South Orange County traffic is getting worse, the Toll Roads can solve it
Traffic in South Orange County is getting worse and everyone knows it. In fact, the Orange County Transportation Authority projects that Orange County traffic delays will increase by 64 percent over the next 18 years. With 14,000 new homes approved for construction, South County leaders must plan to accommodate the tens of thousands of new vehicles destined for our roads. Further, with the nearest trauma center more than 12 miles away from San Clemente and I-5 serving as the only route, South County faces serious public safety risks in the event of a disaster or need for emergency/critical care.
That is why the Transportation Corridor Agencies have brought South County elected officials together to develop solutions with early input from the public. TCA is doing things different than transportation planners have in the past by involving the public before decisions are made, as they are the ones that live the South County traffic nightmare daily. Doubling down on transparency, TCA has consistently made all results, feedback and information about traffic relief planning available to the public, and remains intent on finding a balanced solution for all of South County and not one community over another.
However, it would appear the San Clemente City Council is attempting to impugn the traffic relief effort in which they have long had input and now falsely denigrating the Agency’s finances, successful toll roads, and motives.
The fact is the Toll Roads’ finances are in the best condition ever as evidenced by the recent bond rating upgrades. Add the agency’s strong liquidity and growing reserve fund balances, and one would be hard pressed to find a more viable agency to bring traffic relief, especially one that pays for itself with user tolls and zero taxpayer funds.
Further, TCA’s current highways are designated as Transportation Control Measures by the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the Southern California Association of Governments. This means all its roads help reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the point that without them, the six-county region would be violating air quality compliance and stand to lose tens, if not hundreds of millions, in grant funding for transportation projects, including local projects.
TCA’s innovative practices of developing and managing fiscally and environmentally responsible toll roads have earned the agency the honor of receiving the 2017 Sustainability Award for Outstanding Achievement by SCAG and being named the 2017 Organization of the Year by the California Transportation Foundation.
The San Clemente City Council is fully aware of the truth. After all, they have a seat on the Toll Roads’ Board of Directors. However, they have chosen to trade in “alternative facts” in their baseless attacks.
The broad public input TCA received to date made clear that South County residents, including those in San Clemente, care about three important issues: relieving traffic, protecting Trestles and minimizing the number of homes taken via eminent domain.
Just last week, San Clemente’s City Council launched a frivolous taxpayer-funded lawsuit to reverse the environmental settlement agreement that saved Trestles, putting Trestles at risk and obstructing traffic relief efforts. Meanwhile, families are becoming increasingly impatient with sitting on I-5. This irresponsible move is clearly out of touch with what supporters of Trestles have long hailed a victory. Clearly, the San Clemente City Council opposes the collaboration between transportation and environmental leaders that protects pristine environmental resources and allows us to move forward on traffic relief.
The San Clemente City Council seems more intent on proposing ideas that would threaten the protection of precious environmental resources and most definitely require the widespread use of eminent domain to take homes. In an official letter dated April 4, 2017 signed by Mayor Kathy Ward, they proposed an East-West Beltway encroaching into the communities of Ladera Ranch and San Juan Capistrano. Further, it is now rumored San Clemente council members are discussing major arterial expansions throughout their city behind closed doors. These ideas do nothing to relieve north/south traffic on I-5 and have serious potential to take homes. It should be noted that arterials, with traffic signals, create more emissions from stop-and-go traffic. Plus, who will pay for this? Taxpayers? We believe residents of San Juan Capistrano, Ladera Ranch and San Clemente should demand full transparency of the San Clemente council’s back-room discussions.
While the San Clemente Council’s actions long ago abandoned the mission to relieve traffic for the residents of South County, one must ask: If the policies they champion fail to address I-5 traffic, place Trestles at risk and will take people’s homes; who will benefit from their actions?
Mission Viejo Mayor Pro Tem Ed Sachs is chair of the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency. Irvine Councilwoman Christina Shea is vice chair of the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency.
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