I drive to and from Anaheim Hills and Irvine on The Toll Roads every day. I love my congestion-free drive. But before you begin rolling your eyes at the gal who works for The Toll Roads, I’ve learned new reasons and meaning to love and appreciate my drive.
My commute is a free-flowing 25 minutes and provides ample stress-free time to call my Mom from my Bluetooth. I check-in; ask about her day, and how Dad and “the boys” (their three dogs) are doing. Our chats are always engaging and a relaxing way to end my work day, but one thing that never fails is Mom’s daily question, “are you driving the corridor today?” to which I always reply, “Mom, it’s called The Toll Road” (as if a teenager is scolding her Mom for not using cool lingo).
This week marks 20 years since the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) opened the first phase of the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor, known to most people as the 73 Toll Road. And in celebrating this milestone, the word corridor brings new meaning to me, my job and a drive that I don’t take for granted.
In the summer of 1996, I didn’t yet have my driver’s license, but Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby” was a summer chart topper and “Macarena” was one of the coolest songs out there; Independence Day with Will Smith was also a box office hit. The Toll Roads – 51 miles of open road that serve as alternatives to Orange County’s congested freeways – have always been part of my driving experience, and anyone who’s been driving in Orange County since the late 90’s, knows no different. But to my Mom, who still calls them “the corridors,” they provide a much-needed sigh of relief to Orange County’s gridlock and enhanced the county’s transportation landscape while also preserving open space.
On July 20, 1996, TCA invited residents of Orange County to Cruise the Corridor as they celebrated the opening of the first phase of the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor. I found the invitation and program as I dug through our archives. In the summer of ’96, thousands of Orange County residents joined TCA for a fun run to experience the road before it opened to traffic and to celebrate 20 years of planning and nearly four years of construction. The new road was the first seven-mile stretch of a corridor that would ultimately take drivers 15 miles from Laguna Niguel to Newport Beach, providing a new transportation alternative to the 5 and 405 freeways.
Leading up to the opening of the new San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor, Mom read headlines about TCA’s strong environmental programs used throughout construction and the innovative financing and planning to make the roads possible. The term “corridor” has always stuck with her. Back in the 90’s, “corridor” was a modern term commonly used to describe multiple modes of transportation to move people, such as highways, rail and buses.
The San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor was the start of a link between South County and coastal cities and it has proven to be a valuable route. Although over time the name changed to the 73 Toll Road to reflect what the public called the new route, to Mom, it will always be the “corridor.”
In celebrating this milestone, I’ve learned to appreciate how the “corridor” enhanced the quality of life in Orange County by cutting commute times, reducing rush-hour frustration and making Southern California destinations more accessible. In those 20 years while the county continued to grow and expand, the “corridor” has always served the same purpose – trips on the 73 Toll Road have more than doubled in 20 years, logging nearly 31 million transactions last year. It’s hard to imagine what traffic would be like in Orange County without the 73 Toll Road!
So on my drive home when I call Mom tonight, I’ll smile when she asks if I’m driving the corridor and I’ll proudly respond, “yes, Mom, I’m cruising the corridor home today.”
The Toll Roads of Orange County recently launched a new creative campaign, “Enjoy the Drive,” that highlights the reasons people drive The Toll Roads – a stress-free drive on open roads and predictable commutes.
With more than 735,000 FasTrak® and ExpressAccount® customers, there is sure to be many more reasons to Enjoy The Drive. Anticipation of hearing the FasTrak transponder beep? Not seeing any red tail lights? Or how about counting down the numbered exits to your favorite destination?
As Sebastian’s fifth birthday approached, his mom, Briana Vartanian, asked him what theme he wanted and his answer came as no surprise – at least not to his family – The Toll Roads.
As mom puts it, Sebastian is fascinated with engineering and he fell in love with the 73 Toll Road when he started preschool last year at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano. As a FasTrak accountholder for 12 years, the 73 Toll Road was a no-brainer for their daily commute to and from school.
