ORANGE – Moody’s Investors Service announced today that it has upgraded the rating on the Orange County Transportation Authority’s 91 Express Lanes senior lien toll revenue bonds debt from an A1 to an Aa3 rating.
In upgrading the bonds to an Aa3 rating with a stable outlook, Moody’s noted that it anticipates OCTA, which owns and manages the lanes, will “continue to manage the road in a prudent and conservative manner that will support a resilient credit profile.”
Moody’s also noted that the 91 Express Lanes has shown evidence of consistent demand and a broadening base of users of the Express Lanes.
“OCTA’s 91 Express Lanes continues to be a prime example of innovation in the transportation industry,” said OCTA Chairman Gene Hernandez, also the mayor of Yorba Linda. “For more than 25 years, tens of thousands of motorists know they can rely upon the 91 Express Lanes as a consistent time-saving option that benefits everybody who travels through the 91 corridor. I’m pleased to see Moody’s recognize these efforts with this upgraded rating and we look forward to many more years of strong performance and serving our residents, workers and visitors.”
OCTA is seeking to refinance the approximately $71 million in debt outstanding on its Senior Lien Toll Road Revenue Refunding Bonds (91 Express Lanes), Series 2023. The OCTA Board is expected to review the refinancing issue on Monday, June 12.
The 91 Express Lanes is a four-lane toll road, with 10 miles in Orange County in the median of State Route 91, which is one of Southern California’s most heavily traveled freeways and a critical link between job centers in Orange County and housing in Riverside County. An additional 8 miles of the 91 Express Lanes, operated by the Riverside County Transportation Commission, opened in March 2017.
While use of the 91 Express Lanes fell sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic, traffic and revenue have recovered to higher than pre-pandemic levels. The upgraded rating recognizes the increase in usage, with a growing share of westbound traffic and revenue from Riverside County.
Other improvements, including the 8-mile extension into Riverside County and the integration of the express lanes into Interstate 15 has enhanced regional connectivity and overall travel through the 91 corridor. Westbound traffic on OCTA’s 91 Express Lanes has grown more than 50% since 2017, rivaling the eastbound usage of the express lanes.
The 91 Express Lanes, which solely uses electronic tolling, was the first fully automated toll road in the world and the first in the United States to employ variable pricing. With two lanes in each direction, toll prices vary by hour, day of the week and direction of travel based on a pre-determined toll schedule that optimizes traffic throughput at free-flow speeds.
Since OCTA purchased the 91 Express Lanes in January 2003, the objective has been to raise and lower tolls to maximize the number of cars traveling through the SR-91 corridor, rather than maximizing revenue. The upgraded rating from Moody’s reflects strong inherent financial metrics as well as sound OCTA management.
Excess toll revenues, since OCTA’s purchase of the lanes, have led to more than $2 billion being earmarked or spent by both OCTA and the Riverside County Transportation Commission to improve the regular 91 lanes and make other transportation improvements, and another $1 billion in multimodal improvements are planned over the next 20 years.
The Orange County Transportation Authority is the county transportation planning commission, responsible for funding and implementing transit and capital projects for a balanced and sustainable transportation system that reflects the diverse travel needs of the county’s 34 cities and 3.2 million residents. With the mission of keeping Orange County moving, this includes freeways and express lanes, bus and rail transit, rideshare, commuter rail and active transportation. To sign up for more OCTA news, visit octa.net/GetConnected.