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Balboa trolley service gets grant from Transportation Authority

A seasonal trolley service for the Balboa Peninsula that’s planned to begin next summer got a boost this week from the Orange County Transportation Authority.

The agency awarded Newport Beach with a $685,454 grant Monday to help the city operate a free service — consisting of about four or five shuttles — on 10 summer weekends and on Independence Day. The proposed hours for the service are 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

The shuttles could start as vans and then eventually be switched to electric, open-air, trolley-style buses, according to city staff reports.

City Development Director Kim Brandt said the city will most likely contract with a company to operate the service. The shuttles, which would offer pickups every 15 minutes, are proposed to travel along Newport and Balboa boulevards, according to the grant application. Stops include Hoag Hospital and the Balboa Pier.

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The idea behind the service is to provide visitors and residents with a simpler way to move around the narrow peninsula — whose main drag has few parking spots and often becomes crowded with beachgoers — during busy summer months.

“The trolley is a huge step forward to alleviate a part of the seasonal congestion but also to create a sense of fun for residents and visitors alike as they journey up and down the peninsula, from Lido Village to Balboa Village and Newport Pier and Marina Park in between,” said Mayor Diane Dixon, whose council district includes the peninsula.

Local leaders have long raised concerns that the lack of mobility and parking could be dissuading beach visitors from going to another area of the peninsula to dine or shop.

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“This will make it easier for people to circulate through the area and enjoy the entire peninsula without having to park more than once,” Brandt said.

Community leaders have been working for years to upgrade the aging downtown area with new signs and repairs to business facades. The Balboa Village Advisory Committee, comprised of area business owners, residents and city officials, has been considering for some time the question of how to transport people around the area in the busiest months.

In May 2015, the city hired Dan Boyle and Associates, a San Diego-based transportation planning firm, to look into the potential routes, as well as the cost and potential market for a transit service. Members of the Balboa Village committee were supportive of the plan and voted to send the idea to the City Council for consideration last year. The council signed off on staff applying for the grant in January.

Newport’s award, which will be distributed over seven years, is funded through Measure M, Orange County’s half-cent sales tax for transportation projects.

Newport Beach’s grant is part of a larger group of more than $26.7 million in funding the OCTA board of directors approved this week for projects countywide.

“I am so pleased that OCTA sees the benefit to alternative transportation on the peninsula,” Dixon said. “The peninsula is experiencing an awakening as a vibrant community of visitor- and resident-serving enterprises, and the trolley will help to serve those needs.”

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Hannah Fry, hannah.fry@latimes.com

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Twitter: @HannahFryTCN

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