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Agencies Agree to Tunnel Talks

Congressmen will meet with water and transit officials to settle on how best to get funds for a study of the Santa Ana Mountains proposal.

April 21, 2006|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

Two Southern California congressmen will seek to broker an agreement among regional water boards and transportation agencies trying to get $16 million in federal money to study a proposed 11-mile tunnel between Orange and Riverside counties.

Reps. Ken Calvert (R-Corona) and Gary G. Miller (R-Diamond Bar) are seeking to end growing frustration among transportation and water directors battling over the creation of a new agency seeking the funds.

The debate comes amid growing support for the tunnel by Riverside County officials to ease traffic congestion and increasing opposition by southern Orange County officials who fear a tunnel would jam neighborhoods with more traffic. Meanwhile, the water districts see the need for a tunnel for pipelines.

For now, the focus of the dispute is on a feasibility study and which agency will handle it.

"This is an attempt to bring the different parties into a meeting and hopefully reach agreement," said a spokeswoman for Calvert.

Scheduled to attend the congressmen's meeting are the Riverside County Transportation Commission, the Orange County Transportation Authority and Wes Bannister, chairman of the Metropolitan Water District. Also attending will be the executive director of Orange County's toll road agencies.

Last May, regional water boards formed the Riverside Orange Corridor Authority to take advantage of federal money that Caltrans will allocate for a feasibility study.

The water boards want the tunnel because without it they would have to run pipelines 32 miles around the Santa Ana Mountains.

But transportation officials in both counties expressed surprise at the speed the water boards formed the group and questioned the need for a new agency. They also said they preferred that they conducted the studies.

"All we need to have is a cooperative agreement among the agencies we now have," said Supervisor John F. Tavaglione, who sits on Riverside County's largest transportation agency.

On Thursday, Tavaglione attended a corridor authority meeting in Corona that was cut short after it was announced that Calvert and Miller would intervene. The congressmen will hold their first meeting today at Miller's district office in Brea.

Last week, the Orange County Transportation Authority declined an invitation to join the corridor authority. Some board members said the group was "predetermined" to build a tunnel.

On the other hand, Tavaglione said, Riverside County transportation officials favor a tunnel. But he said he opposed creating another layer of government to seek funds for soil studies.

OCTA has not ruled out a tunnel connecting Interstate 15 in Corona to the Foothill-Eastern tollway in Irvine, but the project is not among the agency's immediate plans.

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