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O.C. Boosts Rail, Road Funds

Times Staff Writer

Orange County transportation leaders on Monday approved $1.46 billion for highway widenings, new carpool lanes and an aggressive expansion of the Metrolink rail system, including weekend service and bigger stations.

The Orange County Transportation Authority’s spending plan will help uncork two of the county’s most dreaded bottlenecks: the interchange for the 22 and 405 freeways and the junction of the 405 and 605.

Also included is widening the exchange where the Ortega Highway meets Interstate 5 in San Juan Capistrano.

But the expansion of Metrolink service in Orange County may be the most significant investment.

For years, transit leaders pushed for the county’s own light-rail system, a network that was first envisioned as a 28-mile line traversing much of north and central Orange County and linking entertainment districts, colleges and shopping centers.

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Some saw light rail as a symbol of Orange County’s urban maturity. But funding and political support for the CenterLine system, as it was called, fell short, and the project was finally shelved.

Monday’s decision to spend $434 million expanding Metrolink rail service takes Orange County in a different direction.

By 2009, Metrolink is expected to run every 30 minutes, from 5 a.m. to midnight on weekdays, between Fullerton and the station serving Laguna Niguel and Mission Viejo.

Metrolink stations will have more parking, and the system will have seven more locomotives and 59 more passenger cars. Plans also call for starting limited weekend service.

Stations in Fullerton, Orange, Tustin, Irvine and Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo will get new parking lots or parking structures, said Darrell Johnson, OCTA manager for programming, development and commuter rail.

Monday’s decision to begin the train and highway work was greeted with enthusiasm in San Juan Capistrano.

Assistant City Manager Bill Huber said the agency’s action would save the city $2 million on engineering studies for a proposed Ortega Highway interchange at Interstate 5, where local traffic sometimes slows to a crawl.

“We’re very supportive of this,” Huber said. “It’s needed because traffic is already at unacceptable levels.” In addition, he noted, plans have been approved for 14,000 homes mostly west and north of the highway.

The interchange work is expected to be completed in about 10 years, Huber said.

Most of the improvements included in the spending plan have already been approved, but in some cases they are only partly funded.

Funding for OCTA’s highway and Metrolink projects has come from a variety of local, state and federal sources, Johnson said, including the recent $286.5-billion transportation bill President Bush signed in August.

Johnson said most of the funding came from Measure M, the county’s half-percent sales tax for transportation projects. He said none of the money would come from the proposed renewal of Measure M, expected to come before voters next November.

Measure M, which voters approved in 1990, is expected to generate $4.2 billion by the time it expires in 2011 and has accounted for at least 25% of all money spent on transportation in Orange County.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

More for trains, tracks, roads

The Orange County Transportation Authority approved spending $1.46 billion on new transit projects and improvements to existing transit programs over the next five years.

Funding, by category (In millions of dollars)

Program; Amount; Includes

Carpool lanes; $454; Direct connectors for the 22/405 and 405/605 freeways, drop ramps, countywide Rideshare

Metrolink; $434; Locomotives, passenger cars, more parking at five stations, Anaheim transportation gateway project

Bus transit; $155; Rapid transit buses, infrastructure, shuttles

Highways; $150; Bristol St. widening, 91 eastbound aux. lane, I-5/Ortega Hwy. junction work, Ortega widening at San Antonio Pkwy.

Local streets, roads; $115;

Existing state improvement projects; $81; Imperial Hwy. grade separation, sound walls, small projects to eliminate bottlenecks along the I-5

Grade separation, enhancements; $65; All countywide grade-separation programs

Source: OCTA


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