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Community Ascertainment Study Findings

In April 2015, the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (F/ETCA) retained Sharon Browning and Associates to conduct a community ascertainment study to gather input and gain insight on how best to collaborate to address regional mobility challenges in South Orange County. The scope of the study was designed to develop an understanding of the community’s definitions of the problem; priorities to be considered in proposing solutions; and preferences for process, planning and decision making.

In-person, confidential interviews were conducted with 45 residents and active community leaders — excluding elected officials — in cities and unincorporated areas in South Orange County. Topics of discussion included Interstate 5 (I-5)  mobility challenges, describing the problem, exploring solutions including a need or no need for a State Route 241/I-5 connections, who should lead planning efforts and how planning should be led and exploring the need for consensus.

Below is a brief summary and analysis of the findings that will assist in developing a plan for achieving a consensus.

  • The study analyzed the contents of each interview to identify areas of high agreement and areas of lack of agreement, in order for the F/ETCA to focus on areas of agreement in future regional traffic solution planning, particularly around relieving traffic on the I-5 corridor.
  • The environment of the study included discussion around existing I-5 construction, the Avenida La Pata extension, and the local culture, political perspective, values and practices of each community.
  • The study found high agreement in the community that excessive traffic congestion exists along the I-5, north and south from Oso Parkway to Cristianitos Road on weekends, during peak usage times and when accidents occur. The study confirmed the community is greatly concerned about this problem because of its negative impacts on quality of life.
  • The study revealed the community is looking for increased engagement and choices at the local level.
  • The study revealed that the community may not expect 100 percent consensus, rather an open, collaborative problem-solving process led by elected officials with community input.

A full report of the community ascertainment study may be viewed in full here.

WHO WANTS $30 IN FREE TOLLS?

11936738115_2dc5056bd8Drivers on the 73, 133, 241 and 261 Toll Roads in Orange County can get $30 in free tolls if they open a new FasTrak® or ExpressAccount™ on or before March 31.  FasTrak and ExpressAccounts are the fast and convenient ways to pay tolls electronically on The Toll Roads while traveling at highway speeds.

To receive the $30 in free tolls, use promo code FLYER30 when establishing a new account via thetollroads.com or The Toll Roads app, which is available in the Apple App and Google Play Stores.

“We want new customers to know that it pays to be first when you sign up for an ExpressAccount or FasTrak,” said Lisa Telles, The Toll Roads’ chief communications officer. “We’ll be removing cash toll collection soon and $30 in free tolls is a great way to see firsthand how fast and convenient it is to drive The Toll Roads.”

The Toll Roads introduced three new ExpressAccount types last month to give cash-paying customers more choices for how to pay tolls without stopping at toll plazas.  TCA will remove all cash toll collection from The Toll Roads in May. Customers can now pay using a FasTrak, an ExpressAccount or the new One-Time-Toll option that is available at thetollroads.com.

To learn more about the five ways to pay tolls on The Toll Roads, click here.

STATE ROUTE 241 WILDLIFE FENCE IMPROVEMENT PROJECT

Fence and RoadThe Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency will soon install new wildlife fencing along portions of the 241 Toll Road.  The new fencing and associated wildlife escape ramps are being implemented to reduce the number of animal-to-vehicle collisions and safely direct wildlife to the existing undercrossings.  The new fence will be placed closer to the edge of roadway and will be upwards of 12 feet in height to prevent animals from climbing over and onto roadway.  

The project is a result of a collaborative effort with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of California, Davis Wildlife Health Center and other stakeholders.  

The first phase of the wildlife fencing project will be complete by June 2014, with future phases to be implemented over the next few years pending budget approval. Upon completion of the fence installation, the F/ETCA will monitor and document its effectiveness in reducing collisions and increasing usage of existing undercrossings.  The data obtained post-project will serve as a model for other transportation projects.

THE TOLL ROADS 2013 ANNUAL REPORT

The Toll Roads and Transportation Corridor Agencies Fiscal Year 2013 (FY13) Annual Report on financials is now available.

At $260,223,000, revenues were up collectively and for each of our two agencies.  The number of FasTrak® accounts increased, as did the number of transponders that we have in California vehicles.  During the year, 80 million tolls were paid and 85 percent of those tolls were paid electronically.  We ended the year with $523 million in reserve funds. 

In FY13, we welcomed a new chief executive officer, chief financial officer and 14 new Board Members who are leading the agencies and The Toll Roads with a focus on customer service; building direct connections from The Toll Roads to local freeways to advance regional mobility; working diligently to find an alternative to Interstate 5; and offering Southern California drivers an express choice that is predictable, saves time and reduces stress.

Click here to view the audited financial statements for each agency. 

