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OCTC Will Devise Plan to Unify Transit Authorities

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Times Staff Writer

Prodded by a survey showing that 50 community leaders do not know who is in charge of transportation matters in Orange County and by a recommendation from a citizens advisory group, a county transportation panel launched an effort Monday that could lead to the creation of a single countywide transportation authority.

The Orange County Transportation Commission voted unanimously to devise a plan within 30 days to consolidate the OCTC and three other countywide transportation districts and agencies. Under one such plan, a single agency would have jurisdiction for the entire system, perhaps even across city lines, to better coordinate transportation.

“We’re in the last days of the 20th Century, and we’re using a transportation planning system more suited to the 19th Century,” said Supervisor Roger R. Stanton, an OCTC member and one of the three commissioners who will spearhead the consolidation discussion.

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Stanton said he has already heard of “lobbying efforts” by city officials who are “trying to convince people that (consolidation) is not the way to go.” Stanton characterized such opposition as “turf battles” launched by officials who fear their power will be eroded.

The agencies that could be combined are the Orange County Transit District, Orange County Transportation Corridor Agencies and the Consolidated Transportation Service Agency.

Arguments for, Against

According to an OCTC staff report presented to the commission before its vote, consolidation would:

- “Clarify who is in charge of transportation policy and result in greater clarity and public accountability in transportation decisions.”

- “Help streamline bureaucracy, cut costs and minimize the conflict and delays.”

Among the arguments against consolidation, according to the report:

- Adequate accountability to the public already exists.

- Red tape would be only minimally reduced.

- Consolidation will not necessarily lead to greater cooperation among jurisdictions.

Stan Oftelie, OCTC executive director, said that if an agreeable plan for consolidation is worked out, a bill authorizing it could be introduced in the Legislature next year.

Preliminary Step

Stanton said the action approved Monday is a preliminary step. Any form of consolidation would depend upon whether cities and the agencies involved support it.

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“We’re not even close to having something we can talk to people about for their consideration,” Stanton said. “Maybe what we will come up with is 50 different versions of a plan.”

To ease the way for discussion, OCTC members agreed to distribute to city councils and mayors of all 27 Orange County cities a report detailing pro and con arguments, providing background on a transportation agency consolidation effort in Los Angeles County, and summarizing the community leaders poll.

The poll was conducted in December and January by Research Network Ltd. of Laguna Hills for the OCTC. The poll takers found that the 50 handpicked respondents--supervisors, other county officials, Orange County Assembly members, building industry representatives, slow-growth activists, leaders of business and homeowner groups--are frustrated by a “glaring absence of a perceived authority figure or body which could be held accountable for transportation issues, decisions and courses of action now being made by a number of key entities.”

One irate respondent, not knowing whom to blame for the county’s traffic and transportation problems, suggested “reviving public hangings to encourage responsive, rapid and effective remedies of transportation problems from the responsible governing body.”

The survey did not ask directly about consolidation, however, nor did respondents suggest it.

The idea, which has been raised before, came up most recently in a recommendation by a citizens advisory committee that devised a far-reaching county growth management plan linking development to the availability of adequate roads and other public facilities.

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‘Traffic Gridlock’

The OCTC had already been considering consolidation. OCTC member Irv Pickler had suggested at its July 25 meeting that the commission staff prepare a report on proposals.

In the poll, more than half the respondents said they think the county is headed for what the poll taker described as “a traffic gridlock.” Two-thirds said they think the Board of Supervisors is the body most responsible for solving the county’s traffic problems.

Stanton, one of three supervisors on the seven-member commission (others are board Chairman Harriett M. Wieder and Thomas F. Riley, who is OCTC chairman), said the supervisors actually have relatively little authority over traffic planning.

The OCTC, said commission spokesman Tom Fortune, has general coordinating responsibility in the county, particularly for intra-city main streets and freeways. The commission also allocates some money for projects.

Division of Responsibilities

Fortune said the other three countywide transportation agencies have the following responsibilities:

- Orange County Transit District--County bus system, dial-a-ride programs for commuters, bus and car-pool lanes on freeways, private van pools.

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- Orange County Transportation Corridor Agencies (San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency and Foothills-Eastern Transportation Agency)--Finances and coordinates work on three planned transit corridors. (The agencies share staff members but have different boards of directors.)

- Consolidated Transportation Service Agency--Provides transportation to the elderly and the handicapped.

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