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    Regional transportation plan critical to Orange County’s future
    • February 21, 2024

    Regional transportation planning is about more than reducing traffic congestion. It’s about economic viability, equity, air quality and, ultimately, where and how we live.

    It’s also true that the mobility and quality-of-life challenges we face do not end, or begin, at the county line, which is why the Connect SoCal 2024 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy is so important to our future. A draft version of the plan, developed by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), provides a long-term vision for how Orange County and its neighbors to the east, west and north can thrive in the decades ahead.

    The plan identifies $750 billion in transportation strategies and improvements for the six-county SCAG region over the next quarter-century. Among the projects listed, 219 are located here in Orange County, including a master plan for arterial highways ($8.1 billion), a countywide bikeways network ($3 billion), mixed-flow and high-occupancy toll lane additions on Interstate 405 ($2 billion) and the OC Streetcar project between Santa Ana and Garden Grove ($526 million).

    Every four years, SCAG planners analyze data and work with local communities to develop Connect SoCal, the purpose of which is to improve mobility, meet air-quality goals, create economic opportunities and enhance the quality of life for all residents. Notable in Connect SoCal 2024 are new strategies for addressing the housing crisis, adapting to climate change and investing in underserved communities.

    That’s a lot to take on, but it’s critical that we do so if Orange County and Southern California as a whole are to maintain their standing as a desirable and dynamic place to live, work and own a business. Regional transportation planning is central to that collective success, by connecting communities, closing the gap between where people live and work, supporting key industries while attracting new businesses and economic opportunities, and improving health outcomes for everyone.

    Orange County’s role in all of this is significant. At SCAG’s recent Southern California Economic Summit, Wallace Walrod from the Orange County Business Council noted that the OC is a major economic driver, boasting the six-county region’s lowest unemployment rate, highest educational attainment and highest median household income.

    Investments in transportation infrastructure, Walrod said, will be a key to sustaining the county’s strength.

    To that end, the 219 OC-specific projects included in Connect SoCal 2024, if fully implemented, would reduce per-person traffic delays by 33% by 2050, even with the county’s population projected to grow by 7% during that time. Reduced traffic delays would be made possible through direct investments in infrastructure, an emphasis on transit-oriented development and other land-use strategies to reduce the live-work gap, increased transit and ride sharing options, and more.

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    Connect SoCal 2024 also offers significant economic and environmental benefits. In Orange County alone, the investments included in the plan would generate 61,300 jobs each year, directly and indirectly. If fully implemented across Southern California, the 25-year plan would create 480,000 jobs per year and generate $2 in economic benefits for every $1 spent, while helping Southern California meet its state-mandated greenhouse-gas emissions reduction target of 19% by 2035.

    Achieving these benefits assumes full implementation of the projects included in Connect SoCal 2024. 

    In April, Connect SoCal will go to SCAG’s Regional Council, and then onto the state and federal governments for their approval. Its adoption is critical to the future of Orange County and Southern California as a whole, ensuring that we’re able to grow the right way and fulfill our own piece of the California dream.

    Art Brown is the Mayor of Buena Park and President of the Southern California Association of Governments’ Regional Council.

    ​ Orange County Register