The sponsors of Measure M, who invested two years crafting their proposal and spent more than $2 million to sell it, said sadly Tuesday that their dream of a streamlined Orange County freeway system in this century is dead.
"I think it will be a substantial setback for transportation in Orange County," said a glum Tom Rogers, a leader of the pro-M campaign, as no votes slowly overtook an early surge of yes votes. "There seems to be in this county a solid number of voters who resist taxes."
Bruce Nestande, chairman of the campaign for Measure M, said: "Other counties are going to be successful in dealing with their transportation crisis because they have the funds to do so, but we won't have that option.
"There's no money sitting out there," he said. "There's no dollar at the end of the rainbow."
Bill Ward, who was host of a gathering Tuesday night for the measure's opponents, said government officials are to blame for traffic problems, not the failure of a sales tax. About predictions of highway gridlock, he said: "If they keep control of the transportation in Orange County, that's probably true."
Jerry Yudelson, another opponent, said those who worked against Measure M "are going to be getting together in the next couple weeks to form a watchdog group. People who don't like a sales tax approach have got to offer an alternative for what you can do with less money."
Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez, a supporter of the measure, said: "We're in deep trouble. There are no finances to build the improvements we're going to need in the next decade. It puts us in a catastrophic position."
County transportation experts also predicted gloom and gridlock.
The Orange and Riverside freeways will remain major problem areas, they predicted in interviews Tuesday. And plans to create so-called "super streets" such as Katella Avenue, which would zip commuters through cities and serve as alternatives to freeways, will--at best--be stalled for years, if not permanently, they said.
"We're in serious trouble" if Measure M fails, said Keith McKean, director of the Caltrans district office in Orange County.
"There will be no funds available for new construction projects," he said in an interview before Tuesday's result were in. "By early next year, perhaps in January, February or March, we will have committed all of the cash available for new construction. We will have to decide how much maintenance to defer, we will cut back on consultant contracts, cut back on preventive maintenance, and then we'll have to decide how many people to lay off."
Nestande also predicted an abrupt halt in the county's progress toward better traffic if the measure is not successful.
"I would say that anything where a contract has been awarded is safe," said Nestande, who serves on the California Transportation Commission, the state board that oversees state transportation spending. "Anything else is up for grabs."
Nestande and other transportation officials are hopeful that the proposed 9-cent-a-gallon increase in the state gasoline tax on the June, 1990, ballot will pass. But Orange County's share of that additional revenue, if approved by voters, would be far below what Measure M would generate.
"If the state ballot proposition doesn't pass, I don't know what we're going to do," Nestande said.
Officials said, however, that some highway construction will continue.
That includes the widening of the Santa Ana Freeway and the extension of the Costa Mesa Freeway; $240 million in developer-funded roads through southern Orange County and three planned tollways.