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YOU’RE INVITED! OPEN HOUSE TO LAUNCH THREE NEW EXPRESSACCOUNT TYPES

There are big changes happening on The Toll Roads (State Routes 73, 133, 241 and 261).  Starting in May, you will no longer be able to pay tolls with cash on The Toll Roads.  While we are eliminating one way to pay, we’ve introduced four new methods of payment that were developed for drivers by drivers.

Now, there are five ways to pay tolls on The Toll Roads:

  • FasTrak®
  • Charge ExpressAccount
  • Prepaid ExpressAccount
  • Invoice ExpressAccount  
  • One-Time-Toll

You’re invited to an Open House to commemorate the launch of the three new ExpressAccount types. 

WHAT: Come hear about the ExpressAccount types and sign up for the account that is right for you!  

WHEN:Wednesday, January 15, 2014, at 9 a.m.

WHERE: 125 Pacifica, Irvine, CA 92618

FREE TOLLS: Anyone who signs up for an ExpressAccount at The Toll Roads Customer Service Center in Irvine on January 15 will be entered to win $50 in free tolls.

RSVP: Feedback-thetollroads@thetollroads.com or call (949) 754-3482.  

Visit our recently-refreshed website to learn more about FasTrak, ExpressAccounts and the switch to all-electronic toll collection.  And, join the other drivers who are looking forward to non-stop travel and more payment choices on The Toll Roads in 2014.

HAPPY 2014! NEW YEAR= NEW WAYS TO PAY

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FOOTHILL/EASTERN TRANSPORTATION CORRIDOR AGENCY REFINANCES $2.3 BILLION IN BONDS

The Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (F/ETCA) has successfully refinanced $2.3 billion in outstanding debt that was originally issued in 1999.

“This is great news for Southern California drivers,” said Lisa Bartlett, F/ETCA Chairwoman and Mayor for the City of Dana Point.  “The refinancing enhances the agency’s financial position so that we can concentrate on providing and improving mobility.  We’ve lowered annual debt payments, which will provide pricing flexibility and cash flow for important projects.”

TCA Spring 2011The refinancing extends F/ETCA debt from 2040 to 2053, lowers annual payments through 2040 and reduces maximum annual debt payment by 24 percent.  The bonds are being structured with various call dates and will be eligible for early redemption with excess revenue if the agency’s Board of Directors chooses to do so, thereby shortening the final maturity date and eliminating the need to make additional interest payments.

“The bond refinancing reduces debt payments by $975 million between now and 2040 and will create a flexible financing structure.  The restructuring of the debt keeps the agency in a very strong financial position and allows The Tolls Roads to continue to provide a valuable choice for Orange County residents and commuters,” said Patricia Bates, F/ETCA Vice Chairwoman and Orange County Fifth District Supervisor.

Traffic and revenue on the 36-mile toll road network has been growing with Orange County’s regional economic recovery.  For the first five months of the fiscal year (July thru December), traffic has increased two percent compared to the similar period in 2012 and revenue is up seven percent.

“The restructuring brings the agency’s debt in line with current revenue projections and strengthens our financial outlook,” said Amy Potter, CFO of the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA).  “The Board of Directors had authorized up to a 6.5 percent interest rate for the bonds, and the final result was 6.06 percent.  The annual growth rate for the bonds has been reduced from 4.2 percent to 3.75 percent and the peak debt service has been reduced by $74 million.”

TCA Spring 2011In October, the F/ETCA Board of Directors approved the refinancing of its outstanding bonds and amendments to a cooperative agreement between the F/ETCA and Caltrans that allows tolls to be collected through 2053.  The following month, the F/ETCA received investment grade ratings from Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings on its update to the proposed refinancing of the 1999 bonds.  With two ratings, the agency was able to move forward with the refinancing.

Standard and Poor’s noted that revenues have responded well to recent toll increases, that the willingness to increase tolls by management is a positive credit factor and that the restructuring plan reduces maximum annual debt service by $30 million (actual reduction is $72 million).  Fitch Ratings acknowledged that extending the debt by 13 years provides a more stable financial profile and that a history of pro-active decisions by management to raise rates is a credit strength.

“The 133, 241 and 261 Toll Roads provide a valuable link to the population centers in the Southern California region – which is the second largest metropolitan area in the country.  It’s a link to a burgeoning economic and employment center that is located in Orange County,” said Neil Peterson, TCA’s CEO.  “We are providing a valuable and affordable service to the people who are coming in and out of Orange County to get to those jobs.  Our board has a 13-year history of stepping up to the plate and meeting their financial obligations. Our toll revenues and our transactions have recovered strongly from The Great Recession and in the last three years have seen a steady increase. The refinancing provides cash flow savings to us between now and 2040, reduces the increase of our debt service requirements, lowers our maximum annual debt service, allows us a greater margin to exceed our coverage requirements of net toll revenues going forward.”

