COMMENTARY ON TRANSPORTATION : Exhilarating Roller Coaster Ride on OCTA Is About to End : Successes range from car-pooling to Measure M. Though agency's future is bright, there are still unresolved issues.

Dana W. Reed is the public member of the Orange County Transportation Authority board

Sixty-six months ago, I was chosen to replace a legend.

In 1988, the board of directors of the Orange County Transportation Commission selected me from a field of talented community leaders and transportation experts to replace former congressman, former presidential chief of staff and international businessman James Roosevelt as the public member of the commission.

Jim Roosevelt brought wisdom, dignity and prestige to the old OCTC. I tried to bring energy and enthusiasm to the job.

And for more than 5 1/2 tumultuous years, I've been on a transportation roller coaster that has been exhilarating, challenging, frustrating, fun and productive. It has never been boring. Never. And in the past 5 1/2 years, Orange County's transportation system has been redefined.

As I reflect on the time I have devoted to Orange County transportation, and as I look to the challenges and opportunities ahead, I believe the prosperity of our future is rooted in our successes of the past.

And our transportation future is exceptionally bright.

First, a bit of background. Five years ago, I was chosen as public member of the old OCTC. Two years ago, seven Orange County transportation agencies, including the OCTC, were combined into the Orange County Transportation Authority, the 11th largest special district in the United States.

The OCTA has 1,700 employees, a budget of $700 million and is governed by an 11-member board of directors. Ten members of the board of directors are elected officials, mayors and members of the County Board of Supervisors. They select the one public member. Until I resigned, which is effective Aug. 1, I served as that citizen member.

Throughout my time on the OCTC and the OCTA, I tried to champion causes, argued for issues, and enjoyed myself immensely. And now's the time to take stock and, based on where the OCTA is heading, to give my colleagues and my successor some insight into what should be a great future for Orange County transportation.

First, the highlights:

* In 1990, voters approved Measure M, a 20-year, $3-billion transportation improvement plan that sets a sound foundation for the future. Measure M was a true watershed event, the first time a countywide revenue measure had been successful in Orange County since Dwight Eisenhower's first term in office.

* Overcoming institutional lethargy, we successfully created the OCTA from a variety of transportation agencies. Although the merger was difficult, it was handled smoothly and without the brutal public battles facing a similar merger in Los Angeles County. And the consolidation has had direct financial benefit for taxpayers: More than 145 duplicative or redundant positions have been eliminated and overall savings have passed $50 million. A true success story.

* Orange County began running Southern California's first commuter train. With the acquisition of the Santa Fe railroad right-of-way, a full network of commuter trains will be operational next year.

* Despite guerrilla warfare from a tiny anti-car-pool group, our network of high-occupancy vehicle lanes continues to expand into one of the nation's finest. Coupled with efforts to encourage ridesharing, we're providing a genuine time incentive for car-poolers without penalizing the single-occupant vehicle.

* There are a dozen other accomplishments that I could focus on. The widening of the Santa Ana Freeway. Operating an efficient, cost-effective bus system. The network of solar, cellular call boxes. The freeway service patrol for people who break down on the freeway.

But there are issues in the future, and issues that have not been resolved, which will continue to loom before the OCTA.

Here's a sampling:

Airports: The federal Department of Transportation includes air transportation as well as surface transportation in one strong transportation agency. The future of El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, and the role of the OCTA in air transportation, is an unwritten chapter that will require careful leadership and good judgment to sort out the conflicting interests of citizens, the county and the cities.

The OCTA is the best forum for this type of public dialogue, but powerful interests from each group will attempt to silence the public discussion and control information on this topic. The discussion on this must be open. The public's business must be done in public, not behind closed doors.

Bus fares: People who ride the bus deserve support, not fare increases. Since transportation agency consolidation, OCTA has never raised the basic $1 fare and it should not increase the tab now. The existing transfer program, which is being reviewed, should be scrapped. A $1 fare, without a transfer fee, makes sense for Orange County. The OCTA should strive to find more efficiencies, not to raise fares for the poor and for people who are working to improve our environment by using the bus.

Expand commuter rail: We should not tell people to find alternatives to the single-occupant vehicle--the most destructive part of our transportation system--unless we provide those alternatives. And the commuter rail service linking San Diego and Los Angeles is one of our very best alternatives. We should be impatient to have this service expanded and improved.

Deliver Measure M: The first year of Measure M has been a tremendous success, with a very clear slogan: On time and under budget. We need to keep up the pace of construction and to break ground on the needed improvements to the El Toro Y.

One person, one vote: There are still opportunities for more transportation agency consolidation. The OCTA is exploring becoming the mechanic for county government. The Laguna Beach Municipal Transit Lines are an expensive and probably unnecessary anomaly. It's redundant to have the county's Environmental Management Agency administer a key eligibility requirement of Measure M. But having a board of directors that is not directly accountable to all residents continues to be the most disturbing part of the transportation landscape. No elected official representing Huntington Beach, Seal Beach or Costa Mesa, for example, serves on the OCTA board. That's simply wrong. We need to rethink the board membership guarantee that all citizens are represented equally.

There will be other challenges facing the OCTA and the new public member. The location of an urban rail starter line, expansion of the bus system in a troubled economy and providing equity countywide are some examples.

I believe the OCTA will be up to the challenge.

The greatest challenge will be to continue to improve and be willing to heed the wisdom of people throughout Orange County.

Sixty-six months ago, a legend named Jim Roosevelt talked about those things. Today, that sound advice is my legacy to my successor, whoever she or he may be.

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