O.C. Unveils Its Transit 'Dream' in Washington


Orange County officials outlined for the first time Thursday their vision of a futuristic, $9.4-billion regional transportation system--complete with monorail, people mover and super-speed train--and asked for federal help in making the dream come true.

Money, however, was not the first item on the wish list for the complex road and rail network, which would be financed largely with private funds. Initial plans call for only $600 million in federal contributions.

"There's one thing I have not done here today, and that's ask anyone for money," said County Supervisor Don R. Roth, who led a delegation of government and civic leaders who met with federal officials. "I've said, 'Hey, lessen the amount of government red tape that we have to go through.' "

Although individual elements of the sweeping proposal have been discussed before, Thursday marked the first time that officials have detailed in illustrations and reports how various city, county and regional transportation projects may traverse the county and come together at an ultramodern terminal near Anaheim Stadium.

Anaheim officials were prominent in the project's presentation Thursday, but Mayor Fred Hunter said afterward: "Many cities will benefit from this. It just so happens that the terminus is adjacent to Anaheim Stadium. . . . Everybody is really walking on cloud nine right now."

The elaborate presentation had not been made public before Thursday, Hunter said, because it was constantly being updated. "I think these renderings will generate some excitement back home," he said.

In meetings with congressional leaders and top Department of Transportation officials, Roth sought help in overcoming federal roadblocks that could delay or halt construction of the proposed California-Nevada high-speed train, regarded as the linchpin of the proposed regional network. The $5-billion, privately financed, 300-m.p.h. train linking Anaheim and Las Vegas would run along a 270-mile route 4 inches above a guideway, levitated by a magnetic field.

Roth asked for legislation that would bar the federal government from regulating fares for high-speed rail service and permit California to give the train commission free use of interstate highway right of ways. Roth, who also heads the California-Nevada Super Speed Transportation Commission, said he came away from the meetings encouraged.

The supervisor was accompanied by Hunter, Disneyland President Jack Lindquist and other Anaheim city officials.

"I think we came back here and presented (the federal government) with one hell of an opportunity and a great dream," Lindquist said. "And it's not blue sky. Everything we talked about is possible and can be done."

Disneyland would be directly served by a major element of the regional system--the Anaheim people mover. The above-ground, circular rail system, which would cost an estimated $200 million, would link the Anaheim Convention Center, Anaheim Stadium and a $300-million regional transit hub that would serve as the southern terminus of the Anaheim-Las Vegas rail line.

Other elements of the proposed network include:

A regional transportation terminal, built on land next to the Santa Ana River just south of the site of the proposed Anaheim arena, that would link the people mover, the monorail and the high-speed train with Amtrak rail lines.

A $1-billion monorail system that would link six Orange County cities with the regional transit terminal.

Private tollways to be built along the right of ways of the Orange and Riverside freeways.

Busways and high-occupancy vehicle lanes along the Santa Ana Freeway.

Much of the money to build the regional terminal, the people mover and the monorail system would come from development fees collected by Orange County cities. Private investors would finance the toll roads and the high-speed rail line. The largest federal and state expenditures would pay for improvements on the Santa Ana Freeway.

"The federal government ought to help us," Hunter said, "not so much with money, but help us jump the hurdles."

The response from federal officials appeared alternately upbeat and cautious. A spokesman for Rep. Robert A. Roe (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee, said Roe was "very impressed" by the county's presentation. In hearings this week, Roe said he strongly supports projects that combine alternative forms of transportation.

California Sen. John Seymour, a former Anaheim mayor and state senator, called the proposal "probably the prime example in the United States of privatization in transportation. . . . The bottom line of what they asked was for the federal government to get out of the way."

A Transportation Department spokesman said Deputy Secretary Elaine L. Chao was interested in the proposal and planned to follow it closely. Later, Roth said he had been invited back to Washington to discuss specific requests with the head of the Federal Railroad Administration.

Resolving problems associated with the high-speed rail line is critical if the rest of the regional system is to become a reality, officials said.

The magnetic-levitation, or maglev, technology that the train would employ has not been certified as safe by either the government of Germany, where it was developed, or the U.S. government. The Transportation Department is insisting on construction of a 14-mile test track before it will make that certification, Roth said.

Roth would like to see the test track built as part of the California-Nevada project, which would save valuable time in getting the project under way. But a competing project in Florida is vying for the test track, which could push back the California schedule.

On another front, Roth said the commission must be able to use, at no cost, the right of ways along Interstate 15 and other federal highways in order to make the high-speed rail project economically viable. Current law requires states to charge a fair market price for the use of such right of ways, Roth said.

Finally, Roth said Bechtel Corp., the company selected to build the high-speed rail system, is insisting on passage of federal legislation that would bar federal regulation of the fares for high-speed rail travel.

The Bush Administration has already introduced a major transportation bill that includes some right-of-way provisions, but the final makeup of the legislation is far from certain. Congress is expected to pass some version of the bill later this year.

Times staff writer Kevin Johnson in Orange County contributed to this report.

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