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Airport Project May Save by Not Building Freeway Ramps

Times Urban Affairs Writer

A key official managing the embattled $310-million John Wayne Airport expansion program said Thursday that the project may save $16 million by not building two planned freeway access ramps at MacArthur Boulevard.

Richard Begley, project director for Irvine-based HPV Inc., the firm managing the airport expansion program, said new traffic estimates indicate that the planned overhead-access ramps at MacArthur would be severely under-utilized. Adding lanes to the existing ramps will adequately handle expected traffic volumes for many years, he said.

The special overhead ramps have been scheduled for construction after the new passenger terminal opens in 1990, assuming traffic volumes grow significantly. The overhead ramps are listed as a traffic-reduction measure in the airport project’s environmental impact report.

But Begley said Thursday that the ramps may never be needed because of a second set of ramps that will carry airport users directly to and from the Costa Mesa Freeway. Those ramps--now under construction--will reduce the amount of traffic using MacArthur Boulevard, easing concern about traffic jams there, Begley said. The interchange of the Costa Mesa and San Diego freeways is just north and west of the airport.

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Previous traffic studies were completed before it was decided to build a northbound ramp linking the airport directly with the Costa Mesa Freeway and took into account only the beneficial effects of a similar southbound ramp. The result, said Begley, was that the earlier studies overstate the amount of traffic that will be using MacArthur in front of the airport.

Newport Beach officials, who in 1985 settled a legal dispute with the county by limiting the size and passenger-handling capacity of the new terminal in exchange for accepting additional flights, reacted cautiously Thursday.

“It is important to the city that all of the traffic mitigation measures be utilized,” said Ken Delino, assistant to the city manager. “But as for cutting any single mitigation measure, we’d have to sit down and examine it.”

Saving $16 million in San Diego Freeway ramp construction would reduce the cost of the airport expansion program to a level below its original $300-million target. Just this week, however, the Board of Supervisors increased the airport expansion budget to $310 million because of cost overruns.

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Previous overruns have included higher-than-expected construction costs for the new passenger terminal. Airport officials responded by reducing the use of marble, steel and other materials in order to cut $10 million.

But Begley acknowledged Thursday that he could not simply remove the $16-million item from the official budget because the ramps are listed on the environmental impact report as a necessary mitigation measure, and if airport area traffic volumes were to exceed expected levels, the ramps might be mandated.

Begley said he was using the San Diego Freeway ramp project as an example to show that recent concern about the airport expansion program’s rising costs may be justified, but it also has been exaggerated. Begley stood by his earlier statements that the expansion program is progressing on schedule and on budget, despite contractors’ claims that the current construction schedule will be difficult, if not impossible, to meet.

The new passenger terminal is scheduled to open in April, 1990.

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A Dec. 21 meeting is scheduled between HPV, airport officials, Taylor Woodrow Construction Co. and steel suppliers to iron out disputes over the schedule, Begley said.

Architect Blames Consultants

Begley’s effort at political damage control follows last week’s newspaper ads by airport architect Leason Pomeroy. In the ads, Pomeroy’s firm complained of having been unfairly singled out for criticism on the passenger terminal project, in which construction bids exceeded the county’s $41-million budget by $18 million. Pomeroy has blamed the problem on consultants.

Some of the extra cost for the terminal has been offset by savings on other parts of the expansion project that are coming in under budget, including the parking garages.

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Still, Pomeroy is embroiled in a dispute about whether his firm and a consultant he hired grossly underestimated the project’s cost or contractors inflated their construction bids.

The Orange County Grand Jury has launched an investigation to determine how the project’s financial problems will affect the traveling public and county taxpayers.


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