COUNTYWIDE : New Rules Stress Regional Planning

The new year may see local governments taking more of a regional approach to managing growth as rules take effect penalizing cities for building projects that severely increase traffic on freeways or on the region's 21 proposed "super-streets."

The regional planning requirements are part of the Orange County Congestion Management Program, which cities and the county adopted last summer to meet a state requirement. The state law requires all urban counties to define important regional highways in the county and detail traffic congestion problems.

If a city or the county then approves a building project that makes the traffic on one of the roadways worse, the state can withhold gasoline tax money for that city or county until improvements bring traffic flow back to an acceptable level, said Lisa Burke, manager of planning for the Orange County Transportation Authority.

Each year, the county will measure traffic on freeways and super-streets to check whether traffic has become too congested. Stretches of those roadways that are already defined as extremely congested, however, will be exempt from the requirements.

Under the law, which went into effect Wednesday, the county and cities must conduct a traffic impact analysis for any large project that would increase traffic on the freeways or the super-streets, Burke said. A large project is one that generates 2,400 or more trips a day, or one in which there is direct access to a super-street.

The idea behind the Congestion Management Plan is to force cities to think regionally when approving development, Burke said. The plan will make it harder for cities to approve projects that might have little impact on their municipality but will increase traffic for neighboring cities, she said.

"The freeways and the super-streets cross city boundaries, so cities are forced to take larger perspectives on their land-use decisions and their transportation decisions," she said.

The only recourse a city had before the law was to sue a neighboring city for approving a building project that created regional traffic problems, Burke said.

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