Panel OKs Bill to Free Funds for Road Work

Times Staff Writer

Three years of interest from idle rapid transit development funds--about $27 million--could be spent on Orange County road and highway projects under a bill approved Wednesday by the Assembly Transportation Committee.

The committee approved the bill by state Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim), 12 to 0, after Seymour agreed to a number of changes insisted upon by Assemblyman Richard Robinson (D-Santa Ana).

Expressing fear that his constituents would be shortchanged, Robinson had threatened last week to try to kill the bill unless it was amended to ensure that most of the money was spent in the county's urban core, which he represents.

Robinson said he was also upset that some Orange County Republicans had inappropriately politicized the Orange County Transportation Commission (OCTC) when they engineered last month's ouster from the commission of Santa Ana Mayor Daniel Griset, a Democrat.

Suggested a Few Changes

At the hearing Wednesday, Robinson suggested a few changes in Seymour's bill, which had already passed the Senate, and Seymour readily accepted them.

Besides the three-year "sunset clause" that will require a legislative extension for the funding arrangement to continue after 1989, Robinson's changes were largely technical.

The changes include non-binding statements in the bill that the Legislature would like to see:

- Half of the money in the new transportation fund spent on local streets and roads, with the remaining half going to freeways.

- Local transportation officials make rebuilding and rehabilitation of deteriorated local streets their primary concern.

In response to his criticisms of the bill and Griset's ouster from the boards of OCTC and the Orange County Transit District (OCTD), Griset and Orange County Supervisor Ralph Clark, both Democrats, wrote Robinson a letter urging his support for the measure.

'Help Solve Problems'

"The program embodied in SB 429 is designed to help solve problems at the local level. It has received widespread, bipartisan support because it creates a needed source of local revenue for streets, roads and highways without raising taxes," a letter signed by Griset and Clark said.

Seymour's bill would allow an estimated $9 million in annual interest earned from money set aside for future rapid transit development to be spent instead on road projects.

OCTD, which operates the county's bus system, has scaled back its ambitious plans for a 38-mile light rail line through central Orange County after the overwhelming defeat last year of Proposition A, a proposed penny-a-dollar sales tax hike to fund various transportation projects.

Instead, OCTD officials are studying several less-expensive alternatives, including a system of bus guideways along freeways.

The transit system, which already gets a quarter-cent of the existing 6% state sales tax, has accumulated about $85 million for future rapid transit development.

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