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A SPECIAL REPORT ON TRANSPORTATION : Life in the Slow Lane

December 11, 1988|JEFFREY A. PERLMAN and DIANNE KLEIN | Times Staff Writers

Look at it this way: If misery loves company, then at least Orange County freeway commuters have plenty of shoulders to cry on.

The specter of traffic paralysis has gripped us all. We hate it. We moan, we complain and we swear.

And after we get that out of our systems, we start the cycle all over again--sliding behind the steering wheel, alone and harried, our feet to the floorboard and our minds primed for battle.

That, at least, is how The Times Orange County Poll gauges our feelings about what is Southern California's most talked-about urban annoyance: traffic.

"My best friend from childhood moved here from Florida about 15 months ago," said Carrie DeCriscio, 25, of Cypress. But the county's heavy traffic came between DeCriscio and her friends in El Toro, "so we've only seen them maybe six or seven times."

And now, in part because of the traffic, "they're moving back to Florida," DeCriscio said. "I really feel robbed."

Said Robert Sapiro of Huntington Beach, who abandoned highway commuting for a house closer to work: "Life is too short to be sitting on a freeway."

Such sentiments were found among the 600 Orange County adults surveyed for The Times by the Irvine-based firm of Mark Baldassare & Associates in an Aug. 25-27 poll that set out to discover just how concerned Orange County residents are about transportation issues.

We're concerned, all right.

The poll findings show, for example, that three out of four Orange County residents rate freeway conditions as poor or very poor, and that a majority (60%) give a resounding vote of no confidence to the government's ability to prevent hopeless congestion.

A typical glum comment came from Costa Mesa commuter Glee Ann Jeffries, who said: "They (government) haven't solved it yet. I don't know what it's going to take."

Commuter DeCriscio chimed in with this: "It seems like they (government) have been trying to do things, but they keep taking tax dollars and nothing seems to get done."

As a measure of how bothered commuters really are about congested freeways, it is worth noting that 53% of those surveyed said they would support a half-cent sales tax as a means of financing transportation improvements. Orange County is the state's only remaining urban area without such a tax.

And most county residents weren't content to stop there. A majority, 52%, said they would be willing to separate themselves from even more cash, this time by throwing it at a highway toll booth, if it meant spending less time on the road.

"Quite honestly, I have the aversion of most people to paying to travel on a public road, but if it's necessary, I guess it's necessary," said Clifford Vails, who commutes from Cypress to Los Angeles.

But Don McGarry--whose 84-mile round-trip commute between San Clemente and Anaheim has him yelling "Uncle!"--said he had no qualms.

"I'd pay for it," he said without hesitation. "And I'd sure use it, if it could get me there faster."

In the opinion of 44% of those surveyed, freeway congestion has become so bad that they could envision themselves leaving Orange County for the sole purpose of escaping traffic.

Shelli Burreson of Newport Beach, a self-employed makeup artist, said she would be willing to bid farewell to the Orange County crawl once and for all, but, for the time being at least, a happy turn of events has made it unnecessary. "It used to take at least an hour, sometimes an hour and 20 minutes, to see my boyfriend" in Manhattan Beach, she said. "But he changed jobs and moved to Dana Point, so now it only takes 30 minutes."

And as an added bonus, Burreson reports that spending less time on the freeway has given the couple more time for romance.

"Yes, it's worked out quite well," Burreson said. "We're going to get married soon."

Arianna Overturf, whose 18-mile commute from El Toro to Irvine is taking longer as the years pass, said she can see herself moving away from the area if things get much worse.

"It has a lot to do with quality of life," Overturf said. "Getting to recreational things is a hassle, and it's not something I want to live with forever. . . . That's not the kind of life style I want.

"Orange County is becoming nicer--more cultural and more diverse--but traffic is one of the bad points about it. Even though it seems to be getting nicer here in other areas, traffic is a real drawback."

One key finding of The Times Orange County Poll, which has a margin of error of 4% either way, is that drivers talk a better game than they are willing to play.

Here are some examples:

Although 36% of those surveyed said they are willing to try flexible work schedules as an alternative to rush-hour driving, only 11% said they had done so.

Forty-four percent said they would try a four-day week, but only 15% have done so.

Thirty-nine percent said they think that increasing the number of people who car-pool and use mass transit is the single best solution for reducing traffic congestion in Orange County, but only 10% said they car-pool or van-pool.

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