By Jim Tortolano/Garden Grove Journal
Like a train emerging along the track through a bank of fog, the possible outlines of future use of the Pacific Electric corridor are starting to become clear. But like a mirage, it’s may be either further away than it appears, or not there at all.
The fourth and final round of community workshops are scheduled for six locations in Orange and Los Angeles counties in May to review the final alternatives analysis for the one-time Red Car line linking much of urban Southern California.
Garden Grove’s event is set for Wednesday, May 16 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Community Meeting Center, 11300 Stanford Ave. in Garden Grove. Other meetings are scheduled for Santa Ana, Buena Park, Los Angeles, Bellflower and South Gate.
Although nothing has been decided, the research accumulated points to the use of the corridor – running south from Paramount in Los Angeles County to Santa Ana – as a light rail transportation system that would tie into the existing (and planned) system in L.A. County.
However, the likelihood that such a system will be built here soon seems small. “When we complete the report,” said Philip Law, project manager for the Southern California Association of Governments, “the OCTA [Orange County Transportation Authority] will probably say ‘thanks, but no thanks’.”
A lack of funding and concerns about traffic and noise appear to make an early return to urban rail in Orange County unlikely. Even in the Los Angeles County, where there’s more support for a section of the route, construction probably would not begin for more than a decade.
The line runs diagonally across north Orange County, cutting through Buena Park, Cypress, Stanton, Garden Grove and Santa Ana. In researching possible alternatives, the Southern California Association of Governments is examining several options, including:
• doing nothing with the now largely-vacant strips of land;
• using the route as a busway with no tracks;
• creating a street-car or trolley system;
• a light rail network similar to the one in Los Angeles County;
• a high-speed route.
Based on costs, public input and other factors, the light rail choice seems to be the most attractive, at least according to the report. “Strong support was expressed for light rail transit based on its potential for serving all of the community’s transportation needs,” reads the executive summary, citing public opinion expressed at three earlier rounds of workshops.
The reports cited compatibility with the adjacent system along with the flexibility of adding additional rail cars as key factors favoring light rail over a street-car system.
Garden Grove, and to a lesser extent, Stanton, would be among the cities most affected by such a light rail operation. The summary suggests that one station would be built in Stanton on Beach Boulevard between Katella and Orangewood avenues.
In Garden Grove, stations would be at Brookhurst Street (near Chapman Avenue), Euclid Street (near Garden Grove Boulevard) and another at Harbor Boulevard just north of Westminster Avenue.
To link the corridor to Santa Ana’s civic center/downtown areas, two alternatives are foreseen. One is to run the rails east along Westminster along the Garden Grove-Santa Ana city limits to Main Street, then connecting with a planned street car system (perhaps in combination with Garden Grove) on Santa Ana Boulevard, or south along Harbor to First Street, then turning east and north on a realigned Santiago Street to the Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center.
The potential impact of such a light rail system is major. Historically, railroads have served as a catalyst for development and each of the proposed stations in Garden Grove and Stanton are located in key areas for those communities.
Aside from the costs, traffic, environmental and political issues, there are other complications. For example, the P.E. corridor cuts through parking lots at The Promenade Center at Brookhurst Street and Chapman Avenue in Garden Grove, as well as parking areas serving Home Depot, Costco and Office Depot in the downtown area.
It’s not the first time a light rail proposal has progressed this far. In 1984 a light rail plan similar to what might emerge from SCAG’s study failed when Orange County voters turned down a proposed sales tax increase to fund it.
More recently, a proposed CenterLine linking Fullerton to Irvine met powerful resistance and was chopped down to a Santa Ana to Irvine remnant, then shelved.
In April, the OCTA’s Transit Committee heard a briefing from SCAG about the P.E. plan and, according to published reports, received scant encouragement from members, who argued that an at-grade rail system might snarl traffic and increase wear-and-tear on city streets.