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ORANGE COUNTY COMMENTARY

OCTA: The County's Tonic to Relieve Congestion

We are moving forward on a number of significant transportation projects that will help improve mobility throughout Orange County and the entire region.

March 16, 2003|Tim Keenan | Tim Keenan is chairman of the OCTA board of directors and mayor pro-tem of Cypress.

Commuting patterns released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau show what most residents have known for years: Orange County no longer is a suburb of Los Angeles.

Jobs being created in Orange County mean that our residents are staying here to live, work and play, reflecting the continued urbanization of the county over the last decade.

From 1990 to 2000, census statistics reveal that more residents from Los Angeles and Riverside counties are commuting to Orange County.

The census figures show that 160,279 L.A. residents commute to Orange County -- an increase of 19,280 from the previous decade. During that same period, nearly 18,800 fewer Orange County residents were commuting to L.A.

The commuting patterns highlight the need for public agencies, such as the Orange County Transportation Authority, to look to the future.

With this in mind, we are moving forward on a number of significant projects that will help improve mobility throughout Orange County and the entire region.

One of OCTA's priorities will be to relieve congestion and improve traffic flow on local freeways.

Highest on our list of freeway projects right now is the Garden Grove Freeway, the only freeway in the county that has not seen major improvement since the 1960s.

Last month, County Supervisor Jim Silva, OCTA Chief Executive Art Leahy and I traveled to Sacramento to meet with members of the Orange County delegation on this pressing issue.

In light of the state budget crisis, we need to fight for funding to complete this and other critical transportation projects.

Next week, we will meet with the Orange County legislative delegation and the governor's office to make sure the county receives its fair share of state transportation funding.

Elsewhere in the county, work is progressing on a design for the Santa Ana Freeway's Far North project, which will finish the final two-mile stretch of improvements to the freeway as it passes through Buena Park to the Los Angeles County line.

In addition, OCTA is moving forward on a $125-million effort to improve the interchange of the San Diego and Costa Mesa freeways, which is one of the 10 busiest interchanges in the nation.

OCTA's priority has always been to repair the damaged flyover and ensure that it is safe for the public to use.

The connector will open by the end of this year and will not affect the rest of the 405/55 Improvement Project.

This project is on schedule for completion next spring.

As you know, one of our most chronically congested freeways is the Riverside Freeway, which has nearly 250,000 vehicle trips each weekday. We are starting work on improvements to help unclog it.

OCTA is hosting meetings of the State Route 91 Advisory Committee, talking with Riverside and San Bernardino county officials regarding plans to relieve congestion on this crucial link.

OCTA will be looking at the toll policies for the 91 Express Lanes, including the impact of a proposal to allow cars with three or more occupants to use the lanes at no cost.

OCTA also has a responsibility to improve and expand our local public transportation system. Our bus service is one of the fastest-growing in the nation, with more than 64.1 million boardings each year.

I believe the CenterLine light-rail system planned for Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and Irvine will complement buses and our highways and become a critical part of the county's transportation system.

We need to continue to move forward on this project.

As our population grows, it is important to offer residents new, environmentally friendly transportation options like light rail. This year will be important for the light-rail project.

We will continue to work with Irvine as its residents vote on CenterLine in June, as well as with Costa Mesa on a proposal to take the light-rail system underground.

While we plan for new public transportation options, we should also concentrate on improving existing services.

OCTA is working to enhance Metrolink service between Orange County and Los Angeles by providing additional weekday trips and service on weekends as well.

OCTA is continuing to enhance local bus service by implementing a plan called Putting Customers First.

We are making our bus schedules more efficient, adding additional and better service. As a public agency, OCTA has a responsibility to keep the public informed of significant transportation issues affecting the county.

To increase public awareness of OCTA activities and accomplishments, we will initiate a program to highlight people at OCTA who work to serve the public and improve our local transportation system.

As you can see, OCTA has an impressive list of priorities for the coming year.

I look forward to working with local officials and the public as we move forward with this ambitious set of goals to improve transportation throughout Orange County.

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