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Officials Break Ground on 1st Job Funded by Measure M : Transportation: Work on a pair of car-pool lanes on the Orange Freeway is proof that ‘something is happening’ to ease traffic congestion, a Caltrans official says.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Heralding it as the start of a new era for Orange County, transportation officials ceremoniously broke ground Thursday for a pair of car-pool lanes along the Orange Freeway, the first highway project funded by Measure M sales tax revenue approved by voters last November.

With construction work slated to begin in earnest next week, the $24-million project will feature a car-pool lane in each direction in the median of the freeway along a 10-mile stretch between Lambert Road in Brea and the Santa Ana Freeway in Anaheim.

When completed in spring, 1993, the commuter lanes on the Orange Freeway will add yet another link to the county’s growing network of car-pool lanes, which currently stretch for 36 miles in each direction on the San Diego and Costa Mesa freeways.

The lanes also mark the first foray for county transportation officials into funding a highway project with money from Measure M, the watershed proposition that will hike sales taxes by a half-cent beginning April 1, raising more than $3 billion for road and rail improvements during the next two decades.

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“We’re making good on our promise to voters to deliver traffic relief,” declared Dana Reed, chairman of the Orange County Transportation Commission and a chief booster of the ballot measure.

Russ Lightcap, the California Transportation Department’s Orange County district director, said construction of the commuter lanes and other transportation improvements would have been “way off” in the future if not for Measure M. The project, he said, is proof to voters that “something is happening” to ease traffic congestion gripping the region.

Gathered beneath a white tent set up in a parking lot beside the freeway, about 100 dignitaries and guests watched as Reed unleashed an arched cluster of orange, green and baby-blue balloons shaped in the letter ‘M’ to reveal a metal sign reading: “Project Funded by Measure M.”

Reed and others noted that construction of the lanes was coming hot on the heels of Measure M’s approval because local officials had taken care in past years to prepare environmental and engineering documents for the project. In particular, he credited former Brea Councilwoman Clarice Blamer for pushing the project forward.

In January, OCTC sold $49 million in bonds so the car-pool lanes could go forward before the sales tax money begins flowing in next month. The bond money will also go to purchase right of way for a commuter trolley service in western Orange County, widen and improve Beach Boulevard as well as accelerate design of an ambitious new system of transition roads at the infamous El Toro Y and car-pool lanes on the San Diego Freeway in South County.

Work on the Orange Freeway car-pool lanes began March 6, when construction crews began assembling their necessary equipment and the barriers that will be laid out to separate the work from traffic.

The car-pool lanes will occupy the vacant median. They will be divided from general-purpose lanes by a 4-foot buffer space and double-yellow lines.

Officials expect the lanes to help ease the growing congestion on the route, which carries a hefty load of commuters from Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties each day. More than 230,000 cars use the freeway each day, but that number is expected to rise to nearly 300,000 by the year 2010.

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“This 10-mile car-pool lane is another link in the emerging car-pool lane system in Southern California,” Reed said, adding that motorists will be more apt to “double up” if they see “miles and miles of car-pool lanes” between home and work.

Los Angeles County officials are also laying plans to extend the Orange Freeway car-pool lanes north into the San Gabriel Valley.

Joe El-Harake, Caltrans Orange County commuter lanes coordinator, said the additional car-pool lanes, combined with others planned along Interstate 5, will “really make it a system” instead of a fragmented network that does not offer a strong enough allure to some motorists.

“I’m sure,” he said, “a lot of motorists have been waiting for this.”

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Orange County Car-Pool Lanes Construction of car-pool lanes on the Orange Freeway will add another leg to Orange County’srapidly expanding network of the lanes. The $24-million project is just one of several in the works. Commuter lanes are planned or under construction along Interstate 5. A private tollway planned on the Riverside Freeway will be free to car pools.


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