OCTA Thanks Congress for Transportation Bill; Some Language Friendly to Finishing Toll Road

When one author praises another on a book jacket, and the second author then does the same on the first author's tome, that's logrolling. It's a practice that's also common among academics and movie critics. In politics, logrolling happens when political favors are exchanged, even among members of different parties. The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) got into the logrolling game this week when it applauded the $260 billion federal transportation reauthorization bill and, especially, language included that could speed up road construction, including another agency's 241 Foothill-South toll road expansion.

Rep. John Mica
In heaping hosannas on congressional leaders and House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), the OCTA was partly logrolling itself. Many changes in the way things get done that are contained in the massive federal bill are based on recommendations the OCTA presented directly to Mica's committee a February ago.

Keep in mind it was a federal agency that essentially stopped the 241 expansion route preferred by the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) that cuts through San Onofre State Park and part of San Clemente. After gathering emotional testimony at the Del Mar Fairgrounds from those for and against the expansion, the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in December 2008 sided with the California Coastal Commission in advocating a less intrusive route to connect the existing 241 with the 5 freeway in San Clemente.

You can sense the frustration with decisions like that in the OCTA's praise of the federal transportation reauthorization bill this week: "Key provisions in the bill include breaking down bureaucratic barriers to help expedite project delivery and by making the environmental review process more efficient, integrating planning and programming approaches and delegating the responsibility for environmental review to states."

Then came this from OCTA Chairman and Laguna Niguel Mayor Paul Glaab: "Investing in our transportation systems is essential to ensuring our country's prosperity. This bill puts America on the right track to making much-needed transportation improvements while creating jobs that pay well."

Indeed, since the NOAA setback, the TCA has avoided going back to the drawing board to come up with another route more acceptable to the public, environmental groups and government regulators in favor of tying the lack of the route it prefers to nasty issues of the day. Gridlock on the 5 in South County? It wouldn't be there if the toll road extension was there. An inert grenade found on the 5 in South County? If it had been real and blew up the freeway, there would be a viable traffic alternative if the toll road was there. The nuclear reactor tragedy in Japan? What if it had been San Onofre and people needed to evacuate and . . . well, you get the idea.

Will Kempton
But the one area where the transpo geniuses have actually gotten some traction is with jobs. With big ticket infrastructure projects a key to economic recovery preached by a president in the White House, and local, state and federal regulations on building (or anything else, really) considered cancers by conservatives,  TCA CEO Tom Margo, OCTA CEO Will Kempton and OCTA director Peter Buffa found themselves warmly received by members of both parties on Mica's committee on Feb. 15, 2011.

The Orange Countians were there to spread the gospel of their Breaking Down Barriers initiative, a national mission "led by OCTA to expedite project delivery, without sacrificing the environment, and to accelerate the creation of more than 800,000 jobs in the U.S." The local leaders told the congressional leaders we must get rid of governmental redundancies if we are going to move this country forward again.

Fair enough. But some of the testimony they give was aimed squarely at the power of the California Coastal Commission--which House members have no control over--to derail projects. If a different agency approved a project on environmental review, the transportation officials seemed to be saying, why should another be allowed to come up with the opposite conclusions.

Specifically, the Members of Congress were told, the full 241 toll road route has been planned since 1981, the money is there to build it out and workers with shovels, dynamite and earthmovers are just itching to get working. "Not only is this project critical to alleviating congestion in Orange County, but it will create over 34,000 jobs," Margo told the committee, "and it requires no federal or state funding."

But damn if the regulators don't keep getting in the way.

Sponsor Content

Now Trending

From the Vault