Honoring Southern California's Road Warriors

Golden Pylon Award 2010 winners are Jeff Baugh (KFWB), Nick Pagliochini (KFI), Dianna Olea (KGGI), Denise Fondo (KNX 1070), CHP Officer Saul Gomez (Fox 11) and Dona Dower (KNX 1070).

As I carpooled with Sandy Boyle, an administrator of the rideshare program at the Orange County Transportation Authority, to the Grove in Los Angeles, I was amazed at the web of freeway connectors and the sheer traffic we experienced.

Going to the 14th annual Golden Pylon Awards to honor the Southland's dedicated traffic reporters required us to navigate some of the region's notoriously traffic-choked freeways: 5, 91, 110 and then the 10.

The commute illustrated the importance of National Rideshare Week, which begins the week of Oct. 4 where people are urged to try carpooling, taking transit, biking or telecommuting -- instead of driving solo.

Luckily, we were ridesharing to the event, and it was past the morning commute crush, but it gave me a deeper appreciation of the intensity of Southern California's transportation system that links our everyday lives.

It also gave me a tremendous appreciation of the working professionals who provide us with up-to-the-minute traffic information so we may know before we go or take their advice and use alternative routes.

I was excited to see familiar TV faces and meet the faces behind the radio voices of the Southland's top transportation journalists.

I conducted this audioBoo interview with two of the winners along these videos -- all captured on my iPhone.

Please join me in saluting this year's recipients of the prestigious awards recognizing the men and women who help us navigate the freeways, roadways, busways and railways of Southern California.

  • Dona Dower, who began her broadcast career with Metro Traffic Control in 1982, reports traffic on KFRG, KNX 1070 and KBBY

  • Jeff Baugh, a longtime traffic reporter appreciated by countless rush hour fans, helps Southern California motorists navigate their way through the clogged freeways of L.A., Orange and San Diego counties on KFWB

  • Nick Pagliochini, popular reporter broadcasts live traffic reports on KFI, KTMS, KDB and KTIE

  • Dianna Olea, traffic reporter, currently monitors and reports on traffic conditions on KGGI, KTIE, KRLA and KJLL

  • Denise Fondo, a familiar Southland radio personality, tracks the region's freeways on KNX 1070

  • Saul Gomez, California Highway Patrol officer, who reports traffic conditions on FOX 11 Morning News, Univision 34 morning news, Primera Edicion of Univision 34, 6 p.m.,and on radio stations KWRM Radio Mexico mornings; KFRN 1280 Family Radio, La Poderosa 1550 and on the Internet Real Time Traffic internet show on Myfoxla.com for Fox network

OCTA is proud to sponsor the Golden Pylon Awards other regional transit agencies: Metro in Los Angeles County, Riverside County Transportation Commission, San Bernardino Associated Governments and Ventura County Transportation Commission.

And although I couldn't offer a personal "thank you" to every single award winner, I wanted to thank them here on this blog for sharing my tweets and Facebook updates on our freeway construction projects and status of our Metrolink trains and OCTA buses.

Please join me in giving them a well-deserved shout-out for keeping Southern Californians moving.

Tell me who is your favorite traffic reporter. How do they make your commute better?

Near Complete: Rail Safety Devices in Orange, Calif.

Sarah Swensson or @RailSafeSarah on Twitter from OCTA's public communications team shares a preview of rail safety enhancements that will be complete in October.

OCTA is leading the nation in implementing a comprehensive countywide rail safety enhancement program that will make safety enhancements to 50 rail crossings throughout Orange County, home to more than 3 million people.

Using an iPhone, Swensson shares a preview of the first safety devices at Palm Avenue next to Chapman University and the Metrolink train station in Orange, Calif. This crossing is among the first nine that will be completed in October and complements OCTA's rail safety awareness program.

SR-57 Project Kickoff with 50s Style Moves

We celebrate a major transportation milestone -- widening the northbound lanes of the Orange Freeway (SR-57) and getting thousands of Southern Californians back to work.

Here is a music slideshow featuring the kickoff ceremony of the 57 freeway decked out with the 50s theme with labor joining elected officials and Lucy Dunn, CEO and president of the Orange County Business Council.

OCTA board members, city officials and Caltrans representatives gathered Wednesday to kick off the Orange Freeway (SR-57) construction project that will help decrease traffic congestion and create more than 5,000 jobs.

The kickoff ceremony at the El Torito parking lot in Brea featured Lucy Dunn, a member of the California Transportation Commission and president and CEO of the Orange County Business Council, dressed as a "1950s gal" in her poodle skirt and saddle shoes, riding in a 1957 Bel Air Convertible with Jim Adams, a business representative from the Los Angeles / Orange County Building Trades Council.

In a show of unity between business and labor, approximately 30 construction workers walked alongside the classic car driven by James Clark, Crevier BMW general manager.

“What a great ride on the back of a ‘beaut’ of a commute,” Dunn said. “It’s not every day that I get to play a 50s gal. But it’s about honoring our rich and colorful past in Orange County with a back-to-the-future mentality. I joined many of you here two years ago when we launched our "Ready to Work" program — labor and management together — to highlight the fact that here in Orange County, we had shovel-ready projects. I’m thrilled to return here at this very spot overlooking the 57 Freeway to report that we’re ready to roll with another construction project in Orange County.”

