LOS ANGELES — A recent opinion poll in Orange County, Calif. found the majority of those surveyed want the Transportation Corridor Agencies to halt plans to extend its toll road network and focus instead on paying down debt early.
The survey of 402 registered voters — sponsored by an opponent of tollway expansion plans in south Orange County — found that 73% of surveyed voters would like to "prohibit the Transportation Corridor Agencies from using toll revenues to build any new toll roads and require it to use toll revenues to speed up payment on the $2.3 billion bond debt, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in interest costs."
The $2.3 billion of debt was issued by the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency to build the existing 36-mile Foothill/Eastern tollway network.
The TCA also manages the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency, a separate toll road.
The survey was commissioned by the California State Parks Foundation and conducted between August 19 and August 24 to gauge the opinion of Orange County voters about the TCA, its plans to build its proposed Tesoro Extension, and its ultimate plans to extend its network through San Onofre State Beach to meet Interstate 5.
The survey, released Sept. 17, found that 78% of voters polled oppose plans to build through San Onofre State Beach.
TCA Spokesman Lisa Telles said the toll road agency dropped plans in April for any alignment that would cut through the park. It has yet to decide on an alignment.
"There is a lot of deception in the poll about the alignment through the park, which isn't even on the table," she said
The poll is asking about something TCA isn't considering, Telles said.
"Orange County voters continue to overwhelmingly oppose the Transportation Corridor Agencies' proposal to build their toll road through San Onofre State Beach — California's fifth most popular state park," said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation.
The Foothill/Eastern agency refinanced its $2.3 billion of bond debt in December 2013 after winning state approval to extend its toll-collecting authority for the roads by 13 years, allowing it to extend the final maturities to 2053.
According to documents posted by TCA on the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board's EMMA site, the December refunding of $2.3 billion of F/ETCA's bonds was supposed to result in interest rate savings, instead it resulted in a $167 million loss.
About 83% of those polled had a negative reaction to TCA extending tolls 13 years longer than planned in order to refinance its bonds. When the bonds are paid off the roads are to be turned over to the California Department of Transportation and no longer charge tolls.
"The projections built into the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency official statement appear to show a build-up of cash reserves," said Tom Vandiver, a partner in the downtown Los Angeles office of Dentons, and head of the law firm's U.S. Public Finance Practice.
Why doesn't TCA use the money it has earmarked for the design, lobbying and construction of the Tesoro extension to retire the debt sooner, Vandiver asked.
Vandiver does not represent the California State Parks Foundation, which commissioned the poll, but said he has argued for "fiscal prudence" related to TCAs operations in the past.
"Neither road has ever met projections," Vandiver said of the Foothill/Eastern and San Joaquin tollways. "Even the restructured debt is still structured using the same theory."