Driving the 73 Toll Road multiple times a day, five days a week, Sebastian grew to learn, familiarize and literally Enjoy The Drive on The Toll Roads. He’s studied the map, locations of ramps and toll plazas, and with his stop watch, tracks how long it takes to get to and from school and compares the data from day to day. And if you ask Sebastian which exit is his favorite; well number 12 of course, because that’s where he takes his golf lessons.
As the party planning began, TCA’s Communications department received one of its most unique calls to-date – party favors for a toll road themed birthday party. We were happy to participate and thrilled someone outside the office shares a passion for the roads as much as staff. We sent a handful of giveaways and favors and could hardly wait to see the party’s pictures.
Briana spent two months planning Sebastian’s transportation and highway themed birthday party creating custom cupcake toppers with The Toll Roads logo and center pieces highlighting each Toll Road in Orange County. She also hired a balloon artist to create a custom arch – or pseudo toll plaza – complete with The Toll Roads signs overhead. The icing on the cake, all of Sebastian’s friends painted their own version of the Interstate 5 highway sign because Sebastian was turning five, just like the I-5.
Sebastian’s enthusiasm for The Toll Roads gives us at The Transportation Corridor Agencies reason to smile. We realize our 51-miles of open road don’t just offer you nonstop driving, it provides you a choice to get home to your family faster, be the first to arrive to work on a Monday morning, and simply, Enjoy The Drive.
Tell us how you Enjoy The Drive in the comment section below and check out our Enjoy The Drive campaign’s video. Happy Birthday, Sebastian, and cheers to many more happy moments on The Toll Roads of Orange County!
CALIFORNIA’S FIRST SUCCESSFUL NATIVE HABITAT RESTORATION ON A CLOSED LANDFILL CELEBRATES 20TH ANNIVERSARY
Twenty years ago, the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) made history when they planted 122 acres of coastal sage scrub on the former Coyote Canyon Landfill in Newport Beach, Calif. It was the first time that native habitat for an endangered species had ever been planted on a closed landfill. Today, it is a thriving habitat that supports native wildlife and requires no maintenance.
“Coyote Canyon proves to everyone that habitat restoration that is carefully planned and flawlessly executed can produce great results. It truly is one of the great environmental success stories in Orange County,” said Rush Hill, mayor of Newport Beach and chairman of the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency.
Central Orange County’s solid waste was disposed of at the Coyote Canyon Landfill for 27 years (1963 to 1990). During that time, more than 60 million cubic yards of waste were buried on approximately 395 acres. Since 1982, the gas produced by the decomposing waste has been fueling electricity production and currently generates roughly seven megawatts of power, supplying electricity for at least 6,000 homes for 32 years.
When it closed in 1990, Coyote Canyon Landfill’s closure plan was the first in the nation to include specifications to create habitat for a federally-listed bird species, the California gnatcatcher. The landfill was designated as a special linkage for birds and animals between the San Joaquin Hills and Upper Newport Bay in the Nature Reserve of Orange County’s Natural Community Conservation Plan.
“TCA spearheaded the restoration of the Coyote Canyon Landfill as mitigation for construction of the 73 Toll Road and because it is a critical part of a comprehensive plan to provide a wildlife link from the Back Bay to the San Joaquin Hills,” added Hill. “The goal was to establish a resilient habitat that needed no maintenance after initial establishment.”
Coastal sage scrub — a low-growing, aromatic and drought-deciduous shrub found in coastal California — developed across the landfill after seeding in the fall of 1994. Because coastal sage scrub includes deep-rooting plants, four and a half feet of soil was added on top of the Coyote Canyon Landfill to accommodate the habitat. Soil monitoring was conducted to ensure the native plants’ moisture and roots did not negatively affect the landfill’s clay cap and gas recovery system. The monitoring and resulting reports were the first demonstration in the southwest U.S. that native vegetation could be planted and maintained without compromising a landfill closure cover or gas recovery system.