The construction project is the first to begin under the Measure M2 Early Action Plan and will add a northbound lane on SR-57 from north of the Riverside Freeway (SR-91) near Orangethorpe Avenue in Placentia to Lambert Road in Brea.

Traffic engineers estimate that 144,000 to 158,000 vehicles use the freeway every day. “OCTA is looking forward to bringing much-needed traffic relief to the thousands of commuters and locals who use this stretch of the freeway on a daily basis,” OCTA Chairman Jerry Amante, also the mayor of Tustin, told the gathering of approximately 100 people.

This $102-million project, with an expected completion date in summer 2014, is the first of two taking place on SR-57. In summer 2011, construction will begin on the second segment, which will add a 3-mile northbound lane between Katella Avenue and Lincoln Avenue in Anaheim.

At the end of the ceremony, Dunn presented OCTA CEO Will Kempton with a clear box containing a pair of his old running shoes with the inscription, “Celebrating one year of hitting the ground running,” to recognize the CEO’s first year at OCTA and his contribution to enhancing the transportation system in Orange County.

All attendees who filled out the feedback survey strongly agreed that the kickoff event was an effective way to highlight the importance of the Orange Freeway (SR-57) construction.

It's National Dump the Pump Day


I joined three commuters from OCTA to carpool. And we decided that our battle against gridlock is over in traffic-choked Southern California.

I filed this CNN iReport to document our stress-free and quick trip as we declared victory over the gas pump. That's because we decided to Dump the Pump. The working professionals no longer drive alone and instead take transit or carpool.

The participants in the carpool are:

  • Lora Cross of San Clemente

  • Denise Revel of Laguna Niguel

  • Rosalyn Zeigler of Laguna Niguel

Thursday, June 17 is national Dump the Pump day and people across America are freeing themselves from traffic jams by riding transit, hopping on vanpools, joining carpools, biking, walking or even telecommuting to save time, money and the environment. Plus, they get to work or arrive at home relaxed.

Each year, public transportation in the U.S. saves 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline a year, equivalent to almost 4 million gallons of gasoline per day.

With the horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, anything we can do to conserve makes a difference to save our planet.

What do you think? Will you join me in trying transit, joining a vanpool or carpooling? Just try it once or twice a week. Let me know your experience in going green.

Chickens, temblors and runaways in Orange County

Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you my end-of-the-day expression is: "Oh, what a day!"

For me, it's an exclamation of how productive, dynamic, challenging or  interesting the day was.

Today was more than that. It was just plain bizarre. First, I woke up at 2 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep -- partly because I'm always afraid I'll sleep through my alarm clock before important events.

We had a "Dump the Pump" kickoff event in Fullerton targeting both  morning commuters and the morning news show.

KTLA's Eric Spillman interviewed me. Ever the plucky spokesman for the Orange County Transportation Authority, I espoused the benefits of trying transit: let someone else do the driving, enjoy a stress-free commute and get free flame-grilled chicken.

Yes, Simon Oh, our new intern from Cal State Fullerton, donned a six-piece chicken outfit as the camera zoomed in as he passed out El Pollo Loco gift certificates to happy commuters.

(This is when I fall asleep.)

He got a bit claustrophobic (code for embarrassed). So as his mentor -- of course -- I took over as the chicken mascot. By the way, the chicken has no name. What mascot is nameless? And after putting on the furry beast for a mere O.C. minute, I now know why no El Pollo Loco employee volunteered for the early-morning gig.

Of course, I'd do close to anything for a good visual -- including the chicken dance complete with props.

It was only 8:30 a.m. and I was already running late for the next assignment. I came back just in time for the OCTA board of directors meeting where the capacity-only audience applauded because our CEO won the honor as one of the top 10 public works officials in the nation, and the board approved a $1.2- billion budget.

Our next big event of the day was adjacent to a freeway ramp for the much-anticipated groundbreaking of a $328-million West County Connectors that will build carpool connectors and construct other improvements to the I-405, I-605 and SR-22. It's one of Southern California's most-travelled areas with approximately 300,000 vehicles each day.

After an interview with KCAL news, I was ready to make last-minute adjustments for what had been a well-executed event thanks to the superbly organized Christina Byrne, OCTA's community relations officer, and our team of PR superstars.

Nearly everything about the program was flawless. And instead of a cliche "shovel-in-the-dirt" photo-op, we planned for officials hold up oversized puzzle pieces and put them together. Get it? Get connected!

See below for a music slideshow of the event with photos courtesy of Megan Enloe, an extraordinary photographer and engaged citizen.

Then as we were taking our last photos, we heard a loud bang. "Oh, no! Did rubbernecker get distracted and slammed into three vehicles in front of it?" I asked myself.

The crash crunched cars like soda cans with smashed windshields. We were all frozen. Was anyone seriously hurt or killed?

