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Toll-Ways May Need State Aid, Seymour Says

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Times Staff Writer

Orange County’s proposed toll roads, promoted for two years as a novel way to build new highways without using state funds, may need state money after all, state Sen. John Seymour disclosed Thursday.

That, the Anaheim Republican conceded, could jeopardize legislation he is sponsoring that would designate two of the toll roads as state highways, and thus delay their construction.

One state senator, whose support was key to passage of Seymour’s legislation in the upper house in June, said Thursday he will work to defeat Seymour’s bills if they are changed to permit state funding for design and construction of the toll roads.

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“I’m going to oppose the bill and do everything I can to kill it,” said Sen. Daniel E. Boatwright (D-Concord).

Seymour is the author of two bills that would declare the Foothill and Eastern toll road routes to be state highways so they can qualify for state maintenance funds after they are built.

Seymour’s Assurance

But passage of those measures, needed to help ensure such long-term maintenance financing, has hinged on Seymour’s assurance that no state tax dollars would be needed to design or build the roads, which instead would be paid for with bonds backed by projected revenue from tolls, developer fees and federal funds.

Now Seymour says a financial study he saw for the first time this week indicates that the roads may not be feasible without state funding. The study, completed by private consultants for the Orange County Transportation Corridor Agencies in May, suggests that the agencies “actively pursue state and federal funding” for the roads.

The study, which Seymour shared with The Times, shows that several of the possible alternatives for phasing in construction of the roads would not provide enough cash to pay off the bonds that would be sold to finance the highways.

While the study does not conclude that state funding is needed, Seymour said it cast enough doubt on the feasibility of the projects to prompt him to back away from his earlier, bold assertion that the highways would be built without a penny of state taxpayers’ money.

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“It raises enough questions in my mind that we have to address it up front,” Seymour said Thursday.

John Meyer, executive director of the transportation agencies, which will plan, build and operate the roads, was not available for comment Thursday.

Seymour said he has begun the process of amending the bills and will do so formally Monday, when the measures are scheduled to be considered by the Assembly Transportation Committee.

At that time he will remove language that now says “no state funds shall be used for planning and project development or construction” of the Foothill or Eastern transportation corridors. The third toll road route, the San Joaquin Hills corridor, was designated a state highway before it was named a toll road route and is not affected by the legislation.

Seymour had inserted that language into his bills at the insistence of Boatwright, whose vote Seymour needed to move the legislation through the Senate Appropriations Committee and the full Senate, which passed both measures in June. Boatwright even helped Seymour fend off hostile amendments offered by other Bay Area legislators who wanted to provide the same state-funded maintenance for Bay Area toll bridges that Seymour was seeking for the toll roads.

Votes Will Be Lost

Boatwright said Thursday that Seymour would lose his vote on the bills if he removes the provision prohibiting the use of state funds for construction of the roads. He said it would be unfair to use state money to build an Orange County toll road at a time when Bay Area officials are about to raise bridge tolls in that region to pay for new bridges.

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“He put that in at my request and it passed with only my vote. Obviously, I’ll oppose the bill,” Boatwright said.

Seymour said the loss of Boatwright’s vote, and possibly other votes, will make it “much more difficult” to win approval for his measures in the Assembly, where he already had expected to have a hard time.

“It’s an uphill battle,” he said. “But it’s better to take that chance and do it now than wait until next year. We’re so close, we’re better off taking our best shot.”

Bonds Jeopardized

Without the legislation, Seymour said, the transportation agencies probably would be unable to sell the bonds needed to finance construction of the toll roads. He said the bond sales were scheduled tentatively for next spring or summer.

Seymour said he sees no reason why Orange County should not be eligible for state funds if they are needed for the toll roads.

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