Directors of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Thursday put Orange County back into their plans for the first phase of construction of the proposed $68-billion train system.
The board reversed an earlier decision to drop a stop in Anaheim from the first phase, apparently an effort to save billions of dollars.
If approved by the Legislature and if funding becomes available, the Anaheim-to-San Francisco project is scheduled to begin operating in 2028. When Orange County was left out, local officials said Monday it meant a two-year delay before a system would be completed to allow travelers to ride the 500-mile route without changing trains.
But at an Orange County Transportation Authority board meeting Monday, Kate Klimow, vice president of government and community affairs for the Orange County Business Council, which supports the project, said “we have been assured” the project is coming to Anaheim “despite news stories.”
“The Orange County Business Council, myself and many others made the case this week to high-speed rail Chairman Dan Richard that Anaheim, with its many tourist attractions and large population, is worthy of getting a high-speed rail stop,” stated state Assemblyman Jose Solario (D-Anahiem) in a news release.
A High-Speed Rail Authority news release also confirmed that Orange County was back in the first-phase construction plans. In the statement, Richard “gave credit to civic and business leaders in Orange County, who came forward with a proposal for a lower-cost way to serve Anaheim with a one-seat ride.” However, the rail authority didn’t provide details on the reduced-cost plan.
It did state that the rail authority staff will work with existing commuter and freight rail operators and OCTA “to identify an alignment” to connect Anaheim to the rest of the system. When voters approved the project in 2008, the ballot proposition required the completed train system to extend from Anaheim to San Francisco.
While the project has strong support among Anaheim’s elected officials, it is opposed by the county Board of Supervisors. The OCTA board, which includes all five county supervisors, has tried to remain neutral so the county won’t lose any commuter rail improvement money that goes with the plan.
In politically divided Sacramento, Republican and even some Democratic lawmakers have voiced opposition. Gov. Jerry Brown can’t afford to lose many votes if he is to successfully get funding in the next few months to begin construction.
The Los Angeles Times reported last week that Orange County was being dropped from the initial construction phase in order to save $6 billion.
“There’s no economic, no sensible reason to cut off the Los Angeles-to-Anaheim route,” state Senator Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) told the Times. “Upset is not a hard enough word to describe how I feel.”
Correa told the Times that he hadn’t decided how he was going to vote but that he supported the project in the past because it was going to serve Orange County.
“Just as my past vote was dependent on the train going to Anaheim, so will my vote be dependent on those same decisions,” he told the Times.
But in its news release Thursday, the rail authority stated that “in particular, the Orange County Business Council, supported by US Rep. Loretta Sanchez, State Senator Lou Correa, and State Assembly Member Jose Solorio, emphasized the critical need for full high-speed rail service to Anaheim.”
The Business Council is headed by Lucy Dunn, a Republican whom Brown reappointed to the California Transportation Commission two weeks ago.