OCTA Directors Will Scrutinize Anaheim Streetcar Project

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Anaheim’s proposed 3.2-mile streetcar system is in for a ton of scrutiny.

After Orange County Transportation Authority directors at the Jan. 28 board meeting raised a number of questions about the project — including the nearly $100-million per mile cost and whether a much cheaper enhanced bus service is a better idea — they decided to have an ad hoc committee in the coming weeks review the details.

There was also talk of having the board’s transit committee meeting on Feb. 14 explore issues surrounding the streetcar.

And if those meetings aren’t enough, Supervisor and OCTA Director Todd Spitzer has requested a public workshop this month to answer a host of questions after Voice of OC published an email chain that has Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait and others at City Hall questioning whether local officials planned to misrepresent information about the project to a federal agency.

The scrutiny also comes after the Anaheim City Council last October approved advancing the project by a 3-2 vote, with Tait and Councilwoman Lorri Galloway voting no. Tait cited concerns about operating cost and whether alternatives had been sufficiently explored.

The project would connect the city’s planned pubic transit depot with the Disneyland Resort and other high-profile destinations like the Platinum Triangle.

Critics for some time have questioned whether the project is necessary. Some argued that the taxpayer-funded project’s only true purpose is to deliver visitors to Disneyland.

City leaders have argued that the project will support city growth by improving mobility and attract economic investment along the route. The streetcar is to provide a “last mile” connection to the transit depot, which is expected to have 19,000 daily boardings by 2035 and increase to 50,000 daily boardings with the completion of the state’s high-speed rail line, according to a city report.

Also, employment and residential population is projected to significantly increase in the area served by the streetcar, according to the report.

City Hall watchers haven’t been the only ones to struggle with defining the need for the project.

William Woodford, a city-hired consultant working for Resource Systems Group, wrote in a May 2012 email that local officials had been straining to meet Federal Transportation Authority (FTA) requirements for defining a transportation problem in the proposed streetcar corridor.

Woodford cautioned that it “isn’t uncommon” for these kinds of projects to have trouble defining an FTA type of transit problem because “most transit projects are intended to build new markets except for a few projects in dense urban areas.”

The FTA’s requirements have since evolved because of new legislation.

Nonetheless the issues Woodford cited in the email speak to concerns from the project’s critics.

The only solid reason for a transit ridership problem that Woodford could identify is connected to the state’s high-speed rail project. If high-speed rail connects to Anaheim, there are not enough public transit options, such as taxis, to convey riders to nearby destinations, Woodford wrote.

The present uncertainty of the state’s high-speed rail project significantly weakens that argument, according to Woodford.

“The heavy volumes of such travelers with [high-speed rail] make the existing connections (generally taxi) infeasible due to capacity constraints and provides a key reason for the [streetcar] project,” Woodford writes. “As we all know, the problem with this statement is that it is dependent on something that many people perceive as uncertain — the presence of [high-speed rail] at Anaheim by 2035.”

There are only 2,000 Metrolink daily boardings and passenger exits, “with only a small proportion traveling to or from the [streetcar] corridor,” the email says.

And according to Woodford, riders from another bus system in the area — Anaheim Resort Transit (ART) — likely won’t switch to riding the streetcar largely because they have different routes.

“We attract customers by being ‘attractive’ rather than by saving travelers any time,” he wrote. “I don’t think that we have identified a problem that limit’s ART’s ability to serve riders.”

Supervisor and OCTA Director John Moorlach said the email raises a new, important question: What problem is the streetcar intended to solve?

“I think what Bill is trying to say is, is there a problem you’re fixing? And he couldn’t find the problem,” Moorlach said. “If the pitch can be made, if the data supports the pitch, then Anaheim should have no problem” identifying the need for the streetcar, he said.

When asked if the data currently supports the pitch, Moorlach said “not in this email. And I think that’s why this email is refreshing. What’s reality, and how do we shape the pitch?”

Moorlach added that tourism is a vital industry in the county and that the streetcar may have a role in boosting such business, which is particularly robust in Anaheim.

But the catch is to determine the best way to move people and not to build a “trolley just for the sake of doing a trolley,” Moorlach said.

Spitzer wrote in an email to Voice of OC that the consultant’s email is part of a trend of “communications which have driven me to request OCTA to present an A to Z recap of the Trolley and the city council’s locally preferred alternative on a 3-2 vote,” citing the Anaheim council’s divided approval to advance the project.

Board directors also have questions about the project’s $319-million price tag.

While much of the project’s funding is expected to come from an FTA program known as New Starts, OCTA will also be chipping in with revenue from a countywide half-cent sales tax known as Measure M2. The transportation authority has already contributed millions of dollars.

At last month’s board meeting, Director Jeffrey Lalloway, also an Irvine city councilman, compared the city’s streetcar cost to the Tampa streetcar project, which he said was only $15-million per-mile.

“Why is it so expensive?” Lalloway asked. “I think this board would be much more comfortable with $15-million per mile.”

Spitzer said the project would conjure memories of a light-rail plan called Centerline that was scrapped earlier this century because of community opposition. And he questioned whether Anaheim’s elite business community, which is expected to heavily benefit, would help offset the cost.

“We have a right to know what the business community is going to put on the table,” Spitzer said.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek.

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