$1.5 billion light rail project back on track in Orange County, Calif.

Posted on January 1, 2002

After years of delays, the Orange County (Calif.) Transportation Authority (OCTA) Board of Directors unanimously agreed to move forward with the CenterLine project, a 17.9-mile light rail system costing an estimated $1.49 billion. The project’s origins date back to 1990, when Orange County voters approved a half-cent sales tax that included funding for an urban rail project. As preliminary studies for the project began, OCTA encountered many roadblocks, including issues with proposed routes, internal politics and lack of local support. It is this lack of local city support, a key factor in obtaining federal New Start’s funding, which eventually led new OCTA CEO Art Leahy to shelve the project in March 2001. In September 2001 three local cities — Irvine, Costa Mesa and Santa Ana — formally voted to request that OCTA re-activate the project and supported a new alignment proposal through their cities. With the light rail line back on track, OCTA’s board awaits approval from the Federal Transit Administration to proceed with a 11/2- to 2- year preliminary engineering and environmental impact study, likely to begin early this year. “We are excited to be moving our CenterLine Light Rail Project into preliminary engineering,” Leahy said. “We think it is a project that is guaranteed to be successful.” The CenterLine system will run a fleet of 24 light rail vehicles and is currently estimated to be 85% elevated and 15% at grade. The proposed route will provide links to John Wayne Airport in addition to major business and commercial centers between the cities of Santa Ana and Irvine. About 407,000 jobs and 460,000 residents are within two miles of the route. Estimated annual operating costs total $14.6 billion, with a projected average weekday ridership of 29,219 at start-up. Construction on the light rail system is slated for early 2007.

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