On the eve of their vote today to allocate $4.5 billion in statewide transportation funds, members of the California Transportation Commission were the guests at a cocktail reception in Irvine on Tuesday night paid for by road designers and engineering firms.
More than 100 people representing county transportation agencies across the state also attended the reception at the Atrium Hotel. A string quartet performed while guests were treated to an open bar and finger foods, including shrimp, stuffed mushrooms, fruit and bite-size chicken and quiche.
Addressing the gathering, transportation panel Chairwoman Marian Bergeson of Newport Beach joked, "All I can say is stay tuned and I'm glad you're all smiling tonight. We hope we can give you part of what you want."
Later, Bergeson, a Schwarzenegger appointee, said nothing was inappropriate about the reception, which she described as a social event like those held before every commission meeting.
"I don't see any conflict or any impropriety," she said. The gathering is "more to really get acquainted."
Nonetheless, lobbying over how the first round of nearly $20 billion in voter-approved bond money will be distributed has been intense since the commission's staff released its initial recommendations 12 days ago.
"My ears are ringing," said Commissioner Esteban Torres, a retired congressman from the Eastside of Los Angeles. "The phone has been ceaseless."
The Orange County Transportation Authority sponsored the two-hour reception, but several private road contractors and engineering firms footed the bill. Among the hosts were Carter & Burgess, URS, Lea+Elliott, TRC Cos. and Parsons Brinckerhoff.
The transit commission's new round of recommendations, announced Monday, did not earmark $48 million in funds sought by the OCTA to widen the heavily traveled 91 Freeway through northeastern Orange County.
Ted Nguyen, a spokesman for the transit authority, said the agency would lobby the state commission for funding.
Nguyen said there was still $90 million in state bond money available for Southern California projects.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has led a relentless lobbying campaign to secure more bond money for the state's most populous county.
The state transit commission initially had proposed splitting the cost of the proposed 405 Freeway carpool lane with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
But the mayor met with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last week in Sacramento, urging him to honor a commitment to fully fund the $730-million northbound carpool lane from the Westside to the northern San Fernando Valley.
Though Westside leaders praised the revised funding recommendations, which include money for the 405 Freeway project, San Gabriel Valley officials were angered by the lack of money for freeway projects in their districts.
The $97 million suggested for a carpool lane on Interstate 10 through the San Gabriel Valley was removed from the list to fund the 405 expansion.
"We all support the 405," state Sen. Gloria Romero said. "But on the Eastside ... we feel abused." Now she is asking for a fair-share distribution of funds within Los Angeles County.
The county's share of money was "completely gobbled up by the politically potent politicians of the city of Los Angeles and the Westside," Romero complained.
"At the end of the day, [the Westside] got the money and we [on the Eastside] got the bill."
Times staff writers Duke Helfand and Jean Guccione contributed to this report.