OCTA Votes Unanimously to End Anaheim Streetcar Project

The controversial Anaheim streetcar project is all but dead after the board of the Orange County Transportation Authority voted unanimously Monday to pull support for the 3.2 mile, $300 million transit project and explore other alternatives for the Harbor Boulevard corridor.

It’s a decision that the board has debated and delayed for months, after a highly politicized report by an ad hoc committee, comprised of four of the project’s opponents, recommended the city of Anaheim drop the streetcar project and hand it over to the Transportation Authority.

Monday’s 14-0 vote – with directors Jim Katapodis, Tim Shaw and Frank Ury absent – would end all planning processes for the streetcar with the city of Anaheim. Instead, the Transportation Authority will conduct a study of the entire Harbor Boulevard corridor, including the streetcar’s proposed route, and determine what transit solutions would make the most financial and logistical sense.

“Thank you for putting a stake in the heart of this bad project,” board director and Irvine City Councilman Jeff Lalloway said to his colleagues Monday. Lalloway was a part of the ad hoc committee.

Enthusiasm for the streetcar project has steadily deflated as discussions of the project’s cost and impacts has raised questions about whether there would ever be enough riders to pay off the expensive project.

The streetcar is estimated to cost nearly $100 million per mile – one of the most expensive projects in the country, according to a Transportation Authority study – and it is unlikely to secure the federal funding that local officials had planned to pay half the project’s construction costs.

The process of evaluating the project’s environmental impacts was also delayed after a family-owned hotel that would have been bulldozed to make way for the streetcar route publicly resisted the city’s efforts, prompting officials to consider alternative routes.

It’s a victory for opponents of the streetcar who have called the project a taxpayer boondoggle, including Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, also a member of the ad hoc committee.

Tait has cited low ridership at the city’s new transit hub, ARTIC, as among the reasons why he believes the streetcar, which would connect ARTIC to Disneyland and the Anaheim Resort, is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

“Anyone who walks into ARTIC will know…there’s no demand. And the small demand is being met by existing systems and hoteliers,” Tait said Monday.

Supporters of the Anaheim streetcar have argued the project would increase connectivity in the area, reduce dependence on cars and spur investment along the route.

Growing support for another streetcar project connecting Santa Ana and Garden Grove, however, has prompted the Transportation Authority to pour its efforts into one project, rather than taking a piecemeal approach to regional planning, said program manager Kelly Hart.

Although the agency has stopped planning for the project, a streetcar is not necessarily off the table. Monday’s vote means the Transportation Authority will go back to the drawing board with a study of Harbor Boulevard and consider all the possible transportation options, which, if viable, could include a streetcar.

The study will be complete in January 2017, according to Transportation Authority staff.

Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido said that although the board has taken the Anaheim streetcar off the table, it shouldn’t dismiss the possibility of another streetcar as technological advances could lower the cost of projects.

“I think any system that develops has to be coordinated and handled regionally,” said Pulido. “Let’s not be biased against a streetcar for Katella…if we’re going to be open, let’s be open.”

Director Al Murray said any future decisions about the corridor should be based on what makes the most sense.

“This should be a technical decision – what is actually best based on the study and  experts – not a political decision, which I think it was previously,” said Murray.

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