In lieu of bill restricting construction by Orange County toll road agency, state assemblyman wants an audit and more communication
A state assemblyman is pulling back on a bill proposing to limit Orange County’s toll road agency’s ability to construct new roads, but he is seeking a thorough audit of the agency and a clearer definition of its role in regional planning.
Assemblyman Bill Brough, R-Dana Point, sent a letter April 24 saying he was putting his proposed bill on hiatus in the Legislature until next year. Instead, Brough said he wants a complete, external audit of the Transportation Corridor Agencies and more transparency from the agency, such as holding all of its meetings, including ad hoc committees, in public.
The TCA oversees the county’s 241, 261, 133 and 73 toll roads and is studying a variety of scenarios for connecting the 241 to the 5 Freeway, as well as adding travel options in south Orange County. But San Clemente, which is in Brough’s Assembly district, has strongly opposed any connection that would pass through the city.
Brough is asking for regular communication between stakeholders such as TCA and San Clemente to “resolve the toll road conflict.” And he is asking TCA and the Orange County Transportation Authority to “clearly define the planning and operational roles and responsibilities of the respective agencies.”
“We have 1,000 sign-ups a day to this agency. We’re successful. We’re not going bankrupt,” Christina Shea, chair of the TCA’s Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency – which manages the 133, 241 and 261 toll roads, said at the agency’s May 9 meeting. “I find it difficult and it’s very troubling to me to have an elected official in Sacramento who’s pushing to shut down a public agency.”
The assemblyman’s chief of staff, Brent Finkel, said Brough wanted to start working on how to best address constituents’ concerns – which he shares – about the agency and its projects. “At the end of the day, what we would like to see is a solution.”
Brough said previously he proposed the bill to stop what he sees as the TCA’s growing debt and the agency’s shifting mission from a toll road operator to a regional planning agency. The agency has also faced increasing questions over how it spends money, including how much it pays contractors.
The TCA has already arranged an audit by a third party of one of its public relations contracts and has independent audits done annually of its financial statements, CEO Mike Kraman points out in a draft response recently shared with board members. The letter hasn’t been finalized.
Brough is also asking for an audit of TCA’s cost and revenue projections for the 241 connection to the 5. But Kraman said the agency is at least two years away from identifying those numbers, given its formal environmental review has not yet started.
Addressing what Brough sees as disagreements or a lack of communication between the TCA and other entities, Kraman said the agency meets quarterly with cities including San Clemente.
The agency is also having five members that sit on both the TCA and OCTA boards develop a framework to codify how the two agencies can work together, TCA spokeswoman Kit Cole said.
Answering Brough’s call for public ad hoc committee meetings, Cole said some consider sensitive topics such as contractors’ performances that may need to be discussed in private. State law doesn’t require the agency’s ad hoc committees to have their meetings in public, Kraman said.
Brough said he will monitor the progress of actions he’s requested and give updates to constituents monthly. If his requests are not fulfilled by Dec. 1, Brough said he may resurrect his proposed bill in January 2020.