Santa Ana officials are advocating an expansion of their $408 million streetcar in the city to places like John Wayne Airport and Anaheim’s tourist-heavy Resort District.

City Council members are scheduled to vote Tuesday night on a resolution urging the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) to create new routes connecting to the four-mile OC Streetcar path currently under construction in Santa Ana. City staff are recommending the council approve the call to action.

The current streetcar, which is scheduled to open in early 2022, will run from Santa Ana’s train station, through 4th St. in Downtown Santa Ana, to the city’s border with Garden Grove at Westminster Ave. and Harbor Blvd.

Santa Ana city staff, in their report for Tuesday’s decision, wrote transportation officials could extend the route north from Harbor Blvd. – where the current streetcar route ends – and south from the streetcar’s Bristol St. station.

Construction for the project, which started in 2018, has been disrupting businesses in downtown Santa Ana. Many business owners have told Voice of OC the construction has forced them to cut costs, hours of operation, or close down entirely.

“The OC Streetcar Project will greatly benefit commuters throughout the county who work in historic Downtown Santa Ana and the Civic Center, one of the largest employment centers in Orange County,” city staff stated in their report. The extensions, staff wrote, would support job centers while alleviating car traffic congestion.

Streetcars are typically more expensive than bus systems on a cost-per-mile basis, according to Metro Magazine, a trade publication for transit operators.

Officials at OCTA have for years been looking at ways to get streetcar routes up and running in other parts of the county.

One study the agency conducted — looking at ways to connect north county cities like Anaheim and Fullerton with Santa Ana and Garden Grove on a streetcar route along Harbor Blvd. — apparently stalled back in 2018 due to disagreement among the cities about whether the project was necessary.

OCTA officials have separately looked at ways to connect cities along Bristol St. — Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Irvine — with a public transit route, which Santa Ana city staff argue in their report could be used to extend the current four-mile OC Streetcar route.

The existing OC Streetcar project has faced scrutiny by some city and transportation officials who say the project’s too expensive for its relatively short, four-mile route, when there are less expensive options like buses that could be improved by increasing service.

“I just don’t think streetcars are just the way to go anymore with mass transit in California,” said county Supervisor and OCTA board member Don Wagner in a phone interview Friday. “Buses are a lot cheaper and I don’t see how folks would get on a streetcar when they could get on a bus.”

But the existing project has the backing of most OCTA board members, including county Supervisor Lisa Bartlett and Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, who for years advocated for streetcars as an engine of economic growth.

Bartlett, during a county supervisors’ meeting in November, called for the same streetcar expansions that Santa Ana is proposing in tomorrow’s vote.

“I think as we rebuild our Civic Center here, and we move our 18,000 employees to work in our Civic Center premises…that’s gonna be on the streetcar route and that hopefully will have a real positive impact, along with the potential connectivity of the streetcar to connect down to the airport in the future, and maybe connect up to the Anaheim area sometime in the future as well, to those job centers,” she said at the Nov. 5 meeting.

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporting fellow. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

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