By 11 a.m. on most Saturdays, traffic is at a standstill on Westminster’s Bolsa Avenue as Vietnamese Americans from Orange County and throughout Southern California make their weekly pilgrimage to Little Saigon.

While the area’s merchants and eateries welcome the crowds, its has become increasingly clear in recent years that the traffic congestion both on the streets and in parking lots is likely bad for business and definitely harmful to the quality of life of Little Saigon’s residents.

A 2007 estimate, the latest figures available, place average weekday traffic volume on Bolsa at 37,387 trips, with the highest traffic volume at the heart of Little Saigon, between Bushard and Brookhurst, at 34,300 trips.

Average daily traffic volume was 28,000 along Magnolia St. and 43,600 along Brookhurst St. that same year, according to a city analysis. 

And congestion has only gotten worse since then, say city officials.

Between 2011 and 2014, there were 39 traffic collisions at the intersection of Beach and Bolsa; 36 collisions at Brookhurst Street and Bolsa; 33 at Bolsa and Magnolia Street; and 31 at Goldenwest and Bolsa, according to city figures.

In hopes of reversing these trends, Westminster officials submitted an application last month for a competitive matching grant from the Orange County Transportation Authority to fund a free public circulator bus, which would connect residential communities close to Little Saigon to major shopping centers.

The circular route would provide service every 15 minutes, 7 days a week from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m. along Bolsa, Magnolia Street, Bishop Place and Brookhurst.

While at least 18 other OC cities have expressed interest in applying for the funds, Westminster officials say they have a strong case.

“You can tell in the increasing amount of investment in [Little Saigon] that it’s becoming more and more popular,” said Assistant City Manager Chet Simmons. “The circulator idea works in areas where you have a certain amount of mass – the idea is you could come in and park in one place and take the circulator bus to other parts of Little Saigon.”

The bus would also make it easier for residents of Little Saigon, especially the elderly and those who don’t drive, to access resources throughout the area. The bus route will connect with a number of apartment complexes, mobile home parks and neighborhoods of single-family homes.

As part of the application, Westminster is requesting $1.1 million in funds each year for up to seven years, as part of the Transportation Authority’s Project V fund, an initiative that is funded by Measure M, the county’s half-cent sales tax for transportation needs.

On Tuesday, the Garden Grove City Council will consider approving a proposal to request $50,000 from the Transportation Authority in order to conduct a study about the value of extending the circulator’s route into Garden Grove.

If Garden Grove decides to partner with Westminster in the program, the route could be extended to Westminster Avenue in Garden Grove.

Proposed Routes 1
Credit: City of Westminster

Westminster’s proposal is the result of nearly a decade of planning, said traffic engineer Adolfo Ozaeta.  Along with Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley and Stanton, Westminster has participated in two regional public transit studies funded by the Transportation Authority that ultimately led to the circulator bus solution.

Beyond the bus proposal, Westminster is also in the process of updating its citywide traffic and mobility survey for the first time since the late 1990s, as part of an update of its General Plan.

And both the city and Transportation Authority have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into road and traffic improvevents in recent years. In 2014, ten intersections along Bolsa/First Street from Tustin to Westmister were synchronized to improve travel times and reduce delays. The Transportaton Authority paid for 80 percent of the $280,000 project, Ozaeta said.

The city is also in the pre-construction phase of a $1.42 million project at Magnolia and Bolsa, aimed at improving traffic flow and infrastructure at that intersection.

Although Westminster is facing a budget crisis that threatens to bankrupt the city in three years, city officials say they will likely be able to use restricted funds to make up the 10 percent match required of the city for the project.

According to Simmons, the city could tap into funds allocated from the Air Quality Management District towards projects that improve air quality.

“A good way of doing that is to limit or reduce car trips that take place in a certain area, through public transportation,” said Simmons.

If the city gets the Transportation Authority grant, it would need to meet a ridership threshold of 6 riders per vehicle revenue hour in the first year and 10 riders per hour in its second year.

The Transportation Authority’s board of directors will approve a final list of project awards at a meeting in June. Should the Little Saigon project be approved, the city hopes to implement the circulator bus before the 2017 Lunar New Year, Ozaeta said.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

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