Listed as “Threatened” by the federal government in 1993, the California gnatcatcher is a small, non-migratory bird that frequents dense coastal sage scrub. The first California gnatcatcher pair arrived at the Coyote Canyon Landfill ahead of schedule — just two years after the habitat was planted. By 1999, the site’s fifth year, fifteen pairs of California gnatcatchers were successfully breeding in the habitat; 58 percent produced one brood successfully and 33 percent successfully produced two broods. These percentages were comparable to other populations in the region and the Coyote Canyon Landfill habitat was deemed acceptable as mitigation for the California gnatcatcher.
The coastal sage scrub habitat has met all federal permit requirements and the performance standards established by the Biological Opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the 73 Toll Road.
TCA is comprised of two joint powers authorities formed by the California legislature in 1986 to plan, finance, construct and operate Orange County’s 67-mile public toll road system in the most environmentally sensitive way possible.
TCA has conserved and restored 15 locations in Orange County. Hundreds of birds and animals – including the California gnatcatcher – have found a safe home on TCA’s more than 2,100 acres of coastal sage scrub, wetlands, riparian and salt-water marsh. At least 75 baby gnatcatchers, more than 40 species of birds, five species of rodents, 13 invertebrates and larger mammals such as coyote, bobcat and mountain lions utilize TCA’s habitat mitigation areas.
Since 1996, TCA has been a proud participant and active contributor to the Central/Coastal Natural Community Conservation Plan (NCCP), a reserve created to set aside 38,783 acres of prime habitat in Orange County for 42 individual species. During the three years it took to create the plan, TCA contributed its mitigation sites to the reserve and provided $6.6 million of a $10 million endowment, which funds the ongoing management of the reserve. The goal of the NCCP is to conserve native animal and plant species while continuing to allow appropriate development and growth. An estimated 699 acres of TCA’s mitigation areas are included within the reserve and the agencies plan to continue participation through ongoing oversight of the preserved lands.
Don’t have plans for this weekend? Take the 73 Toll Road to one of these great events…
April 24 – May 1
The Newport Beach Film Festival seeks to bring to Orange County the best of classic and contemporary filmmaking from around the world. The Festival focuses on showcasing a diverse collection of both studio and independent films. This year’s festival features Lovesick, A Five Star Life and Jon Favreau’s Chef.
April 25 – 26
Experience quintessential California wine tasting and enjoy hundreds of the state’s finest vintage wines, delicious gourmet foods samples and lively music. Discover new wines, find a new favorite and pair it with a variety of fresh gourmet appetizers like artisan breads, cheeses, olive oils and so much more. Enjoy an afternoon of unlimited fun, food and music at the biggest wine festival under the sun.
April 24 – 27
South Coast Plaza’s Annual Southern California Spring Garden Show transforms South Coast Plaza into a gardening oasis that showcases a diverse and outstanding selection of unusual and exotic plants, garden tools, garden ornaments and art, display gardens and children’s programs. This year’s show features, an informative speaker series and appearance by John Gidding, architect, interior designer and HGTV’s Curb Appeal co-host.
And, save the date for our upcoming event right off the 73 Toll Road…
Free Community Expo, Coyote Canyon, Newport Beach
May 17, 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The Toll Roads are joining with the County of Orange, the City of Newport Beach and other partners to host a free, family-friendly public expo to celebrate two decades of environmental excellence. The expo is open to all and includes fun educational booths and discussions on the science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) used to operate this landfill during its post-closure process, including multi-use designs for gas recovery and native habitat restoration.
Directions: From State Route 73: Exit Newport Coast Drive and head south past Sage Hill High School. Turn right at the traffic signal to arrive at the destination. From Pacific Coast Highway: Take PCH to Newport Coast Drive and make a legal U-turn at Turtle Crest Drive. Pass Sage Hill High School and make a right at the traffic signal to arrive at the destination.