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The second public speaker at Monday’s OCTA highway committee meeting (after Fountain Valley Mayor John Collins’ furious, righteous scolding of OCTA staff for dismissing the official opposition of the six Western cities, which in turn followed OCTA CEO Will Kempton’s lengthy, tendentious presentation extolling the toll lanes option and dismissing the far better Alternative Two) was the fatuous Lucy Dunn of the Orange County Business Council (OCBC.)
Like all the pro-toll-lane speakers – and quite a few popped their heads up at that meeting – she began by lavishing praise on the OCTA in general. It developed into a sort of ceremony whereby you knew where the speaker would end up on the issue. The fame and glory of OCTA spreads across the globe! Transportation agencies everywhere model themselves on OCTA, and gawk in awe at its innovation, competence, and professionalism! There are Third World Countries that wish they were the OCTA! Oh, and Toll Lanes are the wave of the future – please vote for Alternative Three.
But Lucy’s main theme, which was echoed by Toll Trolls on both sides of the dais, was that the public just needed “more education.” If only we all understood that “freeways are not really free,” we would be happy to give up some of our lanes for the larger purpose of OCTA revenue, and maybe even pay those tolls ourselves now and then! Lucy even, generously, offered the services of the OCBC themselves, in the cause of helping “educate” the public on the wonderfulness of toll lanes. Just THINK of all the education OCTA and OCBC could be capable of, once they finally put their heads together!
The Committee Settles Unanimously, Uncomfortably, on Alternative 1
Mayor Quimby already gave you a brief report on this meeting, scooping The Register as usual. As he mentioned, the committee’s non-binding recommendation was for the least expensive, least controversial, Alternative 1 (adding one lane in each direction for $1.3 billion.) It’s also the option that does the least to relieve the traffic in the area; and certain members seemed to think of it as a temporary step toward their coveted toll lanes while others thought of it as a temporary step to the preferable Alternative 2.
This committee of 8 consisted of known Toll Lovers Don Hansen and Paul Glaab, known toll opponents Shawn Nelson and Lorri Galloway (who was out of town), and former ciphers Larry Crandall, Pat Bates, Carolyn Cavecche and Peter Herzog who turned out to oppose Alternative 3 for all the right reasons.
The motion to recommend Alternative 1 was Shawn Nelson‘s, seconded surprisingly by Paul Glaab, who, like Don Hansen, wistfully observed that “the votes are not there” for toll lanes now. Do they expect toll votes to be there at the full meeting this coming Monday? There will be at least three more Toll Lovers there, but I’m thinking Alt 3 is PROBABLY dead; the basic arguments against it (which this blog has been making from the beginning) are too powerful and simple.
As the first Board member to make a statement, Supervisor Pat Bates knocked it out of the park with her observation, echoed later by most of the others, that Toll Lanes would be a betrayal of Measure M2 since they were never mentioned in it, and they would subvert the voters’ trust in OCTA. This sentiment was seconded by Supervisor Nelson when he made his motion. Shawn also brought up the fact that we will soon find out whether federal or state law will force us to turn our 2+ carpool lanes into 3+ carpool lanes, although it’s unclear what bearing that has on which of the three alternatives we should choose.
Orange Mayor and new OC Tax chair Carolyn Cavecche, an opponent of Alternative 3 but not of Toll Lanes in principle, lamented the public relations disaster of the past few months. She explained that the plan to widen the 405 was originally entirely separate from and independent of the idea of creating toll lanes, but that when they morphed together into Alternative 3 they looked a lot like trying to pull a fast one. That made sense.
A couple of things that really struck me, in Kempton’s presentation:
1. We’ve been hearing for months that we have $1.3 billion of our already-paid sales tax money to play with if we don’t add toll revenue, and that Alternative 2, which the people overwhelmingly want, will cost $1.4 billion, and there is just no way we can find that extra $100 million difference.
But one of Kempton’s slides, which he didn’t elaborate on, showed that there are two ways to go about implementing Alternative 2 – the “Design-Bid-Build” option which would cost $1.4 billion, or the “Design-Build” option which would cost only $1.33 billion. I’d like to hear a fuller explanation of what the “Design-Build” option is, but it looks like it would bring the $100 million shortfall down to a much more manageable $30 million. These are the kinds of things that, in their eagerness to steer the Board and the public to Toll Lanes, Kempton and his loyal staff just brush right by and hope remain unnoticed.
and 2. It gets ridiculous the way Kempton exaggerates the virtues and minimizes the faults of Alternative 3, while doing the reverse with Alternative 2. The most infamous example was the “cherrypicking from two different sets of books” that Mayor Quimby documented here back in July. But another example really stood out Monday, when it came to dealing with Seal Beach residents’ resistance to moving/rebuilding their beloved Almond Avenue Sound Wall. According to Kempton on Monday, there are clever ways that the wall problem could be worked around if we build the Alternative 3 Toll Lanes, but if we go with Alternative 2, Seal Beachers are screwed, the Wall will have to go.
Excuse me, that just doesn’t make sense. Why would Alternative 2 be any wider than Alternative 3, up in Seal Beach? (Both adding two lanes in both directions, but Alt 3 creating toll lanes.)
Really, I don’t know if there’s a sensible answer to that, beyond just the fact that OCTA has put all the expertise and ingenuity of their engineering staff into making endless variations of Alternative 3 to make it palatable to the public, while putting NONE of that expertise and ingenuity into making Alternative 2 work. This provokes us to proudly present:
The Orange Juice Option: a “ROBUST Alternative One!”
Combining the ideas of famed traffic engineers myself, Mayor Quimby, Diana Lee Carey, and Supervisor Moorlach, we believe we’ve found a hybrid of alternatives 1 and 2, one that we can afford with our $1.3 billion budget, one that will improve traffic flow nearly as well as the original Alternative 2, while addressing all the biggest concerns of the cities – leaving Costa Mesa’s troubled Fairview Bridge alone, leaving Seal Beach’s Almond Avenue Wall in place, and avoiding the “Seal Beach Snafu” which was written about elsewhere on this blog (i.e., the mess that would’ve happened at the 605 when Alt 2′s new lanes met up with the existing Long Beach Lanes.)
The ticket is this: Two new lanes in both directions between Harbor and the 22. And then, between the 22 and the 605, two lanes going south but ONLY ONE LANE GOING NORTH. No Snafu, fits within the Walls, saves some construction money. Combined with this “Design-Build option,” it should save enough to fit within our budget. We’ll be developing this idea more in the … ugh … three days before Monday’s meeting, and we’ll be presenting it there, and we’re sure that, once OCTA lets go of its Toll Lane Dream, their staff have the brilliance to make this happen!