OCTA Finalizes CenterLine Route

The Orange County Transportation Authority Board of Directors has approved a final route for the CenterLine light rail project, and construction could begin as early as 2006.
The final route, 9.3 miles in length, will include stops in Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and Irvine, but will not have a stop at UCI, as had initially been suggested.
The route that was approved by the OCTA Board of Directors was approved in a 9-2 vote at a Board meeting on Jan. 12. As part of the route, there will be one stop in Irvine, at John Wayne Airport. Stops in Costa Mesa will be in the South Coast Plaza area, and stops in Santa Ana will be in proximity to the county government and courthouse area, Santa Ana College, Artists Village, the Civic Center and Mater Dei High School.
An additional stop at the Depot of Santa Ana will enable commuters to connect to bus lines or the Metrolink commuter train.
The decision not to have a stop at UCI was the decision of voters, explained OCTA Media Relations Assistant Lisa Sanchez.
‘The city of Irvine asked voters if they wanted the route to run through the city. They agreed to have it in the city, but wanted it in a certain area,’ said Sanchez.
Council member Mike Ward, who serves jointly as a member of the Irvine City Council and as a member of the OCTA Board of Directors, expressed disappointment that there will not be additional stops in Irvine.
‘I was in favor of the UCI route, but we put it before the people of Irvine, and they made that decision,’ said Ward.
Ward explained that the OCTA Board of Directors would have had the power to include UCI as a CenterLine stop despite the vote by Irvine residents, but the transportation authority chose not to do so, in order to respect the vote made by Irvine residents and avoid what Ward called potential ‘controversy’ with the project.
The concern for securing funding was also a reason why Ward thought it best to not have more stops in Irvine.
Ward explained, ‘Why should they fund a project where there is controversy, when there are plenty of projects that have no controversy?’
Sixty percent of the CenterLine route will be at street level, while 40 percent will be elevated. The decision to put a portion of CenterLine elevated was based upon concerns of traffic congestion, said Sanchez.
‘Basically it’s just to maximize efficiency and traffic flow,’ said Sanchez. ‘It will help eliminate certain traffic [at the street level].’
OCTA has estimated that the CenterLine project will cost between $900 million and $1 billion to construct. In a move that OCTA Chairman Greg Winterbottom called ‘a great step forward,’ CenterLine was given a ‘recommended’ rating by the Federal Transit Administration this week, a favorable sign that federal funding will be made available for the project.
‘We are pleased with the FTA’s ‘recommended’ rating for CenterLine because it demonstrates strong support from our federal partners for this much needed way of moving people,’ said Sanchez.
The rating means that the FTA believes CenterLine is ‘on track and making great progress,’ Sanchez added.
The next step on the CenterLine agenda is a final environmental analysis and the submission of an environmental impact report for approval at the federal level. If construction begins in 2006 as is anticipated, the project could be finished by 2009.
Council member Ward looks forward to having CenterLine fulfill the increased needs of transit in Orange County.
‘In the county there will be tremendous growth over the next 40 years and we will need transportation to move people around,’ he said.
Jason Lee, fourth-year psychology and social behavior major expressed doubt that the CenterLine route would be useful to him.
‘If it’s just to John Wayne, I’m not sure it’s useful to me,’ Lee said. ‘I think it would be more useful for people in Santa Ana coming to Irvine.’