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Road to Riverside Will Get Worse, Study Says

Work-here, live-there lifestyles mean canyon, mountain links will be even more gridlocked.

October 29, 2002|Dan Weikel | Times Staff Writer

A critical imbalance of jobs and affordable housing between Orange and Riverside counties is expected to increase over the next 10 to 20 years, further taxing the congested highways that link the two regions, a new economic study concludes. The $50,000 survey was conducted jointly by the Orange County Transportation Authority and the Riverside County Transportation Commission to determine how much the counties depend on each other economically.

"This is an acknowledgment that we have people and business moving significantly between the two counties as well as significant gridlock between the two counties," said Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, chairman of the transportation agencies' board of directors.

"We can either put our heads in the sand, or we can deal with it head-on and provide transportation improvements," Spitzer said.

Officials from both counties hope the study released Monday will help them solve mutual transportation problems. The counties are experiencing severe congestion on the Riverside Freeway and increasing use of the narrow, winding Ortega Highway from Lake Elsinore through the Cleveland National Forest to San Juan Capistrano.

The worsening traffic combined with projected population growth and economic interdependence seem certain to bolster the argument for another transit corridor through Santa Ana Canyon or the Cleveland National Forest.

Riverside County has proposed a major route through the Santa Ana Mountains, while the Irvine Co., Orange County's largest developer, has suggested a second highway paralleling the Riverside Freeway.

Researchers say Orange County has had a growing job market, but because of its high housing costs, its supply of workers has not kept pace.

The study concludes that Orange County cannot meet its employment needs without importing labor from areas with more affordable housing, such as Riverside County, over the next two decades.

The report also notes that Riverside County will see an increased job market.

Meanwhile, Orange County's population is projected to increase from about 2.8 million to about 3.4 million by 2020. Riverside County is expected to grow from 1.6 million people to more than 2.4 million.

"What the data seems to say is, if the situation is difficult now, stay tuned, it will get worse," said John Husing of Economics and Politics Inc. in Redlands, which helped conduct the study.

"Somehow you need to facilitate the movement of goods and people between the two counties or both economies will end up with problems," Husing said.

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