Federal funds for a 12,000-space parking structure, that is considered by the Walt Disney Co. to be pivotal in its plans to build the Westcot Center project, are expected to be included today in a massive national transportation bill now wending its way through the House.
Although Disney and Orange County transit officials must first clear a legislative thicket before the money is actually in hand, they regard as a victory indications that a House public works subcommittee will vote today to approve $15 million toward building not only the parking garage but special car-pool lanes at the San Diego and Costa Mesa freeways interchange.
The money would be included in the National Highway System bill, which must be approved by the House Committee on Public Works and Transportation and then the House. It then moves to the Senate, where it is likely to slam into a wall, because the upper chamber has no intention of taking up the bill this year, officials said.
This is not the first time the federal government has given its blessing to the parking garage, which Disney has said it needs to keep Disneyland open if it is ever to build a $3-billion Westcot project next to the park.
Another $15.5 million was granted last year for the same two projects, but it has yet to be spent because of concerns the Federal Transportation Authority has about the seven-story garage, which would be one of the biggest in the country.
If authorization for more funding is won today, county transportation officials said it could help allay the Federal Transportation Authority's fears so last year's money can finally be spent.
"It's a giant step for us," said Stan Oftelie, head of the Orange County Transportation Authority, which would own the parking structure if it is built.
If this year's money wins final approval, the county would have as much as $30.5 million in federal funds to spend over the next three years on the garage and freeway projects, meaning that the federal government will have picked up about 10% of a $318-million tab.