OCTA CEO: Speeding up projects, maximizing environmental benefits

Posted on June 28, 2011 by Will Kempton

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.”

View comments or post a comment on this story. (1 Comment)

More Transit Dispatches Blog Posts

April 18, 2017

The Road to the Next Generation of Mobility

Today, in cities and towns across the country, mayors, city commissioners, governors, state legislatures, and even the President, are looking for ways to make our nation’s highways, roads, bridges, airports, public transit systems, and other key pieces of infrastructure once again the envy of the world.

April 5, 2017

From Mobility to Emergencies: Public Transit's Role

Transit’s role as a public service is much more than driving millions of riders — many of whom have no other transportation option — every day. Mass transit authorities can often be called upon to assist during an emergency event.

March 22, 2017

How Cities Are Embracing Streetcars Once Again

The streetcar might seem like a transit method of the past, but look at some of the major metropolitan areas in the U.S. — Portland, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Tucson, Atlanta, Dallas, Washington D.C. and Orange County — and it’s clear that cities are starting to embrace the streetcar once again. While it’s one cog in the wheel of a comprehensive transit system, streetcar systems can act as a boon for economic development, and a powerful tool for revitalizing sagging corridors and attracting the much-sought after talent of a young, hip workforce who choose to reduce, delay, or completely forego car ownership.

March 16, 2017

Breaking the mold in the quest for the ultimate connected city

Transportation should be viewed like a smartphone. It should allow everyone to be connected to opportunities throughout the rest of society, at reasonable and low cost. And a ride-hailing partnership with transit is a crucial example of how local governments can catch up and be responsive in a fast-moving world of technology-driven transportation options.

March 7, 2017

Untangling the jumbled path towards the ultimate connected city

Smartphone owners feel connected much of the time, for better or worse. But shouldn’t that be the goal for physical movement as well, to be literally that connected — with a transportation system that could take one anywhere at any time? That’s a big ask. But what’s exciting is how realistic the vision is for cities that dramatically alter outdated transportation planning.

See More

Post a Comment

Post Comment

Comments (1)

More From The World's Largest Fleet Publisher

Automotive Fleet

The Car and truck fleet and leasing management magazine

Business Fleet

managing 10-50 company vehicles

Fleet Financials

Executive vehicle management

Government Fleet

managing public sector vehicles & equipment

TruckingInfo.com

THE COMMERCIAL TRUCK INDUSTRY’S MOST IN-DEPTH INFORMATION SOURCE

Work Truck Magazine

The number 1 resource for vocational truck fleets

Schoolbus Fleet

Serving school transportation professionals in the U.S. and Canada

LCT Magazine

Global Resource For Limousine and Bus Transportation

Please sign in or register to .    Close