Freeway construction and major state highway projects in Ventura County are at a virtual standstill because of a continuing "mess" in the way that the California Department of Transportation is run, a state legislator charged this week.
Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) singled out his fellow Republican, Gov. George Deukmejian, for much of the blame in delays in completing major road-building projects in the county.
The most urgently needed state highway projects in Ventura County include a freeway connection for state highways 118 and 23 and conversion of both those highways as well as California 126 to "full-service" freeway status, McClintock said.
"Highway 126 is a lazy rural road, now carrying metropolitan traffic with a high accident rate, that should have been a freeway long ago," McClintock said. "Highway 118 was also supposed to have been a freeway by now, but that's been on hold since the 1970s."
McClintock, who annually submits legislation to lower the pay of highway workers and argues that the state should do away with mandatory minority contracting policies for highway construction, said Deukmejian shares blame for the present "mess" because he has avoided a confrontation with Caltrans.
"One of the biggest failures of the Deukmejian Administration is that they have not broken from the policies of former Gov. Jerry Brown and Adriana Gianturco," the former Caltrans director, McClintock said. "I don't see the kind of renaissance in road construction that the governor promised when he was elected."
McClintock, speaking to reporters at a lunch in Camarillo, said he thinks that Deukmejian is avoiding a confrontation with highway construction unions and Caltrans administrators because he is a "lame-duck governor" who wants to avoid controversy during his remaining year in office.
"If he wanted to cross the unions and deal with the prevailing wage of $23.50 an hour for highway workers, he could restore Caltrans and change the course of California for the next generation," McClintock said.
McClintock's comments brought a sharp rejoinder from Deukmejian's press secretary, Kevin Brett, who said the governor has already spent twice as much as Brown on highway construction and is leading the campaign for a ballot issue next year that would allocate $18.5 billion over 10 years for highways and mass transit.
Deukmejian has outspent Brown on highway construction by almost $2 billion, Brett said. He said that Brown spent $1.73 billion during his years as governor, and that Deukmejian has already spent $3.97 billion in construction contract awards.
Brett said Deukmejian's $18.5-billion transportation package, scheduled as a ballot issue for June, would include provisions to reduce the overhead at Caltrans.
"This has been a very pro-active Administration on highway construction," Brett said. "The governor has nothing to be defensive about."
McClintock said he is also lobbying Assembly leaders to provide at least two new municipal court commissioners for Ventura County to help reduce a criminal case backlog that recently forced dismissal of 10 cases.
The appointment of additional commissioners would be more politically practical than trying to add new judges as long as a Republican is governor, McClintock said. He said Democrats in the Legislature are withholding support of new judges pending the next election, but would have no say on the selection of commissioners, who are chosen by the courts.
McClintock said that Ventura County needs at least four new commissioners and that he is optimistic that the county will get at least two in the next few months.