Garden Grove Rails Against CenterLine

Times Staff Writer

Garden Grove city leaders have decided to oppose the CenterLine light-rail project, saying money earmarked for the proposal should be spent on street improvements that have been left off plans to overhaul the Garden Grove Freeway.

Tuesday night, the City Council unanimously condemned the $950-million trolley as an "imprudent use" of scarce resources and asked the Orange County Transportation Authority to submit the project to a countywide vote in March.

"CenterLine goes nowhere. It is not well thought out," Mayor Bruce Broadwater said. "OCTA is trying to do a cheap fix on the 22 [Freeway] when it has the money to do the highway correctly."

The council's rejection of CenterLine represents the latest round in an escalating dispute with OCTA, which is handling the 8.5-mile rail project and long-awaited improvements to the Garden Grove Freeway.

In late October, Garden Grove sued OCTA and Caltrans in federal court, contending the freeway project failed to consider traffic impacts on major city streets that intersect the highway.

The project's design does not accommodate street widenings called for by the county's master plan of arterial highways, the lawsuit alleges. As a result, Garden Grove officials say, the city might have to spend tens of millions of dollars to "undo" portions of the freeway project for at least seven streets to comply with the master plan.

OCTA officials say Garden Grove, which is not part of the CenterLine project, is trying to blackmail the authority into paying entirely for municipal street improvements, including some that go beyond the area of freeway widening.

"This is totally self-serving. They don't want to come up with the money like other cities have," said OCTA board member Art Brown, referring to Orange, which contributed funds for street improvements related to the Costa Mesa Freeway widening.

CenterLine has been debated so many times and reaffirmed by the OCTA board so many times that reconsidering it now "borders on the ridiculous," Brown said. "We are in the twilight zone."

If built, CenterLine would run from John Wayne Airport to the Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center. Future expansions depend on support from other cities.

Because of steady political and community opposition, the rail project has been scaled back from 28 miles to 8.5 miles and will probably be placed underground in the South Coast Metro area.

OCTA and Caltrans had planned to add lanes, sound walls and ramps along 12 miles of the Garden Grove Freeway from the San Diego to Costa Mesa freeways at an estimated cost of $438 million.

But the state budget deficit has limited the project to a 5-mile stretch between Brookhurst Street and the Santa Ana Freeway. The rest of the project will be phased in as money becomes available.

In their resolution, council members asked OCTA to reconsider its support for CenterLine and to let voters decide whether revenue set aside for light rail from the county's transportation sales tax should be redirected to the Garden Grove Freeway project.

CenterLine will do little to relieve traffic congestion in the county, council members said, and the costs of the rail system will severely affect the county's ability to pay for other transportation projects.

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