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OCTA to Pay for Officials' Business Trip to Paris

August 12, 2003|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

Orange County Transportation Authority directors decided Monday to pay for a Paris trip next month by the agency's board chairman and its finance director rather than let a French company that does business with OCTA pick up the tab.

Cofiroute France, which manages the OCTA-owned 91 Express Lanes on the Riverside Freeway, had offered to pay $10,900 for a 10-day trip by Tim Keenan, board chairman, and James Kenan, the agency's finance director, to a conference.

State law prohibits elected officials and some government employees from accepting more than $340 in gifts, including travel, from a single source during a year. To avoid this, the company and the authority's staff had proposed funneling the money through the agency; the law does allow a donor to reimburse a public agency for expenses.

Board members said Keenan and Kenan could gain valuable information by attending the conference of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Assn., and by touring Cofiroute operations. Among those is a tunnel under construction in France that could provide insights about a proposed tunnel under the Cleveland National Forest.

But several raised questions about the propriety of letting the company pay for it.

County Supervisor Chris Norby, who is on the OCTA board and had opposed the trip, was the only board member who abstained Monday.

"Right now I'm not aware of any tunneling projects that we have," Norby said. "In fact, when I first heard about the trip, I thought it was Perris, Calif., where they have a wonderful train museum."

In other business, the agency unveiled an analysis of a proposal that would help ease traffic pressure around the Orange Crush by extending the Orange Freeway along a 6.5-mile route above the Santa Ana River to the San Diego Freeway.

The analysis was proposed in March by Norby, who wants a $1.1-million study to determine whether the Orange Freeway extension is practical from engineering and political standpoints. Monday's analysis was a precursor to such a study.

Though the extension could alleviate traffic at the Orange Crush, some board members wondered Monday if it would only shift the congestion to the San Diego Freeway.

The analysis was modeled as a six-lane freeway extension with two alternatives. Both would connect to the San Diego Freeway but only one would continue south and connect with the San Joaquin Hills toll road.

The latter would have a daily traffic volume of 145,000 cars by 2025. The route would cut traffic on the Santa Ana and Garden Grove freeways but add volume to the San Diego Freeway.

The route was criticized by Westminster resident Darrell Nolta, a systems engineer attending the meeting as an interested citizen. Nolta said sidewalks at the Talbert and Adams bridges are cracking because of settling near the river, raising safety questions about a freeway extension.

"This needs a geo-technical study," Nolta said.

The extension also would reduce traffic on surface streets, especially in portions of Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Westminster and Fountain Valley.

Board member and county Supervisor Jim Silva voted against accepting the analysis because such an extension would create greater congestion on surface streets in his district.

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