Anaheim Streetcar Project Dealt Another Blow

A committee of the Orange County Transportation Authority Board of Directors is recommending that Anaheim officials drop their plans for a 3.2-mile streetcar system.

The committee’s findings emerged this week in a staff report attached to the board’s Monday meeting agenda, ending weeks of speculation and political intrigue surrounding the committee’s work. For reasons that are still unclear, some directors believed that the board was supposed to discuss the report over a month ago.

Citing the over $300 million cost and the likelihood that federal funding won’t materialize, the ad-hoc committee – consisting of board Chairman Jeffrey Lalloway, directors Shawn Nelson, Tim Shaw and Tom Tait, who is also mayor of Anaheim – is recommending that the city quit the streetcar project and instead explore alternatives, like enhanced bus services.

“The Committee recommends the city no longer pursue a streetcar alternative and instead work with OCTA on future planning efforts that are broader and include conventional as well as advanced bus transit alternatives,” the report reads.

The report is just the latest blow to the controversial streetcar project. An environmental study was supposed to be completed last December, but was delayed after a local hotel owner resisted the city’s plan to knock down his business to make way for the streetcar. City officials are now studying alternative routes.

Supporters of the project say it will increase connectivity in the city and help reduce the region’s dependence on cars. It would also spur investment along the route, they argue.

But it has far less support on the Transportation Authority board than the Santa Ana streetcar project, a fact that sources say makes it all the more likely that Anaheim’s project would fail to win funding under the Federal Transit Administration’s highly competitive New Starts program.

The report also expresses concern about the project potentially worsening traffic congestion on Katella Ave., and the technology being incompatible with the Santa Ana streetcar. If the two systems aren’t compatible, then far off ideas about eventually uniting the projects into one streetcar line travelling up Harbor Blvd. might be impossible.

“This is not a project that’s in the best interest of Orange County taxpayers, who are ultimately going to be asked to pay for the entire project, which will be, including operations and maintenance, $400 million to $500 million,” Lalloway said.

Anaheim spokeswoman Ruth Ruiz declined to comment on the report. But in a letter to the Transportation Authority CEO, City Manager Paul Emery indicated that city officials would continue working on the environmental study, regardless of the committee’s findings.

Emery’s letter went on to say that officials have been looking for ways to cut costs. He also wrote that hoteliers in the resort and Platinum Triangle areas voted to assess themselves a special hotel tax that would help fund the project, a point that emphasizes the apparent importance of the streetcar project to the city’s tourism business.

“We believe the [streetcar] project will improve mobility in this critical transit corridor and provide a link between the existing rail systems and the major employment and housing areas in the Platinum Triangle and The Anaheim Resort, providing an attractive incentive for residents, employees, and visitors to make trips to and from the region via public transit,” Emery’s letter states.

The full board is expected to discuss the committee’s findings at its regularly scheduled board meeting at 9:00 a.m. Monday.

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