Put-Down Central

County officials can really be insulting sometimes. You'd think the responsibility of planning and constructing a $1.6 billion international airport would at the very least cause them to pause now and again and think really carefully about how they go about their jobs. You'd think they'd take seriously the fact that people pay them to go about their work openly and honestly.

But no. Instead, they huddle in their offices, walled off from the press and public, quietly chipping away at the $1.6 billion while they design one of the largest airports in the U.S. in near-complete secrecy. Then, on those rare occasions when they do offer information freely, it's contorted into a public-relations pretzel-detailed on trivial matters and vague on such issues as cost and feasibility.

On March 19, the county sent out an eight-page release titled "The El Toro Airport Takes Shape." Ostensibly containing fact sheets on two new county reports dealing with terminal design and roadway access, the release is actually just another dose of the same sugary blather we've come to expect.

"The airport is really starting to come to life," Courtney C. Wiercioch, El Toro program manager, is quoted as saying in the release. "[W]e believe the terminal should reflect the vibrancy and history of the county. This airport terminal will be a sleek gateway to Orange County's business and tourist attractions."

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Sure. Think about this: the last time the county gave a price tag for the airport, it was $1.6 billion. Think of what the county could do with that kind of money. It could, well, get out of debt for one-$1.6 billion should just about cover it.

Now think about this: the only other part of the airport ever given a price tag was the 7-mile "hard-link rail system" selected by the county Board of Supervisors in April 1998 to link El Toro and John Wayne airports. At the time, county planners said the line (or connector system, as the county technocrats like to put it) would cost $300 million. But according to the March 19 release, the cost of that link "would add nearly half a billion dollars in construction costs."

Wow. That brings the total price tag to $2.1 billion. And a half mil for a rail line is a lot of money, especially since it's still only on paper and when completed will travel 7 miles parallel to the 405 freeway. But at the very end of the release, the county adds this caveat: "However, it is expected that none of the operationally feasible connector systems, including a system in the I-405 alignment, would be accepted by passengers and airlines. This is due to the relatively high costs per connecting passenger."

So at least a full quarter of the money spent on the county's "sleek" airport is for something that is completely unacceptable to the airlines and flying public. And as a result, county officials now say they'll scrap the rail line because it's so expensive.

Yeah. I can think of a few insults, too.

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