“The experience that we offer our customers is a choice of a predictable trip that saves time and stress,” said Peterson.  “The F/ETCA Board of Directors, finance team and staff are commended for the work they have put into making this refinancing a reality.”

NONSTOP TRAVEL FOR ALL DRIVERS, COMING 2014

Photo Friday 22Soon, every vehicle will travel nonstop on The Toll Roads. In 2014, we’re closing the cash toll collection booths and converting The Toll Roads to all electronic tolling; which is a fancy way of saying that you’ll never again have to stop or wait in line to pay a toll on The Toll Roads.  While we are eliminating one way to pay, we are introducing four new methods of payment.

With five ways to pay tolls (FasTrak, three new ExpressAccount™ choices and a One-Time-Toll™ option), there’s a custom payment method that will work for every driver – regardless their method of payment, when they want to pay their toll and how much of California they intend to explore.

Since 2010, we’ve been carefully researching the latest and most advanced toll collection technologies to improve your experience on The Toll Roads. After conducting consumer surveys and focus groups, we found that — in addition to FasTrak — drivers want more, easy ways to pay without stopping. So that’s what we’re providing.

Photo Friday 25For the nearly 80 percent of Toll Road drivers who already pay electronically, our conversion to all-electronic toll collection will be seamless and uneventful. FasTrak customers don’t have to make any changes to their accounts with the conversion.

Cash toll collection will be removed by mid-2014. Customers can sign up for FasTrak now or sign up one of the new ExpressAccount options in early 2014. To be added to our email list to receive the latest news, complete the form at: tinyurl.com/TollRoadUpdate

ExpressAccounts in the news:

No more toll booths: Orange County toll roads going cash free in 2014, Southern California Public Radio

Toll roads: No cash, no problem, The Orange County Register

REFINANCING OF $3.2 BILLION IN TOLL ROAD BONDS MOVES FORWARD

241 Beauty ShotWith the receipt of investment grade ratings from Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings, The Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (F/ETCA) is moving forward with the proposed refinancing of outstanding debt issued in 1999 – a plan that was approved by the F/ETCA Board of Directors on October 10. 

The Preliminary Official Statement was released on November 21 and the bonds are scheduled to be sold the week of December 9.

The refinancing is a good financial step that takes advantage of low interest rates to lower debt payments and it will allow for fewer and lower toll rate increases in the future.  Lower toll rates mean less congestion on free alternatives and improved traffic circulation, which is important for regional mobility and recovery of the local economy.

261 Beauty Shot“This is good news for commuters and recognizes the economic recovery that is occurring in Orange County and the surrounding area,” said Neil Peterson, CEO of the Transportation Corridor Agencies.  “The refinance plan provides the agency with greater flexibility to withstand future economic downturns which is the prudent thing to do.”

The F/ETCA manages and operates State Routes 133, 241 and 261.  Traffic and revenue on the 24 miles of roadway have been growing as the Orange County economy has strengthened.  For the first four months of the fiscal year (July through October), traffic has increased 2.8 percent compared to the similar period in 2012 and revenue is up 7.6 percent.

Happy 20th Birthday, FasTrak!

Born and raised in Orange County, FasTrak® celebrated its 20th birthday today.   Two decades ago, FasTrak was launched by the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) for use on the first 3.2-mile portion of the 241 Toll Road.  FasTrak — California’s first and only electronic toll collection system — is now used by five different tolling agencies and more than 3.2 million drivers throughout the state on every tolled bridge, lane, road and structure.  TCA alone has more than 863,000 transponders in circulation belonging to 427,505 FasTrak accounts.

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As part of the birthday festivities, TCA honored Trabuco Canyon resident Brian Clifton, who has the distinction of being the first FasTrak customer.  Clifton opened the very first FasTrak account in August 1993, two months before the road was opened and he continues to drive The Toll Roads on a daily basis.

“It’s been 20 years and my family and I still use FasTrak all the time,” said Brian Clifton.  “For us, it has become a way of life and the time savings are critical for getting us to our jobs and the important events throughout Southern California.  I can’t imagine what my life would be like without FasTrak and The Toll Roads.”

The Toll Roads' staff took some time today to celebrate and wish FasTrak a happy 20th birthday!

The Toll Roads’ staff took some time today to celebrate and wish FasTrak a happy 20th birthday!

“When TCA opened the first FasTrak system in the state, our hope was to transform the lives of harried Southern California drivers by using cutting edge technology to save them their most precious commodity: time,” said Orange County Supervisor Patricia Bates, who served on the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency Board of Directors 20 years ago and is a current board member. “We are beyond pleased to see that drivers throughout California see the value of FasTrak, which has become an indispensable part of their daily lives.”