O.C.'s Toll Roads Impress State's Legislative Leaders

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The chairmen of both the state Senate and Assembly transportation committees took a helicopter tour of Orange County toll roads Thursday and said they were impressed with what they saw.

"There isn't anything quite like this in the state," Assemblyman Larry Bowler (R-Elk Grove) said following the two-hour tour. "This is tomorrow's technology."

State Sen. Quentin L. Kopp (I-San Francisco) said that he saw the county's toll roads as models for future highways throughout California.

"We don't have any money," he said of the state's traditional practice of financing its crowded highway system through taxes. "This expands the [potential] for future financing."

Thursday's tour was organized at the behest of the Transportation Corridor Agencies, which is constructing three toll roads in south Orange County.

After flying over the TCA's 68 miles of roads--including the 7.5-mile stretch already open between Rancho Santa Margarita and Irvine--the two lawmakers, accompanied by several dignitaries and transportation officials, were taken on a walking tour of the agency's operations center in Irvine. Then, they reboarded the helicopter for an aerial view of the Riverside Freeway's recently opened 91 Express Lanes, touted as the world's first fully automated toll road.

"The transportation community is looking for alternatives," said TCA spokesman Paul Glaab, who organized the tour. "We thought it would be appropriate to invite its leaders down to show them a successful operation."

The tour was part of a three-day swing by the lawmakers through Southern California to view several road projects. Accompanying them on the Orange County portion of the tour were the lead consultants for both their transportation committees, several TCA officials and a representative of Caltrans.

"We are very interested in all available options," said Andrew Poat, Caltrans' chief deputy director. "We don't think that Caltrans should necessarily be the builder any more. We're here to look up close and personal, and duplicate any successes elsewhere."

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