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Orange County

Scaling Back Freeway Work

Because anticipated state funding will be cut, Orange County officials will improve only a portion of the congested Garden Grove Freeway.

March 25, 2003|Dan Weikel | Times Staff Writer

Facing the loss of $170 million in state funds to expand the Garden Grove Freeway, Orange County transportation officials on Monday unveiled a contingency plan to improve only the most congested stretch of the busy highway.

The Orange County Transportation Authority originally wanted to add lanes, sound walls and interchanges along 12 miles of the freeway from the San Diego to Costa Mesa freeways.

OCTA is prepared to scale back the $438-million project to a 5-mile stretch between Brookhurst Street and the Santa Ana Freeway. The plan includes carpool lanes, widenings and improvements to ease traffic from the Orange Freeway to The City Drive and the Garden Grove Freeway.

"Obviously, we'd like to build the entire thing, but we need an alternative to get the project started. We are losing momentum," said Tim Keenan, a Cypress city councilman and chairman of the OCTA board.

The contingency plan calls for the downsized project to be built in segments as money becomes available. Officials say the first five-mile section could be finished by March 2007, about 10 months later than the planned completion date for the entire project if all funds were available.

"We're still hoping we can get back on track and keep on schedule by doing this minimum operating segment," Keenan said. "We need to work with what we have."'

OCTA had planned to fund virtually all the original expansion with $206.5 million in state funds and $203 million from Measure M, the county sales tax to raise money for local transportation projects. More than $30 million in state funds has already been spent.

Facing a budget deficit of $36 billion, the governor's office has requested that $1.8 billion be pared from state transportation programs, including $170 million earmarked for the Garden Grove Freeway. The amount of the proposed cuts will not be known for certain until May, however.

A substantial loss of state funds would represent a serious setback for the old highway, which has had no major improvements for more than 35 years. It is also the only freeway in the county without carpool lanes.

Today, the Garden Grove, carrying 175,000 vehicles a day, is one of the county's most congested during rush hours, especially at the Orange Crush interchange, where the highway meets the Santa Ana and Orange freeways.

Hoping to speed the expansion and save money, OCTA officials had planned to use the novel design-build approach for the project. The idea, which has not been used for a public highway before, requires the main contractor to do both engineering and construction.

Now OCTA planners are rethinking how to proceed. They are planning to seek federal assistance and give potential bidders time to develop proposals for the 5-mile segment.

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