Here are our top 10 transportation stories as we look in our rearview mirror of 2009.
What do you think were the top stories of 2009 and your predictions for 2010?
No. 1 Underneath a banner that proclaimed "Getting to Work," officials and constructions workers grabbed shovels in November to break ground on the $59.5-million project that will relieve congestion and ease a chronic traffic bottleneck along the Riverside Freeway (SR-91). This groundbreaking event signaled the long-awaited start of Orange County's largest federal stimulus transportation project that will build a new 6-mile eastbound lane from Anaheim to Corona. The widening project will add capacity on the eastbound SR-91 freeway between the Eastern Toll Road (SR-241) and the Corona Freeway (SR-71).
Shovels Break Ground on Riverside Freeway
"This project was ready to move forward when the funding for construction dried up. If it weren't for the federal funds through the stimulus program, this project would not be moving forward today," said OCTA Board Member Curt Pringle. "This is a huge benefit to our entire community. This investment will have a huge impact on many lives."
The project is funded primarily with $47.9 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) provided additional state funding of $5 million and OCTA contributed $6.6 million from 91 Express Lanes toll revenues.
Bus Service Reductions Necessary To Offset Budget Crisis
Due to major cuts in state funding and significant drops in sales tax and fare revenues, the OCTA board of directors voted in November to eliminate 150,000 annual hours of bus service beginning in March 2010 through a combination of eliminating routes, reducing bus frequency, restructuring routes and reducing trips.
"Everybody has been affected by these changes, seniors, people riding ACCESS buses, students from high school to college, mothers with children," Director Art Brown said. "This is something the board does not want to do. If we had our way, we wouldn't cut a minute of bus service."
The board action means that since September 2008, OCTA has reduced 20 percent of bus service — a total of 383,000 annual revenue vehicle hours — to bring service in line with available revenue. OCTA faces a more than $330 million shortfall over the next five years.
High-Speed Rail Plan Goes Full Speed
From vision to reality, high-speed rail in California and the nation took off full-speed ahead in 2009.
After the passage of Prop 1A last year, the California High-Speed Rail Authority had a major edge with public support to move forward. Then came the $8 billion available from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). With OCTA's $7 million contribution to environmental work on the Anaheim to Los Angeles segment, high-speed rail gained a significant lead over any other segment in the nation, and stands a good chance to receive stimulus funds.
California requested $4.7 billion in ARRA funds for the entire Anaheim to San Francisco system. The Anaheim to Los Angeles segment could receive up to $2 billion, which would be matched with funds from Prop 1A for a fully funded project.
The 27-mile segment would connect to Anaheim via a new transit center, the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center. The station is currently in the environmental phase with construction anticipated to begin in 2011 and the station operational in mid-2013.
Goodbye Art Leahy, Hello Will Kempton
The OCTA family said goodbye to Art Leahy at the end of March as he left his post as OCTA's CEO to head the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
A few months later, OCTA welcomed the former head of Caltrans, Will Kempton as he took the reins as the new CEO in August.
Kempton, a 35-year veteran of the transportation industry, brings to OCTA a broad understanding of transportation programs and policies that span the ranks of government from local to the federal level.
"I am impressed with this organization, the board and its employees," said Kempton during an information session in his first week as CEO. "I come to OCTA with my eyes wide open, this agency has a great can-do attitude. The board members are terrific. They are engaged and involved. I am excited about the opportunity to serve in Orange County."
Underneath a banner that proclaimed "Getting to Work," officials and constructions workers grabbed shovels in November to break ground on the $59.5-million project that will relieve congestion and ease a chronic traffic bottleneck along the Riverside Freeway (SR-91).
This groundbreaking event signaled the long-awaited start of Orange County's largest federal stimulus transportation project that will build a new 6-mile eastbound lane from Anaheim to Corona.
The widening project will add capacity on the eastbound SR-91 freeway between the Eastern Toll Road (SR-241) and the Corona Freeway (SR-71).
