, Hesperia Councilman Bill Holland, Loma Linda Councilman Rhodes “Dusty” Rigsby, Rialto Mayor Deborah Robertson, Twentynine Palms Councilman Joel Klink, Victorville Councilman Jim Kennedy, Second District County Supervisor Janice Rutherford Janice Rutherford and Fourth District County Supervisor Curt Hagman.
McNaboe, McIntyre, Jahn, Musser, McEachron, Graham, Riddell, Huntington, Leonard, Paget, Thomas, Roelle, Morris, Harris, Derry, Mitzelfelt, Ovitt, Stanckiewitz, Tahan, Kerr and Bennett have since been voted out of office or left voluntarily. Mayors Yates and Eaton are deceased. Aguilar is now a congressman. Circumstances suggest that McNaboe’s, McEachron’s, Stone’s and Davis’s support for the project had something to do with their political demises.
For reasons that have not been officially explicated, the project was not completed as was originally scheduled and the toll lanes did not open in the summer of 2022. Up for reelection in 2022 were Wapner, who was the SBCTA board chairman in 2017 when the project was given go-ahead and whose advocacy of the project was absolutely crucial to its passage. Also vying for reelection in 2024 were Mayor Michael and Mayor Warren, both of whose support for the program was held to be extremely important, as were Navarro, Emick, Dutrey, Rialto Councilman Ed Scott and McCallon.
Wapner, Michael, Warren, Navarro, Emick, Dutrey, Scott, Denison, McCallon, Ramos and Aguilar were all reelected in 2022. There is a widespread belief that the toll lane project was delayed for the purpose of allowing all 11 of those avoid having to deal with the issue of their support of the toll lanes while in the midst of a reelection effort.
Reelected in the March 5, 2024 California Primary election two months ago were all of the incumbent members of the board of supervisors due for election this year: First District Supervisor Paul Cook, Third District Supervisor Dawn Rowe and Fifth District Joe Baca, Jr. Cook, Rowe and Baca had no hand in the original approval of the I-10 toll lanes. Also reelected in March was Rigsby.
Of those who participated in the July 2017 vote with regard to the toll lanes or were to have voted but were not present at the July 12, 2017 meeting, Ulloa and Robertson are up for reelection in the cities they represented seven years ago in the upcoming November 2024 election. Ramos is up for reelection as well, but not as supervisor but rather for his position in the Assembly, which he has inhabited since 2018. This is true as well for Aguilar, who was no longer a member of the SBCTA board in 2017 when the vote to approve the toll lanes was made, but who had, nonetheless, supported the project previously.
There is a perception that SBCTA is stalling with regard to the completion of the toll lane project to hold off what many believe will be an inevitable backlash against those politicians the public sees as responsible for the toll lanes being built. Such a show of voter disapproval this November would be accurately aimed only at Ramos and Aguilar, as they are the only individuals on that ballot who actually supported the toll lane project. Still, the recollection or knowledge of the voting public is less than perfect, and it is impressions that can be more telling once the ballot boxes begin to fill. Politicians in general are likely to be held responsible for whatever governmental policy is put into place. That voter resentment is likely to be vectored at any incumbent running, whether he or she is actually the architect or supporter of the policy being resented. Those most likely to be associated with the toll lanes that will soon be in place are, logically, those who are members of the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency. The current members of the SBCTA board at present include the previously active personages of Ulloa, Navarro, Warren, McCallon Wapner, Michael, Dutrey Robertson, Klink, Denison and Hagman, along with newcomers who were not directly involved in the toll lane matter, consisting of Third District County Supervisor Dawn Rowe, who is now the board chairwoman, along with Chino Hills City Councilman Ray Marquez as vice-chairman, Adelanto City Councilman Daniel Ramos, Apple Valley Councilman Art Bishop, Barstow Councilwoman Carmen Hernandez, Big Bear Councilman Rick Herrick, Grand Terrace Mayor Bill Hussey, Hesperia Councilwoman Rebekah Swanson, Loma Linda Councilman Bhavin Jindal, Needles Mayor Janet Jernigan, Redlands Councilman Paul Barich, San Bernardino Mayor Helen Tran, Upland City Councilman Rudy Zuniga, Victorville Councilwoman Debra Jones, Yucaipa Councilman Bobby Duncan and county supervisors Paul Cook, Jesse Armendarez and Joe Baca, Jr.
