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A road warrior who battles traffic jams

Connie Worden-Roberts heads the Chamber of Commerce transportation committee

Posted: June 30, 2008 1:34 a.m.
Updated: August 31, 2008 5:03 a.m.
 

When Connie Worden-Roberts moved to Valencia in 1975, Six Flags Magic Mountain was only a few years old, Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital had just opened its doors and thousands of homes that would fill up the Santa Clarita Valley were still just drawings on paper.

“It was a very small town,” she said Thursday in her office, where plaques and certificates act as a sort of wallpaper.

It wasn’t long after moving to Santa Clarita that she became involved with the effort to incorporate the city. She joined the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Valley Industrial Association and turned her attention to an issue that was still in its infancy, but was growing in intensity as more and people began to call Santa Clarita their home.

“In listening to people, the biggest thing they complained about was traffic and the lack of sufficient roads,” she said.

She became known as the Santa Clarita Valley’s road warrior and in addressing local transportation problems, she identified Interstate 5 as the main source of traffic-related headaches. In her words, it’s “our nemesis.”

“It’s what I call my lifetime commitment,” she said. “We are getting some gradual improvements, but we are just one community, one organizational spot on a huge road that serves the entire state of California.”
More than 20 years ago, Worden-Roberts volunteered to head up the transportation committees for both VIA and the Chamber of Commerce and still leads those committees today.

“They are both sizable organizations and have a lot of people who work here and rely on the organizations to help them with things such as transportation,” she said.

Planning Santa Clarita Valley roadways can be tricky since so many government agencies are involved, she said.

“The major leaders in the state and the county and the city have pretty good foresight, but they are faced with a troubling reality of lack of money,” she said. “I think it can be done, but it will be a constant battle. Even if you had all the money to do it, you have a lot of opinions as to how you should spend that money.”

She works with state, county and local transportation officials and travels to Sacramento to work with state lawmakers mostly on problems with Interstate 5.

“What the people complain about is that it isn’t the Santa Claritans who are causing the jams,” she said. “The whole state uses it. About 57 to 59 million vehicles per year use it and it is a massive truck corridor. (The trucks) are a major problem, yet we depend on them for goods and services.”

She also started a telecommuting business that she still runs today in the Valencia Industrial Center that allows businesses to set up a small office for their Santa Clarita employees, which keeps a few cars off of the clogged freeways.

“My hope for Santa Clarita is that we can build enough quality, well-paying jobs in our industrial centers that we can afford to pay good salaries so that a lot of the people going south can stay,” she said.
But she worries that the Santa Clarita Valley will ever have enough roads.

“When the automobile traffic increases so rapidly, it’s clearly not enough,” she said. “We’re a very hilly and complicated area. The terrain is such that we can’t just lay down a grid of roads. We will always have a challenge of accommodating our population with sufficient roads.”

Convincing the public to move toward alternative transportation habits could be just as challenging.
“It could take 20 years to turn habits around and accept that we’re going to have to do things a little differently,” she said.

Worden-Roberts was born in Minnesota — she wouldn’t say what year — and moved to the San Fernando Valley when she was 16 years old. She soon got a job as the assistant to the city manager of Glendale. She went to school at Los Angeles City College and then the University of California, Los Angeles where she graduated with a degree in English.

She was going to be an English teacher, “but I got sidetracked,” she said.

She married and had one son, Leon Worden, who worked as an editor at The Signal and still volunteers on numerous committees in Santa Clarita.

Worden-Roberts has been honored so many times that she has a stack of certificates about a foot high that she hasn’t gotten around to framing.

She has been named Woman of the Year six times and was recently handed the Lifetime Achievement Award from the city.

“I care very much about how the growth occurs in our valley, and certainly in our state, and once you obtain some understanding of it, the people ask you to continue to serve,” she said.

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