Expanded Irvine Monorail Discussed

Times Staff Writer

Savor this recipe for a palatable commute.

You arrive in south Irvine by train and ride an escalator up to a ultra-modern monorail poised at the station. The sleek, high-speed vehicle whisks you north on an elevated rail past traffic stalled on the San Diego Freeway. You arrive at the office less than 20 minutes later, stress-free and ready to go.

Some far-fetched vision of the future? Maybe not.

A private transportation firm and Irvine officials are discussing whether to expand a half-mile monorail now under construction at John Wayne Airport so that it would link the region's most congested business center with a new Amtrak station on the city's southern flank.

Last week, the state awarded Irvine a $122,000 grant to study potential routes for the ambitious monorail system, as well as station locations and possible methods of financing the project.

Though the concept is still barely beyond the dream stage, boosters of the expanded monorail plan suggest that the network of elevated tracks and needle-nose trains could be operating in about five years.

"I'm very enthusiastic about it," said Irvine Mayor Larry Agran, a chief advocate of using electric-powered monorails to alleviate present-day traffic and pollution problems. "This isn't pie-in-the-sky stuff. These systems are coming on line all over the world. . . . I think the logic behind it is very compelling and encourages me to believe that it could be very successful."

Agran and other boosters envision the network eventually spreading throughout the county, with high-speed monorail lines connected to lower-speed systems that would ferry commuters and suburbanites practically to the doorstep of office or home.

The existing proposal would attempt to do just that in Irvine.

Under the plan, the short monorail spur being built at the airport to ferry passengers from the terminal to an office complex planned down the street by the McDonnell Douglas Realty Co. would be linked with a longer loop circling the bustling Irvine Business Center.

Passengers would pay about $1 to ride in boxy cars that would spin around the five-mile loop at up to 25 m.p.h. Stations would be set at half-mile intervals, putting passengers within a quarter-mile of most destinations.

Connect With Station

Another monorail line equipped with streamlined trains that could speed up to 60 m.p.h. would connect the business loop to the Irvine train and bus station now under construction east of Interstate 5 near its junction with the San Diego Freeway. Although no specific routes have been spotlighted, planners envision the monorail line running through the beehive of businesses and retail centers between Barranca and Alton parkways in the city's Woodbridge area.

Once in place, the system could handle local commuters as well as residents of Riverside County and cities along the Amtrak rail line who travel to Irvine for work.

"With a couple of transfers, people should be able to walk to their jobs," said John Harris, transit-planning engineer for the city.

The entire $300-million network would be financed with both private and public money, officials said.

A multimillion-dollar state rail bond initiative expected on the June, 1990, ballot includes $125 million for a monorail system in Irvine. A proposed half-cent sales tax increase on the November ballot in Orange County to fund transportation projects could be tapped for help. Landowners and developers along the route and in the business park would also foot much of the bill.

3 Firms Approached

Officials with Transportation Group Inc., the Florida-based firm slated to build the half-mile monorail line for McDonnell Douglas, said that they have already approached three development firms in the Irvine Business Center to seek their participation in financing construction of the loop through the business community.

Francois Badeau, project manager with Transportation Group, predicted that the monorail system would prove a popular alternative for a variety of people, from office workers tired of driving to a lunch spot to future inhabitants of the many residential projects planned in the area.

"It's not the ultimate solution, but it will help," said Badeau, whose firm is supplying a new monorail system at Disney World in Florida. "This could be an example for the rest of the country and the rest of the world. We really feel it's a solution for the new urban city."

In an effort to woo developers, the company has hired the accounting firm of Kenneth Leventhal and Co. to determine what financial gains would be possible if the monorail line were in place near an office or commercial project.

Not everyone, however, has jumped aboard in support.

Center Not Impressed

Operators of South Coast Plaza, who last year gave a lukewarm reception to the notion of the airport monorail linking up with the famed mega-mall, say the new proposal does little to alter their attitude.

"I don't think things have changed," said Malcolm Ross, director of planning and design for C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, developers of the mall and major landowners in central Orange County.

"I have not heard any real discussion about the types of feeder lines we consider to be an integral part of anything like that," he said. "Until feeder lines from residential areas to the monorail itself are in place, it isn't exactly a practical consideration."

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