Will a wider freeway mean more room for the arroyo toads? Can an added carpool lane help save the Coastal California Gnatcatchers? Could improving on-ramps and off-ramps lead to the preservation of chaparral and oak woodland communities?
Through a unique partnership between Orange County’s environmental community, state and federal wildlife agencies, and the Orange County Transportation Authority’s (OCTA) Measure M2 (M2) program, the answer is yes.
In the last month, approximately 900 acres have been preserved through OCTA’s Environmental Mitigation Program, which protects the county’s natural resources while adhering to the promise made to voters to implement 13 freeway projects as part of M2, a half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements approved in 2006.
The early acquisitions have been made possible with the OCTA board’s leadership and vision in advancing a suite of the most critical projects before the actual start of the M2 sales tax collection. Advancing these projects along with the Environmental Mitigation Program, enabled OCTA to stimulate the economy with construction-related jobs and acquire mitigation properties at a low point in the real estate market, thereby maximizing the amount of properties that would be acquired.
In accordance to the promise made to Orange County voters, approximately 5 percent of the M2 freeway program revenue — estimated at more than $150 million — is being set aside for habitat preservation and restoration throughout the county.
This collaborative endeavor, supported by more than 30 conservation and community groups, represents a new way of thinking in terms of developing freeway projects and mitigating the environmental impacts of the improvements. Using the traditional model, OCTA would have developed 13 separate plans to offset the biological impacts of each freeway project. While effective, the process is time-consuming, costly and a piecemeal approach that is not conducive to the preservation of wildlife and habitat.
Using a proactive, innovative approach, a master agreement was negotiated and executed between OCTA and state and federal resource agencies to provide higher-value environmental benefits such as habitat protection, wildlife corridors and resource preservation in exchange for streamlined project approvals for the freeway program as a whole.
With significant dialogue and input from the environmental community — including the creation of an Environmental Oversight Committee — a process was developed to identify potential properties throughout the county with high biological values. Land owners were then approached to determine whether they were interested in willingly selling their land as part of the program. The properties of interested landowners were evaluated and ranked based on the value of their natural resources and the property’s conservation value in a regional context. A priority list of properties was developed and OCTA is currently in the process of negotiating and purchasing land.
OCTA purchased the first property in late April, 84 acres nestled next to the Cleveland National Forest. This Saddle Creek South property is an iconic California landscape, rich with live oak woodlands, coastal sage scrub, chaparral and riparian habitat. It is also home of two sensitive species: the Coastal California gnatcatcher and the intermediate mariposa lily.
Three more purchases of 296 acres in north Orange County (Hayashi), 399 acres (Ferber Ranch) and 119 acres in southeast Orange County (O’Neill Oaks) have followed as OCTA works to not only plan for the county’s future transportation needs but serves as a steward of our natural resources as well.
Dan Silver of the Endangered Habitats League and a member of the Environmental Coalition that supported the ballot initiative summed it up well: “The Measure M2 Environmental Mitigation Program is a creative partnership that serves interest across the board. Orange County remains a leader in recognizing the importance of open space as vital infrastructure in its own right.”
There is an epidemic of safety accidents, absenteeism and high turnover among transit’s front line employees and it’s bleeding the transportation industry billions of dollars. But the inoculation may be closer than you think. Employee engagement is the best immunization for what’s ailing the industry.
Video surveillance technology is a vital component to transit and rail operations as agencies recognize the value such solutions offer. A comprehensive system does more than deliver high quality video and audio recordings. Supporting data and software tools increase the efficiency of agencies’ video management operations, substantiate liability claims and investigations, and promote safety for both passengers and operators alike.
In case you missed it, Pope Francis visited America — and was followed by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims during his stops in Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia. It’s fitting, given Pope Francis’ penchant for public transportation, that transit played a key role in taking the masses to papal visit activities.
A transit authority’s website, contact center tools and social media are all critical touch points for customers as they engage with transit agencies. At this stage in the relationship, the focus should be on informing and educating prospective customers so they have the incentive to provide their demographic information (e.g. email address, cell phone number, social media contact, etc.).
Typically, when riding the rails in the Philadelphia region, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority customers can purchase daily, weekly or monthly passes — even onboard tickets — for their journeys. But the weekend of Sept. 26 to 27 will be far from a typical weekend in Philadelphia — Pope Francis will be in town, along with an estimated 1.5 to two million people attending public events along the city’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway.