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Transit Tax Draft Is in the Works

OCTA seeks to get on the ballot a 30-year extension of Measure M sales surcharge.

October 25, 2005|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

The Orange County Transportation Authority's board took the first step Monday toward drafting a ballot measure that would ask voters to extend for 30 years a half-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax used to fund transportation projects.

Extending Measure M would provide a projected $12 billion -- money that would be used to widen freeways and help unsnarl traffic on the Riverside Freeway and at the "Orange Crush" interchange, officials said.

"The measure is extremely important to maintaining the great Orange County lifestyle," said Bill Campbell, OCTA board chairman and a county supervisor.

The sales tax, approved by voters in 1990 on its third try, is expected to generate $4.2 billion by the time it expires in 2011 and has accounted for at least 25% of all money spent on transportation in Orange County, Campbell said.

Measure M has helped widen parts of the 57, 55, 22 and 405 Freeways as well as the Santa Ana Freeway from San Clemente to Buena Park.

"It also has provided about 50% of the money to have cities fix potholes," Campbell said.

OCTA officials say a ballot measure extending Measure M could come before voters as early as November 2006. If renewed, OCTA board members have approved the same allocation for Measure M money that it uses now: 43% for highways, 32% for streets and 25% for transit projects.

Officials said the additional funds would be used to make further improvements to the Santa Ana and Riverside freeways as well as the "Orange Crush" interchange where the 57, 22 and 5 freeways meet.

The agency plans to hold meetings to gather public opinion. Some cities are expected to argue for a greater percentage of funds for local streets rather than freeway improvements.

A draft of the ballot measure is expected in December, with final adoption in April.

OCTA also released results Monday of a poll showing that more than two-thirds of voters surveyed support Measure M. It was the agency's third poll that showed roughly the same results. The poll, conducted by J. Moore Methods, a Sacramento research group, reached 750 registered voters by telephone and has a 4% margin of error.

It found that although voters strongly support improvements to the 91 Freeway, they are less willing to support options such as a tunnel connecting Orange and Riverside counties or elevated lanes.

"This poll reinforces our belief that voters will support a renewal of Measure M if they have assurances that the promises made will be kept," Campbell said. The poll reflects findings from an independent survey taken a year ago by the Public Policy Institute of California. It found residents were overwhelmingly positive about how Measure M money was being spent.

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