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ORANGE COUNTY COMMENTARY

When the Growing Gets Tough

OCTA Develops a 10-Year Roadmap to Keep O.C. Traffic Flowing

April 28, 2002|TIM KEENAN | Tim Keenan is a Cypress city councilman and vice chairman of the Orange County Transportation Authority.

Whether we want to admit it or not, the suburban Orange County that many of us grew up with is rapidly changing into a major urban center. We are no longer a bedroom community for Los Angeles, with rolling orange groves, rural neighborhoods and quiet beaches.

With more than 2.8 million residents, we are the fourth-most-populated county in the United States--with more people than 19 states. We average more than 3,500 people per square mile.

This trend toward urbanization is expected to continue during the next 25 years as Orange County is projected to grow by an additional 600,000 people and more than a half-million new jobs. Unless we make an aggressive commitment to plan for and invest in transportation infrastructure, this increase in population, employment and density will have a severe impact on our county, its economy and our way of life.

In an effort to stay ahead of the curve and keep us out of transportation gridlock, the Orange County Transportation Authority is planning for the future. Recently, the OCTA board of directors adopted an ambitious program of 10 strategic transportation initiatives to improve Orange County mobility over the 10 years. Implementation started immediately.

Here are OTCA's "10 Initiatives for 10 Years":

1. Widening the Garden Grove Freeway and the Santa Ana Freeway in the north as quickly and efficiently as possible.

2. Improvement of travel in the Riverside Freeway corridor.

3. Fixing freeway bottlenecks.

4. Encouragement of car-pooling on toll roads.

5. Investment in local streets and roads.

6. Expansion of Metrolink service.

7. Expansion of bus service.

8. Addition of express bus service.

9. Providing new Bus Rapid Transit Service (BRT).

10. Building a new light-rail system.

The initiatives are an outgrowth of extensive research, public outreach, and public opinion polling conducted by OCTA during the last year, as well as recent discussions by the board of directors about short- and long-term strategies for the county.

The initiatives are expected to cost the transportation agency $4.6 billion over the next 10 years, with $3.2 billion coming from traditional OCTA revenue sources such as the county's Measure M sales tax funds and about $1.4 billion from state and federal funds.

Over the last 10 years, OCTA has focused heavily on freeways. More than $6.55 billion has been spent improving and expanding the Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, Orange, Corona del Mar, Riverside and San Diego freeways, as well as streets and roads.

During the next decade we plan to continue this effort to improve our freeway system, giving primary attention to expanding the Garden Grove Freeway, the northern section of the Santa Ana Freeway and the Riverside Freeway, and to fixing freeway bottlenecks.

Congestion on the Riverside Freeway corridor has been especially bad. This month OCTA reached agreement with the California Private Transportation Co. to purchase the 91 Express Lanes and operational franchise agreement. Once completed, the deal will bring public ownership to the toll lanes, allow us to adjust rates and pave the way for Riverside Freeway improvements by eliminating the franchise's noncompete agreement.

OCTA also plans to continue its heavy investment in Orange County's local streets and roads, including projects to synchronize signals to smooth traffic flow, improve maintenance and facilitate grade separations at railroad crossings.

During the next 10 years, we also plan to continue to expand OCTA's heavily used bus system. With a record 62 million passengers last year, we are now the 19th-largest transit agency in the country. Our 9.5% increase from the previous year made us the fastest-growing transit system in the United States. We look forward to continuing to add service, increasing frequency and service hours in high-demand areas, improving our service quality and providing more service options for senior citizens.

We also plan to expand our Metrolink system, explore ways to make our toll roads more efficient and continue to look at several new concepts as part of our effort to offer a host of transportation alternatives. Implementation of rapid transit and express bus service within the county and between Orange and neighboring counties, and the building of the first phase of a light-rail system in Orange County will all be explored.

Orange County is changing. We must be prepared to deal with this change. We must continue to invest in our county's infrastructure and push ourselves to explore new ideas and technology to tackle our transportation challenges. Our county's future and our future mobility depend on it.

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