Measure M Won't Finance Tollway

The editorial, "Wrong Turn on Measure M" (July 9) focused on the Orange County Transportation Authority's efforts to provide traffic congestion relief on the Riverside Freeway.

Although we both agree that the Riverside Freeway is a high-priority candidate for improvement, the editorial raises questions about private toll lanes on portions of the freeway and our commitment to honoring the promises in Measure M, the half-cent (sales tax) transportation measure approved in 1990. We're keeping our promises.

A little history on this matter may be in order. Before Measure M passed in 1990, the state of California awarded a franchise to build private toll lanes in the median of the Riverside Freeway to the California Private Transportation Co. The 35-year franchise agreement involves all of that freeway in Orange County.

However, the private company planning to build the toll lanes is planning to build its project in the Santa Ana Canyon area between the Riverside County line and the Costa Mesa Freeway.

Against this backdrop, the Transportation Authority hopes to provide more traffic improvements west of the Riverside/Costa Mesa freeways interchange and, on July 13, authorized $16 million to construct public car-pool lanes on the Riverside Freeway between the Costa Mesa and Orange freeways. This authorization was made in agreement with the firm holding the private franchise for new lanes in this area.

As a condition of granting the transportation authority permission to move ahead, California Private Transportation requested an option. This option would allow the private company to "buy out" any public dollars invested in the Costa Mesa Freeway to Orange Freeway stretch before the opening of the planned car-pool lanes to traffic in September, 1995. If the private firm and the OCTA agree to exercise this option, the OCTA would be fully reimbursed for all costs incurred, plus interest.

Additionally, as part of the overall OCTA agreement, express buses and all car pools with three or more passengers will be allowed to ride free in the proposed private toll lanes.

The bottom line? Measure M dollars will not be used to build a private toll road project in Orange County. Construction of traffic relief projects on the Riverside Freeway is scheduled for this fall, not at some point beyond the year 2000. Car pools with three or more passengers will ride free on the private facility, which eventually will be turned over to the state for public use. A true public-private partnership has been put in place to benefit the citizens of Orange County and which should serve as a positive, national model for properly privatizing infrastructure.

STAN OFTELIE, Chief executive officer, Orange County Transportation Authority

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