Orange County transportation officials dangled a carrot stick to weary commuters last week by unveiling a plan to add to the county's rail system eight round-trips a day to Los Angeles and stops at four additional stations. The catch: The electorate must approve a half-cent sales tax for transportation that, among other things, would provide county matching funds for state bond money approved by voters in June.
The measure that would institute the sales tax increase in Orange County--the only urban county in the state that hasn't adopted such a tax for transportation--is Measure M on the Nov. 6 ballot. But passage will be a battle. A recent Times poll suggested that voters are divided about evenly.
It doesn't help that everyone is jittery about the Middle East crisis, with its threat of skyrocketing oil prices. It makes any new tax seem all the more scary. Unless voters can be convinced that Measure M is the key not only to rail but to many other essential transportation projects, it could go the way of similar measures voted down in the past.
But Orange County's clogged transportation network demands attention and can't wait. Even now, the morning and evening commutes are terrible. And the long-range outlook is even more discouraging. In just a few years, when the widening of the Santa Ana Freeway gets fully under way, the current traffic situation will look like the good old days. Given the slow rate of funding expected for the $1.6-billion freeway widening between Irvine and Los Angeles, the project could take 15 to 20 years. Alternatives to jammed freeways will be needed even more.