Of those, Daniel Ramos in Adelanto, Bishop in Apple Valley, Hernandez in Barstow, Ulloa in Chino, Swanson in Hesperia, Robertson in Rialto, Klink in Twentynine Palms and Duncan in Yucaipa are set to stand for reelection in November, along with James Ramos seeking continuation as an Assemblyman and Aguilar is looking for another term in Congress.
Word has spread that as a courtesy to those ten politicians, who in the past have proven kind to the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency, the SBCTA management and staff, including SBCTA Executive Director Raymond Wolfe, have invented one delaying tactic after another to hold off on people learning that the construction projects on the freeway that they have been putting up with for three years and which they assumed were to add more lanes to the freeway to alleviate gridlock have yielded toll lanes that they will not be at liberty to use without paying for.
In the past, general slow progress as well as material, equipment and manpower shortages brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic were blamed for the postponement of the toll lanes’ opening from Summer 2022 until Spring 2023. Since then, another delay from Spring 2023 until September 2023 was attributed to the finalization of inspections and seismic certifications. The calendar eclipsed September 2023 and there was no opening. October, November, December, January and February followed, with no grand opening and no explanation.
It has now been stated that the reason for the holdup is that there were defects in the median barrier east of Archibald virtually the entire distance to Haven which were not caught until just a week or two prior to the scheduled opening last October. SBCTA officials swear that the concrete barrier between the eastbound and westbound toll lanes at that point met all of the safety and engineering criteria SBCTA applies to the improvements. It was emphasized that Wolfe has impeccable credentials that give him tremendous insight as to the suitability of design when it comes to highway construction.
Wolfe has a master’s degree in in civil engineering from the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, on the strength of which he qualified for licensing as a registered civil engineer, landing a job with the California Department of Transportation, known by its acronym Caltrans, as a transportation engineer in 1991. In 1997, he began work on his doctorate in civil engineering at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering. In 1998, he was promoted to the position of senior bridge engineer, and in 2001 was entrusted with the assignment of opening a new bridge design office in Southern California as the region’s supervising bridge engineer. In 2002, he was awarded his doctorate. Thereafter he managed the structure design implementation efforts related to accelerated bridge construction throughout Southern California. In 2008, Caltrans designated him as the director of its District 8 office, overseeing both San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
The work on the median stretching from Archibald to Haven passed muster with Wolfe, but some pesky inspectors with Caltrans said what was laid down wasn’t good enough.
There was some consultation between SBCTA, Caltrans and the contractor on the toll project, a joint venture involving Lane Construction Corporation and Security Paving Company Incorporated. According to those familiar with the situation, Caltrans insisted on the de-erection of the barrier and its replacement with one that meets with state standards.
With any luck, the project will be completed by October, such that the toll lanes can be opened in the immediate aftermath of the election. In this way, commuters’ anger, which is predicted to materialize in nearly universal terms once they realize that the four new lanes going into place are not ones that are drivable for the average or typical user of freeway, should not have an impact on the election or the prospects of Ramos, Bishop, Hernandez, Ulloa, Swanson, Robertson Klink, Duncan, Ramos and Aguilar, or any other incumbents, remaining in office.
That the widening of the freeway from the San Bernardino County/Los Angeles County all the way into Rancho Cucamonga going on over the last four years is to accommodate not freeway lanes but toll lanes has been a secret hidden in plain sight. SBCTA did not go out of its way to publicize the coming toll road, but has not actively sought to hide it either. Rather that hide the project, it has pursued a strategy of obscuring it, using terms like “increased capacity,” express, “enhanced capacity,” hot or “augmented high occupancy vehicle.” Only upon being pressed have SBCTA officials expounded on the concept, saying that the freeway at that point in both directions already has a single HOV (i.e. high occupancy vehicle) or carpool lane. That lane and another lane to be added in each direction will remain as a HOV or carpool lane, with the proviso that instead of carrying two passengers to qualify as a high occupancy vehicle, the car must carry three or more passengers. Those in cars with fewer than three passengers wishing to travel in the two inner lanes will have the option, transportation officials say, of purchasing, by means of a toll, the privilege of utilizing those lanes in the future.
-Mark Gutglueck

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