Bus Fares Increase Due to Economic Short Fall
The OCTA board of directors voted unanimously to raise bus fares beginning in January 2009.
Regular bus fare increased by a quarter to $1.50 a trip, day passes went up $1 to $4, a one-way senior trip increased 10 cents to 60 cents and senior day passes increased 25 cents to $1.25.
"The OCTA has experienced a 185-percent increase in fuel costs since 2005, and the agency's bus operating budget has experienced an $18-million shortfall," said Chris Norby, former chair of the OCTA board.
"That gap could increase to more than $30 million, depending on whether the state's multi-billion dollar budget gap is resolved."
Keeping Pedestrians Safe - Undercrossing Opens in Orange
A new pedestrian undercrossing at the Orange Depot opened in August to pedestrians. The undercrossing allows passengers safer access to trains without having to cross the railroad tracks.
The city of Orange and OCTA hosted a community celebration to commemorate the opening and celebrate the city's important historic milestones depicted on a art instillation in the undercrossing.
"Between 1,500 and 2,000 people use that station every day," Director Carolyn Cavecche said. "Safety is an important issue for Metrolink, OCTA and the city of Orange," who worked together to complete a much-needed safety improvement to historic Old Towne Orange.
Crews constructed the $8-million underpass on budget and delivered the safety enhancement in just over one year.
Orange County Sign Unveiled on Santa Ana Freeway
Are we there yet? If you're heading south into Orange County on the Santa Ana Freeway (I-5), the question just got a whole lot easier to answer. OCTA unveiled a new monument sign in July welcoming visitors and signaling to locals that they have left Los Angeles and are in Orange County.
"Orange County has long ago broken away from its rural and suburban roots and transformed into a distinct metropolitan area and the monument sign is an excellent way to show the unique character of our county," said OCTA Chairman Peter Buffa.
Standing nearly 20 feet tall, the sign was installed as part of the I-5 Gateway Project. OCTA is among 48 agencies around the state that are participating in Caltrans' gateway monument pilot project, which aims to define and signify the character of individual locations throughout the state.
Imperial Highway Grade Separation Completed
Completed in December, nearly one year ahead of schedule, the Imperial Highway (SR-90) grade separation project widened and separated Imperial Highway from the existing railroad at the Esperanza Road and Orangethorpe Avenue intersection in Anaheim and Yorba Linda.
The grade separation eliminates wait time caused by passing trains for the 46,000 drivers that use the road every day.
The community has benefited from the project with improved pedestrian accessibility and reduced noise because trains will no longer routinely sound their horns as they pass through Imperial Highway.
Imperial Highway is the first among multiple grade separation projects occurring in the county during the coming years.
OCTA Welcomes K-9 Transit Cop 'Foose'
Foose, a bomb-sniffing dog with the Orange County Sheriff's Department, became part of the first K-9 unit for OCTA in February.
The 2-year-old chocolate Labrador was brought in to work for OCTA thanks to the Department of Homeland Security and a $25,000 grant. Foose's mission: to sniff out suspicious packages on buses and rails. The transit K-9 unit also assists with other bomb-squad activity throughout the county.
Sheriff's officials say that bomb threats are not a big problem in Orange County, but that the new K-9 unit would help make the sheriff's department more visible. Foose and his partner, Deputy Timm Pusztai, started working together last December.
Technology Improves Communications for OCTA
In the past year, OCTA has harnessed creative ways to reach customers through new technologies.
In November, OCTA launched Text 4 Next, enabling bus riders to use their cell phones to get the next three scheduled times the bus will arrive at their stop.
The OCTA Web site received a makeover in September, with improved navigation and new interactive tools. By providing improved navigation along with detailed information on all projects and programs, customers will find it easier to access information about their transportation needs.
Social media played an important part in OCTA projects this year. From creative messaging to providing media coverage at the SR-91 groundbreaking event, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube were cost-effective tools that conveyed important messages to OCTA's customers and stakeholders.