SACRAMENTO — The Assembly, acknowledging that state funding for freeways is insufficient to keep traffic flowing, passed legislation Tuesday that would permit construction in Orange County of California's first public toll roads.
Despite charges from opponents that toll roads are "un-Californian" and "elitist," the Assembly voted 45 to 30 to allow Orange County to build them to ease traffic on the crowded Santa Ana and San Diego freeways.
"This is the most important bill for Orange County this year," said the bill's sponsor, state Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim).
In a separate action involving automobiles, the Senate voted 21 to 10 to approve a bill by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) that would require car makers to equip vehicles with carbon canisters to capture unburned fuel vapor starting with 1991 models. The bill, vigorously opposed by auto manufacturers, would also require service stations throughout the state to install vapor recovery nozzles now used in Southern California and other heavily polluted regions of the state.
Seymour's toll road bill is the first pay-highway measure to pass both houses of the Legislature. The measure requires that the toll roads be built parallel to existing highways, giving motorists a choice of routes. A county committee is studying routes.
The hard-fought legislation must go back for final approval in the Senate, where there are strong opponents, including Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles).
Even supporters of Seymour's bill were not particularly enthusiastic about the idea of toll roads in California, including Assemblyman Robert Frazee (R-Carlsbad), who carried the measure on the Assembly floor.
"I don't think any of us like the thought of toll roads or having to go through toll booths to travel somewhere," Frazee told his colleagues. "But let's keep in mind that we must search for every alternative to solve our transportation problems."
Despite massive traffic congestion in Orange County, voters have rejected a ballot measure to increase sales tax countywide by 1 cent to pay for transportation projects.
Critics of the toll road concept contend that the state should finance highway improvements by raising the gasoline tax, a move rejected by Gov. George Deukmejian.
"We have a system that has served us very well for a long time," argued Assemblyman Rusty Areias (D-Los Banos), who led the opposition in the Assembly. "All we have to do is adequately fund it."
Brown's anti-smog bill must go back to the Assembly for final approval before it is sent to the governor.