Then suddenly two women from the car that rammed into the other vehicles leaped out and ran toward our event site. A half-dozen police officers chased them on foot. Then, I saw police vehicles and helicopters. Just great -- another SoCal high-speed chase but on our freeway connector event.

Without skipping a beat, Art Brown, our board director and mayor of Buena Park, ran after the suspects. Thanks to the retired law enforcement officer's fast feet, Brown helped nab one of the runaways. Police apprehended the other minutes later. It turned out to be a mother-daughter team evading the police.

Enloe, a Tustin resident and social media practitioner, ran with Brown and captured some incredible photos of the incident. Hear my audioBoo interview with Enloe and find out who she called a hero.

She is my hero for her care and concern to enhance the community. She's been there countless times volunteering her time to capture photo memories at many community events.


After being up for more than 19 hours, I was ready to finally hit the sack and just sleep my crazy day away.

Just as I was preparing to sleep, a magnitude 5.7 earthquake rattled Southern California at 9:26 p.m. -- of course.

The temblor was the largest aftershock in a series that have hit the California-Mexican border area since a magnitude 7.2 shook Easter Sunday.

I wanted to blog about my interesting day, but was so exhausted that I finally fell into a deep sleep -- only to be awaken by my alarm clock and the dawn of another day full of possibilities.

What was your most interesting day? And what would you name the El Pollo Loco chicken mascot? I would love to hear about them.

Welcome 'Rail Safe Sarah' to the Blogosphere

Join me in welcoming Sarah Swensson's "Rail Safe Sarah" blog as she provides critically important information on rail safety.

Sarah led the charge for a pioneering effort to reach out to Orange County's diverse communities. She organized a news conference and community roundtable to highlight the importance of rail safety awareness and solicit ideas on how community leaders could help.

OCTA Chairman Jerry Amante and O.C. Supervisor Janet Nguyen joined more than 100 community leaders and 17 members of the news media in the dynamic discussion.

We want to especially thank Kim-Yen Huynh, president of the Asian American Business Women Association, and Bobby McDonald, president of the Orange County Presidents Council, for hosting the successful event and generating enthusiasm for spreading the rail safety message.

Historic Day for High-Speed Rail

Thursday, Jan. 28 could be the birth date for high-speed rail in America. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Bidden are announcing the award of $8 billion in federal stimulus funds to help make bullet trains a reality across the United States.

California is the top recipient of federal funds with the Anaheim to Los Angeles portion of the statewide system an early winner among the contested systems vying for the jobs-producing funds.

Our friends at the California High-Speed Rail Blog are reporting that the Golden State is receiving approximately $2.35 billion in federal passenger rail stimulus funds -- $2.25 billion of that goes directly to high-speed rail.

"California has made signicant investments in passenger rail that have led to remarkable ridership growth," a White House statement read. "Over 5.5 million people per year now ride on California’s three intercity corridors, making these routes the busiest in the U.S. after the Northeast Corridor."

Check out this great map from the TransportPolitic blog of the winners in the race for stimulus dollars. California -- winning one-quarter -- is clearly the victor. But others winners of American Recovery and Reinvestment Funds:

Florida -- $1.25 billion to build a rail line connecting Tampa on the West Coast with Orlando in the middle of the state, eventually going south to Miami.

Illinois-Missouri -- $1.1 billion to improve a rail line between Chicago and St. Louis so that trains travel up to 110 mph.

Wisconsin -- $810 million to upgrade and refurbish train stations and install safety equipment on the Madison-to-Milwaukee leg of a line that stretches from Minneapolis to Chicago.

Washington-Oregon -- $590 million to upgrade a rail line from Seattle to Portland

North Carolina -- $520 million for projects that will increase top speeds to 90 mph on trains between Raleigh and Charlotte and double the number of round trips.

Working on the Railroad to Enhance Safety

Constructions crews, orange vests and traffic cones are signs of the safety improvements coming to Orange County's rail crossings.

OCTA began the Orange County railroad crossing safety enhancement project in August 2009.

Construction crews have been working at railroad crossings in Orange, constructing new medians in the road to deter motorists from driving around lowered gates trying to beat trains.

Crews also are preparing each crossing for new pedestrian gates and railroad gate arms that will notify pedestrians when it is safe to cross the tracks.

Construction hours are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, with night work occurring between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Thursday through Sunday.

OCTA's railroad crossing safety enhancement project will enhance safety features at crossings throughout Orange County. For more transportation updates, visit OCTA's YouTube channel.Once the program is completed, participating cities along the entire rail corridor in Orange County will have the opportunity to implement a quiet zone in their communities. A quiet zone is an area along the tracks where trains do not routinely need to sound their horn.

Motorists and pedestrians can see the progress of construction work at the railroad crossings on La Veta Avenue, Palmyra Avenue, Almond Avenue, Chapman Avenue, Palm Avenue, Walnut Avenue, Lincoln Avenue, Meats Avenue, Batavia Street, Main Street and Eckhoff Street.

For up to date construction schedules and detour routes, visit the project Web site or follow the progress of the project on Twitter at @RailSafeSarah