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Orange County

Top Tollway Official Plans to Leave His Post on Nov. 1

Walter D. Kreutzen has helped finance and run the Transportation Corridor Agencies.

June 30, 2004|Dan Weikel | Times Staff Writer

An Orange County transportation leader who advanced the use of bond issues and public-private partnerships to finance new highways announced Monday that he will retire as chief executive of the largest toll road system in California.

After 15 years with the Irvine-based Transportation Corridor Agencies, Walter D. Kreutzen said he will step down Nov. 1 to pursue other professional endeavors.

Kreutzen, 54, will leave behind a 51-mile network of toll roads he helped to finance and administer, including the successful Foothill-Eastern corridor in east Orange County and the financially struggling San Joaquin Hills tollway near the coast.

For the last few years, TCA board members have been trying to keep the San Joaquin Hills tollway from defaulting on $1.9 billion in bonds. The road has been plagued by lower-than-projected traffic and revenue since it opened in 1996.

"Personally, it is a good time to move on," Kreutzen said. "I actually made this decision a year and a half ago. I am one of those people who makes New Year's resolutions and keeps them."

He announced his retirement during an operations and finance committee meeting for the San Joaquin Hills toll road. The committee is made up of corridor board members.

"He's done a great job and has done a great job for some time," said Laguna Niguel Councilwoman Linda Lindholm, who chairs the San Joaquin Hills board. "I'm saddened to see him move on. He was always very professional and followed board direction well."

Kreutzen said he postponed his retirement until after the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Foothill South tollway was completed and steps were taken to deal with the faltering San Joaquin Hills tollway.

In May, the TCA released the environmental report for public review, and agency board members rejected a plan to merge the system's tollway operations and refinance them with a $4-billion bond issue.

Instead, board members adopted an 11th-hour proposal to lend up to $1 billion in projected surplus revenue from the Foothill-Eastern corridor to the San Joaquin Hills tollway. The plan by county Supervisor Bill Campbell is being studied.

"I am not leaving with any frustration over the San Joaquin Hills," Kreutzen said. "The policy-makers have made their decision. I believe the tollway boards will work something out."

As the TCA's vice president of finance, chief operating officer and finally chief executive officer, Kreutzen helped develop alternative financing methods to build highways without relying on state and federal gasoline taxes.

The tools included the use of developers' fees and bond sales to private investors to raise the money for construction -- the first time such methods had been used in California.

Kreutzen also helped write legislation to create federal loans, subsidies, lines of credit and loan guarantees for toll road operations.

"He has done well over the years," said county Supervisor and TCA board member Tom Wilson. "Wally has had some challenges with the San Joaquin Hills. The merger did not work out. Sometimes the stress and strain can make you make decisions in the best interest of yourself and your family."

Board members said they will consider hiring a consulting firm to coordinate a nationwide search for a successor.

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