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Toll Road Bond Worries Abound

June 08, 1997

The San Joaquin Hills toll road is the most recent major infrastructure project to be completed in Orange County. In light of the fact that the 17-mile road must now be paid for at a cost of $5 billion, or $294 million per mile, it should surprise no one that the environmental issues that delayed its completion have been replaced by a new controversy.

Your May 25 editorial, "Transportation Corridor Management Bears Watching," draws attention to another looming financial crisis as important to the Orange County economy as the Orange County bankruptcy and the dispute over the conversion of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

The Transportation Corridor Agencies are responsible for managing the San Joaquin Hills toll road and recently announced a 51% revenue shortfall due to usage below projections.

You laudably suggest that the TCA should be willing to apply basic supply and demand principles to increase both usage and revenue from the toll road. Lowering the tolls to a price that will increase ridership [will] make up for the revenue shortfall being experienced that jeopardizes repayment of the debt.

Unfortunately, you also correctly note that the TCA has never been known as a competent money manager and the TCA itself has announced no intention to study its toll structure to see if ridership can be increased through lowering the toll rates.

Orange County needs more infrastructure as it grows to become and remain the economic powerhouse. Those at the TCA charged with managing the toll road and its debt have a tough challenge ahead. The outrageous $5-billion cost must be repaid if Wall Street is going to be willing to finance future infrastructure on favorable terms. Repayment of this debt is one important issue.

MICHAEL WINSTEN

Laguna Niguel

* I don't know if the members of the Transportation Corridor Agencies board told the bondholders what the pitfalls were, but believe me, they've got nothing to worry about.

You see, the plan was set up that should those roadways fail there is always "Uncle." And if Uncle doesn't come through, there are always the good citizens of our own Orange County to fix things.

There is no way (and never has been) that these roadways would make it to the point of being money-makers. How the powers that be could ever have listened to the bull being told to them and then to allow this all to come about is mind-boggling.

There is no doubt in my mind that the eventual outcome for both these roadways is that we will have to buy out the system and absorb everything into our freeways. But because of the tremendous costs, we will have to make more of our system into toll roads, eventually doing away with some if not all of our freeways.

STANLEY ESKIN

Laguna Hills

* Hooray for Irvine Mayor Christina L. Shea and Supervisor Todd Spitzer in objecting to the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency's attempt to inappropriately transact business in closed session (May 29). The counsel opinion is a typical self-serving one aimed at supporting the attempts of staff and some board members to keep information from the public.

The "confidentiality certificate" should be fought all the way. Members of boards should have the right to discuss matters upon which they are called to vote with trusted experts, not just the facts that staff elects to present. They must have an opportunity of seeing as many sides of an issue as possible to cast an intelligent vote. I have had more than enough of elected officials whose thinking apparently is "don't mix me up with the facts."

It seems to me that agency Vice President Wally Kreutzen should immediately resign. His suggestion that Mayor Shea resign if she cannot follow his lead is unconscionable.

GEORGE RATNER

Laguna Hills

* The path that led us into bankruptcy is in front of us again.

Two of the major problems in Orange County management [are] the unrealistic prediction of need and the secret fix. Both are a disservice to the voters.

The toll roads will never generate the required revenue to pay back the bond holders and the taxpayer will pay them back. The 38 million annual passengers the county soothsayers are predicting for the proposed El Toro International Airport will not materialize either, and the overburdened taxpayer will be on the hook for yet another $2 billion or $3 billion.

It is critical to fiscal responsibility for the Board of Supervisors to demand and get accurate predictions of need and demand before they put in another San Bernardino Airport. They already have the empty toll roads.

The closed door approach to fiscal responsibility is the same method former Treasurer Robert L. Citron used to lead us into the first bankruptcy. Irvine Mayor Christina L. Shea and Supervisor Todd Spitzer are absolutely correct in demanding open meetings on fiscal matters. If the tollway agency members are reluctant to have an informed county, they should resign.

FRED HEINECKE

Irvine

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