Measure M, the half-cent sales tax increase proposal for transportation projects, is the only countywide issue facing voters Tuesday. The measure would earmark $3.1 billion for a variety of freeway, transit and surface street projects over a fixed 20-year period.
In recent weeks, campaign letters and brochures have been mailed by both sides in the Measure M election battle, with both sides making varied claims.
Here is a list of frequently asked questions about Measure M, what the ordinance says, and what supporters and critics say about it:
Will it relieve traffic congestion on Orange County freeways? If so, for how long?
What Measure M says: Freeway capacity will increase from an average of 160,000 vehicles a day on the Santa Ana Freeway in 1988 to more than 260,000 daily by the end of the 20-year period, and improvements on the Costa Mesa, Orange, Riverside and San Diego freeways would be similar but less dramatic. Completion, in some cases, would be 10 years sooner than would be possible otherwise.
Supporters: Yes, within a 20-year period. Even with improvements, though, some slowing will occur during peak travel periods, with speeds below 30 m.p.h.
Opponents: After all improvements are in place, congestion will occur at some places such as the junction of the Santa Ana and San Diego freeways in Irvine.
How much will it cost me?
Measure: The ballot language does not estimate how much would be collected from individual taxpayers or families in an average year.
Supporters: Economists estimate that a half-cent increase in the sales tax, from the current 6 cents to 6 1/2 cents, will cost $50 to $75 a year for each man, woman and child living in the county.
Opponents: No estimate on sales tax per resident.
What impact will the measure's growth management policy have?
Measure: It "emphasizes good planning, improved cooperation between neighboring cities, and requires that new development pay a fair share for measures to deal with traffic generated by that new development."
Supporters: Any city that fails to submit a growth management plan meeting Measure M requirements will become ineligible for sales tax proceeds. This will give cities an incentive to phase new development so that it does not outpace needed traffic improvements.
Opponents: One camp of opponents says the growth controls are too weak to prevent more congestion and that they merely reflect existing state planning laws; the other contends that there should be no controls at all because they infringe on the rights of property owners.
Is there a heavy reliance on car-pool lanes in the freeway projects outlined in Measure M? If so, why?
Measure: More car-pool lanes than regular lanes will be added to freeways.
Supporters: State and federal governments virtually demand car-pool lanes as a condition for giving highway construction funds. Also, the installation of such lanes on the Costa Mesa and San Diego freeways has improved traffic flow.
Opponents: Measure M pours hundreds of millions of dollars into the installation of car-pool lanes at a time when their effectiveness is being challenged by citizens' groups.
Will the traffic improvements planned in Measure M benefit all areas of the county equally?
Measure: The measure does not evaluate the geographic spread of highway and transit projects.
Supporters: There are enough projects in Measure M to ensure that almost every commuter will experience some relief from congestion, though perhaps not all the time, in every corner of the county. Much of the money will go for street maintenance and improvements in the cities, which bargained to get $450 million in street projects from the revenue when Measure M was being written. Most of the cities--and most of the local streets to be fixed--are in the north.
Opponents: Except for freeway projects, many of the improvements will occur on arterials used primarily by South County residents, and this would be at the expense of residents in the north.
What power will the citizens' oversight committee have to ensure the money raised is spent properly?
Measure: The panel can demand explanations of any spending plan deviation from the chairman of the local transportation authority (in this case, the Orange County Transportation Commission), who must respond within 60 days, and any amendments or changes in spending must be approved by a two-thirds vote of citizens' committee members.
Supporters: The citizens' committee will be an effective check on the power of transportation officials, especially because its opinions are expected to receive wide publicity.
Opponents: The committee has no authority to actually block disbursement of funds. Its only real power is to alert the news media and encourage citizen lawsuits.
What effect will the half-cent sales tax have on jobs and the county's overall economic health?