Do those wide open roads actually give OC residents the gift of time? (Ashley Ludwig, Patch Staff Photo)
MISSION VIEJO, CA — Last week, community member Shawn Gordon researched and reported on the Orange County toll roads, begging the question if the Transportation Corridor Agencies and Toll Roads had outlived their usefulness.
Here is a response to that report in Op-Ed by former Mission Viejo Mayor. Ury also has served as a member of the Board of Directors for the Orange County Transportation Authority.
350,000 motorists use the Orange County Toll Roads every day. Imagine if you shoe-horned those hundreds of thousands of vehicles into our city streets and I-5 freeway. Whether you use The Toll Roads or not, we all benefit from the fact the roads are there.
Americans love to have a choice. Every day as we leave home to go to work or school, we make a choice of whether we value time or the few dollars it takes to use The Toll Roads. I know some people who rarely use The Toll Roads, but just having the option there gives them peace of mind.
Many of my friends and neighbors recognize that the one thing we can’t buy back is time. Whether it’s their son’s little league game, their daughter’s dance recital or just getting home in time to make dinner and help with homework, family time is valuable. Without The Toll Roads, that time would be lost forever.
We chose to live in South Orange County because of the quality of life we enjoy here. It’s hard to enjoy that quality of life when you’re sitting in traffic on the freeway.
The Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA), whose board is made up of local elected officials from 18 cities and the County of Orange, has built 51 miles of highways so that we have alternative routes to our city streets and the I-5 freeway. TCA remains at work on traffic relief projects at the north end with the 241-91 Express Lanes connector in the environmental review process and at the south end by funding the Oso Bridge and Los Patrones Parkway projects, which are both under construction.
TCA is also one of the most financially responsible government agencies in California. At their last board meeting, the board voted unanimously to pay off the agency’s pension liability and saved more than $2 million in interest. Five years ago the agency took advantage of historically low interest rates to refinance the $2.3 billion in bond debt incurred to fund the construction of the roads. Since that refinance, all three major credit agencies upgraded the credit rating of TCA.
What does that strong financial position mean for commuters? It means the agency can keep tolls lower since they have more time to pay back the bonds it took to build the roads in the first place. Remember, these roads were not built by tax dollars, they were built by borrowing money through bonds that need to be paid back through tolls. It is critical that our local elected officials maintain local control of our Toll Roads.
The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) is doing their part by adding lanes and improving interchanges on the I-5 freeway in South Orange County. Measure M2 – now known as "OC GO" – is the half-cent sales tax that funds transportation improvements throughout the county. But with more and more people buying online, sales tax revenue is down and OC GO funds are in shorter supply than ever, yet our traffic relief needs are still very real. SB1 or "the Gas Tax" also provides transportation funding, but California is a big state and Orange County has always been a donor county, which is why we have investing in building and repairing our own infrastructure without waiting for the state.
TCA has both the financial strength and resources to step in and provide funding for needed transportation improvement projects to keep commuters on the move. While we still have transportation improvement projects yet to be built, we are literally moving in the right direction. TCA is doing a good job of living up to their core mission of enhancing regional mobility for Orange County and they are doing it in a fiscally responsible way.
Frank Ury is a former Mayor of Mission Viejo and served on the Board of Directors for the Orange County Transportation Authority.
Read also: Allegations of Toll Road Mismanagement Prompt Calls For Change
If you would like to contribute your opinion, or share information about your town, sign up for a free membership to Patch.com.