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Roadwork Outlay of $77 Million Sets Record

It's the biggest chunk yet from the county's half-cent Measure M sales tax. Projects will range from freeway junctions to bike path lights.


Transportation officials doled out the largest single serving of Measure M road and highway funds ever Thursday, pumping $77 million into 212 improvement projects throughout the county.

The money will be parceled out over the next five years for jobs big and small, from the timing of traffic lights at scores of snarled intersections to the widening of busy El Toro Road in Lake Forest. A $1.7-million chunk will be spent on the design and construction of new bicycle paths in eight cities--the largest lump of Measure M funds ever awarded for alternative transportation projects.

"We're talking about a significant amount of money here," said Orange County Transportation Authority spokesman George Urch. "For the average driver, this money will represent a significant reduction in congestion in certain areas of the county."

The largest of Thursday's awards were designated as arterial highway upgrades, and included $4.3 million for improvements to El Toro Road in Lake Forest. Officials would like to widen the road from six to eight lanes along a congested stretch between Interstate 5 and Muirlands Boulevard. A similar widening project in Anaheim was awarded $4.1 million to improve Brookhurst Street between the Santa Ana and Riverside freeways.

Money was also allocated for upgrades to a slew of interchanges and tangled city intersections, including $2.5 million for Lincoln Avenue at State College Boulevard in Anaheim and $2.5 million for Interstate 5 at Ortega Highway in San Juan Capistrano.

"Almost every city in the county applied for funds for numerous projects, and they all ended up getting money for something," Urch said.

Thursday's allocation abounded in smaller-ticket items, including traffic light timing and video monitors. In all, OCTA will spend $12 million on gadgets and devices to keep traffic flowing.

More than $200,000 for bicycle paths will provide the means for Anaheim officials to construct a new bicycle depot at the Metrolink/Amtrak station at Edison Field--with bicycle racks, lockers, refreshments and even minor repair services--and help Irvine install light fixtures along the San Diego Creek and Culverdale bicycle trails. An additional $500,000 was set aside for the design and construction of a bicycle trail through Orange, Tustin, Villa Park and unincorporated land.

The bike path allocations cheered bicycle enthusiasts--to a point.

"I think it's great, but if you ask me, they could be spending even more," said Fran Mace, who works at the family-owned Bike Center of Orange County in Huntington Beach. "They have wonderful paths in Irvine, but if you want to go riding in Anaheim or Stanton, forget it. You end up riding on the roads and it's just not safe."

While ambitious, the five-year transportation package was whittled down from more than 300 requests from cities seeking money to improve streets and intersections.

The half-cent Measure M sales tax was approved in 1990 and is scheduled to expire in 2010. Since its passage, the county has disbursed more than $1.7 billion.

As the special tax nears its 10th anniversary next month, OCTA officials are boasting that Measure M Sales Tax Revenue Bonds are now the highest-rated transportation agency bonds in the nation.


Wider, Better, Easier

Transportation officials approved spending $77 million over the next five years for 212 projects. A look at the major projects, costs and dates:

Source: Orange County Transportation Authority

Graphics reporting by BRADY MacDONALD / Los Angeles Times

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