Toll-Road Bill Takes an Early Exit

Times Staff Writer

Legislation that would have allowed construction of local toll roads throughout California was withdrawn from consideration by its author Tuesday after a key Senate committee rejected a more narrowly drawn bill to allow the turnpikes only in Orange County.

But the Senate Transportation Committee action did not affect yet another legislative proposal for supplementing California's traditional system of tax-supported freeways with turnpikes similar to those common in the East.

That bill, by Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim), would enable an agency formed by Orange County and a group of cities to build and operate toll roads as an alternative to that county's chronically congested freeways. Seymour's bill has been approved by the Senate and two Assembly committees and awaits action in the full Assembly.

Pilot Project

Like Seymour's bill, the measure the committee rejected Tuesday, by Assemblyman Nolan Frizzelle (R-Huntington Beach), would have allowed Orange County or a joint powers agency to build toll roads in the county as a pilot project. Under current law, only the state Transportation Department can construct public toll roads, and none have ever been built in California.

But several members of the committee who voted for Seymour's measure earlier this year criticized Frizzelle's bill because of provisions that would have allowed a private corporation to build and maintain the toll roads.

One senator suggested that a private company might close the roads if it went into bankruptcy. Another wondered how the private roads would be policed. A third blamed Sunday's air crash in Detroit on deregulation of the airline industry and predicted that private toll roads in California would be a disaster of their own.

It also appeared that Frizzelle was unable to perform the same kind of political arm-twisting as Seymour, who is a member of the Senate Transportation Committee and until recently was the GOP's second-ranking member in the Senate.

Seymour's bill also has the backing of former Sen. John Foran, who is now a lobbyist for the Orange County agency that would get the power to build toll roads under Seymour's bill.

"It just seems like somewhere we've got to draw the line," said Sen. Dan McCorquodale (D-San Jose) after a lengthy debate. "Even if the toll roads worked twice as well as you (Frizzelle) say, I still think it would be a tremendous disservice to put up as a possibility of solving California's highway needs a system of toll roads which, I think, will put us back many years."

Frizzelle was able to muster only five votes for his bill, two short of the majority needed to move the measure out of the 13-member committee. And as his Orange County bill was going down, Frizzelle asked the committee to postpone any action on his statewide toll roads bill until next year.

Resistance to Turnpikes

Chances for that bill are slim, Frizzelle conceded, because "the public mind set is a little bit behind" what is needed before toll roads are accepted throughout California.

Seymour, meanwhile, said he is eager to have his bill considered by the Assembly because he senses that support for the concept of toll roads, which has been weak at best, may be dwindling.

"The sooner we do it, the better," Seymour said. "It's going to be touch and go."

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