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Orange County

Toll Road Boards Get Merger Talks Started

Transportation: Agencies survey a plan some say can save the ailing San Joaquin Hills turnpike.


Orange County's two toll road agencies met Wednesday to discuss merging, a proposal some say might save the financially ailing San Joaquin Hills toll road as well as the plans to build another tollway south of Mission Viejo.

The first of many expected workshops on the proposal was devoted to reviewing the legal complexities of melding the independent boards and seeing whether the idea is politically and economically feasible.

"This kicked it off," said Clare Climaco, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Corridor Agencies, regarding the 90-minute meeting on new board structure and legal issues.

The San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency and the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency both are under the umbrella of the TCA, but each is financed separately and run by a separate board.

The San Joaquin board suggested the consolidation in April, and a month later the Foothill/Eastern board agreed to study the idea. Proponents say the merger could save the San Joaquin Hills toll road, which has failed to meet traffic and revenue projections since opening from Costa Mesa to San Juan Capistrano in 1996.

"This is the beginning of a yearlong process," Walter D. Kreutzen, chief executive of the Irvine-based TCA, said when the merger plans were announced.

"Although we don't know yet whether a merger will work, I don't think there is any other way to go right now."

At Wednesday's meeting, legal consultants outlined several ways the boards could combine. One major problem is financing.

Because a consolidated agency would have to sell bonds to pay off debts and finance the roads, its governing board could not be controlled by a majority of members from either of the old agencies' boards.

"The important thing is that in order for the market to accept this transaction it has to know that the new board will not be controlled by either of the previous existing agencies," Climaco said. "Determining a potential board structure is really fundamental to the process.''

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