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O.C. Puts Road, Rail Projects on Transit Tax List

Times Staff Writer

Proposals to unsnarl traffic on Orange County’s freeways, along with a major expansion of commuter rail service, were among the projects recommended Friday for an upcoming sales tax initiative that could raise nearly $12 billion for local transportation improvements.

After months of study, a committee of Orange County Transportation Authority board members unveiled its funding priorities for a proposed extension of Measure M, the county’s half-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax used for road and transit projects.

If passed, the initiative would extend the sales tax from 2011 to 2041 and provide about $5 billion for highways, $4 billion for local streets and roads and $3 billion for public transit.

“This is a balanced program of what needs to be done in the county for the next three decades,” said Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, an OCTA board member who chairs the agency’s Measure M committee.

The ballot initiative could go before voters as early as next November if a majority of the Board of Supervisors and cities representing most of the county’s population agree.

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The recommendations, which will be considered by the OCTA board Jan. 9, call for widenings, new interchanges and on- and off-ramps to every major freeway in Orange County coupled with a significant expansion of rail and transit services.

Committee members earmarked about $1.5 billion to widen the congested Riverside Freeway from the Riverside County line to the Costa Mesa Freeway, while $1 billion would go for improving Interstate 5 in south Orange County.

An additional $800 million was recommended to upgrade the San Diego Freeway between Irvine and Los Angeles County. Improvements also are slated for the increasingly congested Costa Mesa Freeway and heavily used interchanges such as the Interstate 5 at the Costa Mesa Freeway and the Orange Crush, where the Orange, Garden Grove and Santa Ana freeways meet.

The $3 billion pegged for local streets and roads represents a doubling of the current Measure M funding. Cities and the county can use the money for maintenance, new pavement, widenings, intersection upgrades and synchronizing traffic signals.

Committee members recommended that transit dollars be used to expand the Metrolink commuter rail service in Orange County, which now handles about 10,000 passengers a day.

Monte Ward, OCTA’s special projects director, said the authority would like to increase the frequency of rail service, especially to Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. He also said there were plans to extend Metrolink to the planned Great Park in Irvine and the Anaheim Convention Center.

Committee members recommended more specialized bus service for senior citizens and the disabled, including van services, reduced fares and safety improvements at key bus stops.

In addition, the panel earmarked about $240 million to help reduce pollution from storm water runoff.

Committee members decided to leave a number of controversial, expensive or partly conceived projects out of the proposed ballot measure, which requires a two-thirds majority to pass. Committee members said they did not want to include any project that might undermine support for the measure.

Among them is a highway tunnel through the Santa Ana Mountains that would link Orange and Riverside counties. The project is estimated to cost at least $6 billion, and political opposition to it is growing.

Also left out were plans to extend the Orange Freeway down the Santa Ana River to the San Diego Freeway, extending the terminus of the Costa Mesa Freeway in Costa Mesa to near Pacific Coast Highway, and creating a route linking the San Joaquin Hills and Foothill Eastern toll roads.


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