The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal

Informed but opinionated commentary and analysis on urban transportation topics from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

Our Mission: Monkeywrench the Anti-Transit Forces

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Monday, June 16, 2003


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"Truth passes through three phases: 1) It is ridiculed. 2) It is violently opposed. 3) It is accepted as self-evident." Albert Schopenhouer. In the United States, rail is currently passing through Phase Two.

From the Cabalmaster:

Now that Your Favorite Transit Pundits have finished our "background" overview of state transit financing in California, we turn to the Orange County scene.

Rail transit planning in Orange County began during the early 1970s. A sales-tax increase to fund a heavy-rail system, connecting with one proposed for neighboring Los Angeles County, was rejected by voters in 1974.

Voters rejected a proposal for a one-percent "transportation sales tax" in June 1984 with a "no" vote greater than 70 percent. This would have raised an estimated $15 billion over 15 years. Most of this (of course) would have gone to highways, but 20 percent was dedicated to transit operations and development of a 38-mile light rail system. Supporters spent more than $1.5 million while opponents raised less than $100,000. Rejection was attributed to resistance to new taxes and perception that large developers would reap the most benefit,

A "second try" was submitted in November 1989, but attracted a 54-percent "no" vote. This was to pay $3.1 billion of the cost for a 20-year, $11.6-billion "transportation" plan. Most of the money was (of course) to be used for highways, including construction of 140 miles of HOV lanes. The largest project was widening of a 20-mile section of the Santa Ana Freeway (Interstate 5) from six to 12 lanes (cost: $550 million). The plan did allocate $400 million to transit, including commuter-rail service to Los Angeles and Riverside, with "light rail or monorail" development to come at some later date.

A 20-year $3.1 billion plan, "Measure M," was approved in November 1990, attracting a 54 percent "yes" vote. Of the total, 42.3 percent was allocated to widening of four freeways, 32.5 percent to regional and local road improvements, and 25.7 percent, or $775 million, to transit. The transit program included purchase of railroad rights-of-way used by Amtrak and the (then-) planned commuter rail service. $340 million was designated for construction of an "advanced rail transit system" in the Anaheim-Irvine corridor. Implementation of the 0.5-percent tax was delayed until 1992 owing to court action by tax-limitation activists.

Metrolink commuter-rail service to Orange County began in 1994. Meanwhile, an 87-mile "Urban Rail Master Plan" was adopted in 1991 (see here . The north-south trunk, dubbed "The CenterLine," was planned as the first segment. Studies continued, and a Major Investment Study was completed in the Fullerton - Irvine corridor in 1997. Environmental studies began in 1998, but the Orange County Transportation Authority put the project on hold in 2001, citing lack of support from local officials in cities along the line. That remains true in some cities. However, the mayors of Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and Irvine hastened to ask OCTA to continue the project (details of "Partner Cities" here This show of support convinced the OCTA board to continue with preliminary engineering over an 11.4-mile route between Santa Ana, Costa Mesa andIrvine, with a proposed 0.8-mile extension to Santa Ana College. The estimated cost in "year of expenditure" dollars is $1.2 billion, of which federal funds are anticipated to pay 50 percent (financing details here Completion is planned by 2011, although the line could be in operation as early as 2009, see here An accelerated construction schedule was approved by the OCTA board in April; construction is anticipated to begin in April 2006 for completion by October 2009.

See the Federal Transit Administration's project description here

According to the OCTA website (here, "Subsequent polls and surveys have continued to demonstrate the public's strong support. According to a June 2001 survey, respondents, by a margin of 3 to 1, had a favorable impression of light rail. When asked to choose between light rail or new freeways, county residents, by a margin of nearly 2 to 1, chose light rail. Despite localized neighborhood opposition, there continues to be overwhelming support (70-75 percent) for a light rail project along The CenterLine alignment."

They're being discreet. The project has attracted stubborn, tenacious opposition whose leaders can’t seem to stand the idea. No reason in particular; they just can't stand it.

Before we continue: Orange County, CA, is not the community that many people -- including a certain percentage of the population -- think it is. It's not all low-density sprawl. Average density of the urbanized areas is rather high, and some parts -- including Santa Ana, the county seat -- have very high densities for U.S. cities. Nor is the population "ethnically homogenous." Santa Ana, for example, has a large Latino majority, and Westminister is the center of the country's largest community of Vietnamese ancestry. The epicenter of opposition to CenterLine is Irvine, a textbook example of a suburban "new city" with a demographic and personal-income profile very different from older "OC" communities.

And, having noted these details, we'll wind up this installment.

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