A last-minute addition to the $600-billion omnibus finance bill passed by Congress this week will allow Orange County to use federal funds to help finance the construction of three planned toll roads.
The bill enables the county to apply for up to 35% federal funding for toll roads in the Foothill and Eastern transportation corridors as part of a toll road "beltway project" in southern Orange County.
"This is a little Christmas magic for Orange County transportation," said Orange County Transportation Commission Chairman Clarice A. Blamer. "It provides a financing tool that can help build the new corridors and keep (them) on the same financial footing as the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor."
The county had already been designated by Congress as one of seven U.S. sites eligible to compete for federal funds for a toll road project, and the Orange County Transportation Commission chose the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor as its preferred toll road site last October.
But the commission also approved a citizen panel's recommendation that the county seek changes in the federal toll road law that would allow the county to use federal funds for the Eastern and Foothill corridors as well. The commission's argument was that the three highways will be part of one toll road beltway that will alleviate traffic on Interstates 5 and 405.
Monday night, Congress adopted a major funding bill that includes hundreds of items and essentially grants the county Transportation Commission's request. President Reagan signed the bill Tuesday.
The revised United States Code now states: "The toll facility in Orange County, California may be located on more than one highway corridor to relieve congestion on existing interstate routes in such county."
County Transportation Commission members gave much of the credit for pushing the amendment through to Rep. Glen Anderson (D-Long Beach), who chairs the House Public Works Subcommittee on Surface Transportation.
"Congressman Anderson . . . came through for us again," said County Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, a member of the Transportation Commission and chairman of the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency. "(He) saw the benefits of these new corridors to Orange County and to all of Southern California."
The 17-mile Eastern Corridor runs from the Riverside Freeway in Yorba Linda to Interstate 5 in Irvine. The 32-mile Foothill Corridor connects the Eastern Corridor east of Irvine to I-5 in San Clemente, while the San Joaquin Hills Corridor runs from Irvine to San Juan Capistrano, between I-405 and the ocean.
Estimated construction costs for the three routes total $1.3 billion. The amended law allows the county to apply for $400 million in federal funds, while developer fees and toll revenues are expected to finance the rest.
The San Joaquin Hills corridor is considered to be closest to construction, with some grading work already completed and actual construction scheduled to begin in mid-1990. Work on the Foothill Corridor is not set to begin before 1992, a year earlier than the Eastern Corridor.