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Keep Your Eyes on the Road

January 26, 2003

One of the biggest lifestyle threats that Orange County residents fear is future gridlock on highways and surface streets. Fortunately, candidates for the open county supervisor's seat agree that the transportation infrastructure must grow noticeably to accommodate the forecasted addition of a half-million residents and the creation of a half-million jobs by 2025.

But the five candidates mirror county residents in that they favor different plans to keep traffic moving. Some are pushing big projects, including the proposed CenterLine light-rail system and a speedy Maglev train. Others are supporting lower-tech solutions, such as adding more buses and widening freeway lanes.

The future likely will bring a mix, but the new supervisor and other elected officials in the county must ensure that sufficient money is available to fund key projects. Money won't be forthcoming if voters don't trust elected officials to wisely use currently available transportation funding.

Voters put their money where their mouth is in the early 1990s by passing Measure M, a local transportation sales tax that will generate about $4.5 billion during its lifetime. But Measure M would require a two-thirds vote to be extended upon its expiration in 2011. A recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California and UC Irvine shows that level of support isn't there.

Voter support for a future transportation tax will be shaped by what happens between now and 2011, so those charged with keeping the county moving must eliminate such frustrating snarls as the problem-plagued carpool bridge that links the San Diego and Costa Mesa freeways and the bumps that are bedeviling Orange County's Eastern tollway.

The projects should have been built right the first time and are eating up taxpayers' time and money. It will cost as much as $5 million to repair faulty concrete in the freeway carpool overpass; more than $430,000 already has been spent to repair the tollway.

A continued litany of construction defects isn't the only barrier capable of tripping up voter support. Residents also need solid information so they can weigh the merits of necessarily expensive transportation projects -- particularly when costly tunnel projects and rail systems are on the table.

When it comes to transportation, one Fantasyland attraction in the county is enough.

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