SACRAMENTO — In a highly charged political battle, the Assembly on Thursday took up an Orange County toll roads bill that had been defeated a week earlier, but a parliamentary move froze action on the measure and left its fate hanging in limbo late into the night.
The bill's author, Nolan Frizzelle (R-Huntington Beach) had won permission to have the measure, which would allow the county to build toll roads roughly parallel to two of its most congested traffic corridors, reconsidered by the Assembly. And early Thursday he had the 41 votes needed to win passage of his measure.
But during the vote, Assemblyman Thomas Hannigan (D-Fairfield), asked that the outcome not be recorded so that he and other opponents could try to change the minds of some of the bill's supporters.
Hannigan's move sparked an angry confrontation between Republican leader Patrick Nolan of Glendale and Speaker Pro Tem Mike Roos (D-Los Angeles) over whether the vote should be recorded or left in limbo.
Despite the maneuver, Frizzelle predicted that when the vote was made final late Thursday or early today, he would still have the support needed for passage. If so, the bill then would be sent to the Senate, where similar legislation, introduced by another Orange County lawmaker, already has been approved.
Frizzelle's bill would allow the county, a joint-powers agency or a county-designated private corporation to build and operate toll roads to carry motorists through large sections of the county without using local freeways.
Current law allows the state Department of Transportation, but not local governments, to build toll roads. No public toll road now exists in the state. There are 10 publicly owned toll bridges in California.
Orange County officials have said they desperately need the proposed highways but have no means to pay their $1-billion price tag. The new roads are considered keys to developing thousands of acres of vacant land in the southern and eastern parts of the county.
"This bill does not convert any other highways to toll roads," Frizzelle said. "It does give the local county the option of how they can get roads done immediately in their area to relieve congestion.
"When the toll roads go in approximately the same direction as the freeway, the public can choose whether they want to drive on the freeways or use a toll road."
Opponents of toll roads have argued that building Eastern-style turnpikes would violate California tradition and be bad for both business and commuters. Some have said an increase in the state gasoline tax would be a better way to pay for new roads.
Over those objections, the Assembly last month approved a bill by Frizzelle to allow any California county to build toll roads. Then on June 18, with several Democrats saying they had changed their minds on the issue, the Assembly rejected, on a 41-30 vote, Frizzelle's more limited Orange County bill.
Frizzelle has since amended his measure to require that the Orange County roads be built by workers paid prevailing wage rates, a change demanded by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco).
Frizzelle, who won Assembly approval for a similar bill a year ago, only to see it die in the Senate, said he believes the measure will fare better in the upper house this year. The Senate has already ap3proved a bill by Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim) that also gives Orange County or a joint-powers agency the power to build toll roads.
Seymour's bill is almost identical to Frizzelle's, except that it would not allow a private corporation to build or operate the roads. Seymour's bill would allow the county to build the roads on the Eastern, Foothill or San Joaquin Hills transportation corridors.
Frizzelle's bill would allow the toll roads on the Eastern corridor and either the Foothill or the San Joaquin Hills, but not both.
The Eastern corridor connects the Riverside Freeway (California 91) to the Santa Ana Freeway (Interstate 5). The San Joaquin Hills corridor connects Interstate 405 in Costa Mesa to Interstate 5 in San Juan Capistrano. The Foothill corridor runs roughly parallel to--and east of--the Santa Ana Freeway.