In stark contrast to the fiscally strapped fields of health and social services, transportation agencies in Orange County will be flush with money in 1991, thanks to the new half-cent sales tax hike ushered in with passage of Measure M in November.
During the coming year, much of that loot will be used to begin planning and drawing up the blueprints for a variety of new projects. But a plethora of orange traffic cones will also begin to pop up, signaling the start of construction work on several freeways and roads.
Perhaps the most notable will be the installation of car-pool lanes along the Orange Freeway. Work will also continue throughout 1991 to widen the Santa Ana Freeway and extend the Costa Mesa Freeway toward the coast. And crews will continue to widen Pacific Coast Highway through Newport Beach and Huntington Beach during the year.
As much as anything, 1991 could be the year of the toll road. Authorities hope to begin work on the San Joaquin Hills tollway between Newport Beach and San Juan Capistrano, but a solid cadre of environmentalists is marshaling their forces to try to block the project. Along the Riverside Freeway, Caltrans and a private firm are gearing up to install a tollway to be built in the median of the traffic-choked highway.
The year will also be a stepping stone toward more frequent rail service in the county. Planning will continue on an expanded commuter rail network linking Orange County and Los Angeles on the existing Amtrak tracks beginning in 1993.
Authorities also will likely award contracts to study and design a 23-mile, $1-billion urban core light-rail system that could resemble a Disneyland-style Monorail. The long-delayed McDonnell Douglas Monorail project linking John Wayne Airport with the company’s planned office complex across the street will be under construction as well.
All the activity, however, will hardly mean that commuters should count on cutting minutes off the drive to work. Experts predict the average commute will get worse before it gets better. All the construction activity means there will be detours and lane closings similar to those that have already restricted Newport Boulevard traffic to one lane in each direction during the Costa Mesa Freeway extension project.
With few exceptions, no major project will be finished by year’s end, and so the key word on the lips of traffic experts is “patience.”
“There’s some pain in going through periods of construction,” Orange County Transportation Commission Executive Director Stanley T. Oftelie said. “1991 will be the year we start making good on the promises we made to voters in 1990.”