Orange County Releases Critical Report of Orange County Toll Road Operator, TCA

Sacramento - The Orange County Grand Jury has released a critical review of the Transportation Corridor Agencies, titled “Are They Taking Their Toll On Orange County?” The report concluded that “given the duplicative activities and expenses of both JPAs and the fact that the missions leading to their founding have essentially been accomplished (especially the SJHTCA which finished building its single road in 1998 and other than adding planned expansion lanes, has no other plans whatsoever to expand its route structure), the Grand Jury concludes that as envisioned in the founding legislation, both agencies should concentrate their activities on efficiently operating their network, expediting redeeming all bond debt, and complying with 2005 California Streets and Highways Code section 31245(a) and terminate operations as prescribed in the following section, 31246, hopefully before the current January 15, 2050 and January 15, 2053 bond pay-off dates.

On the release of the Report, Assemblyman Brough commented, “I was interviewed by the Grand Jury last September, but could not talk about the investigation and all along I was the subject of personal attacks by the toll road proponents. The Grand Jury affirmed that “elected officials who have voiced opposition to the TCA have been subjected to negative information campaigns by TCA proponents,” as one of the many missteps by the Agency. The critical report came to a number of findings, but the main one is that TCA should pay down their debt and sunset operations. That should be the sole role of the toll road operator, and the role I have been advocating since June 2017 when I first opposed TCA’s mission creep."

The Report that can be accessed at: https://bit.ly/3ickJ0X offers several key findings:

  • Elected officials who have voiced opposition to the TCA have been subjected to negative information campaigns by TCA proponents
  • The JPA has been operating outside the purview with its charter.
  • The TCA has been and continues to be involved in projects which may be considered beyond its original and currently legislated mandate.
  • With the exception of the repayment of its accumulated debts, there appears to be little if anything in the matter of highway planning, construction, or any county transportation activities the TCA can do that is not already being accomplished by OCTA and/or Caltrans.
  • The Grand Jury knows of one case where a TCA BoD member acted favorably on a TCA contract with a firm where he/she had a personal or political interest. Then too, the Grand Jury finds it curious that over the same time frame, in an almost “Tammany Hall” fashion, any elected official who opposed any action taken (especially those that might limit its scope of activity) by the TCA would at some point immediately thereafter in his or her re-election cycle find that hitherto unknown or from an unexpected quarter discover substantial opposition in the form of withdrawal of recommendations or creation of complaints or withdrawal of funding arising to inhibit their re-election to office. Because of the COVID-19 hiatus, the Grand Jury was unable to investigate these issues further
  • TCA employs political and public relations consultants as a promotional tool to help broaden its scope of activities (to include advertising aimed at improving its public image) that would extend beyond its legislated boundary limits.
  • It was observed that some elected BoD members showed limited knowledge of the agreements and codes that govern the creation and operation of their agency possibly contributing to the potential for poor management and/or leadership.

Here are the key recommendations beginning on Page 43:

  • Should consider refraining from further project planning and construction so that it can focus its entire efforts on paying off the bonds and sun-setting its operations.
  • TCA should no longer use phrases such as “No taxpayer money has been used to construct the toll roads” since taxpayers have paid and are still paying Development Impact Fees and will continue to do so until the bonds are retired.

“The serious concerns as outlined in the Report has left questions if public funds are being responsibly spent and actions taken are understandable and transparent. However, the TCA has a history of refusing oversight and transparency. This is not the first report that has been critical of TCA operations. In 2015, the Grand Jury issued a solvency warning regarding the TCA, questioning that their debt level is excessive based on their revenues, and threatens to render them insolvent. In addition the Pacific Research Institute Report in 2013 said the TCA’s business model has been unsustainable from the start. Extensive changes are simply long overdue to instill greater accountability, transparency and finality to an agency that Orange County taxpayers, who fund this operation, deserve and expect.” concluded Brough.