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Go-Ahead for Private Monorail : Supervisors Let It Go the Whole Half-Mile

Times Staff Writer

A plan to build a privately funded half-mile monorail between John Wayne Airport and an Irvine office center received unanimous endorsement from the Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

“This brings Buck Rogers into reality,” enthused board Chairman Harriett M. Wieder.

Supervisor Thomas F. Riley described the proposal as “an opportunity to make an impact on the traffic problem in Orange County.”

Tuesday’s board meeting was the first opportunity for supervisors to formally vote on the proposal by McDonnell Douglas Realty Co. The firm is planning twin 23-story office and residential towers near the edge of the airport in Irvine and wants to run the $3.5-million monorail from the towers to the new airport terminal about to be built.

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Expected to Run at a Loss

The firm expects the monorail to run at a loss, at least initially, but to enhance the value of the towers’ office space. The monorail could become profitable if owners of other office and hotel centers pay to have the line extended to their buildings, a McDonnell Douglas spokesman said.

County supervisors voted Tuesday to have the plans for the new airport terminal amended to include facilities for the monorail--mainly foundations for its guideway columns. The company has pledged to reimburse the county for any expense it incurs involving the monorail.

When bids on the terminal construction are received, probably in March, both the county and the company will know the reimbursement costs, and a final vote will be taken on whether to continue.

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“I think the prognosis is favorable,” Paul Carey, Riley’s executive aide assigned to the monorail proposal, said after Tuesday’s meeting. “If the board had any problems, this would have been the time to express them. We’ve gotten very positive indications. There’s no guarantee at this point that this will be built, but the chances are very good.”

The construction of the monorail depends, however, on the construction of the towers at the northeast corner of MacArthur Boulevard and Campus Drive, company officials said. That proposal is still in negotiations between McDonnell Douglas and Irvine city planners. Its first public hearing before the city Planning Commission probably won’t occur until spring, according to Stephanie Keys, an assistant city planner.

Keys said the city’s consideration of the monorail will be separate from the office towers.

Nothing but Praise

“We don’t presume anything,” company spokesman William Schreiber said. “But our initial presentations to Irvine have received nothing but praise. And with the county, the endorsement (Tuesday) was so sweeping, there should be no problem.”

Schreiber said the monorail would be built at about the same time as the airport’s new parking garage. It would probably begin operation at the end of 1990 or early in 1991, he said.

The trains in the system--called a “people mover"-- would travel its half-mile in about 2 minutes, company officials said. They estimate that the train would make a round trip every 4 to 5 minutes at a fare of 50 cents. “The thing at its peak is capable of 1,000 passengers per hour, and that’s a fairly sizable number of people,” Schreiber said.

The firm expects passengers to come not only from their proposed office towers, but from the adjacent Registry Hotel and from airline passengers dropped off there rather than inside the more congested airport.

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Although those people would not be enough to make the monorail system profitable or even self-supporting, “the key is this system is specifically designed to be extended,” Schreiber said.

Joining an existing system will be much cheaper than trying to build a competing monorail, he said.

“We’ve already been approached by the Meridien hotel, and there are preliminary discussions with other developers. We could theoretically end up with a system 5 miles long, serving the whole area.”


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