Little Train Project That Could
Orange County’s 4.15 mile OC Streetcar is set to make its debut in 2023. The project has been years in the making and will address modern day transportation gaps with a route between Santa Ana and Garden Grove. One would think that in the third most-populous county in California, where the community has grown from just over 2.4 million to 3.2 million in the last 30 years, and where roads have been widened time and again due to traffic, that light rail would be a no-brainer. But being able to lay these rails hasn’t been an easy road.
Getting a ticket to ride
The OC Streetcar is a major milestone in light trail for the community.
In the 1990s, plans for the CenterLine project, a 28-mile track that would run between Fullerton and Irvine, were proposed, scaled down and then ultimately shelved due to critics who did not support light rail in the community. Policymakers then turned to other transportation options and put funds elsewhere, including freeway construction and additional bus service.
When the OC Streetcar was proposed and funding was being finalized in 2017, then-Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, an OCTA board member and leading proponent of the project noted, “This will be a paradigm shift that will change Orange County and allow the county’s central core to function differently.”
Today, with a housing shortage driving denser development, traffic worsening and rail gaining traction with younger people, there’s a greater acceptance for alternatives to driving around Orange County.
“I think it took a long time to convince people in Orange County that there was a need for it, that there was room for it and that it’s worth the money and the investment,” Sarah Catz, a researcher in the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Irvine and a former OCTA board member, told The Los Angeles Times.
What’s to come
Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) promises that when the OC Streetcar makes its debut, a “new horizon of mobility will be revealed.”
Six vehicles will operate daily, making stops at 10 locations in each direction every 10 to 15 minutes. The route will serve Santa Ana’s downtown area, which includes the county and local government offices and courthouses in the Civic Center, the single largest employment center in all of Orange County.
Passengers can travel between the Santa Ana transit center and a transit stop at Harbor Boulevard and Westminster Avenue in Garden Grove. The route will connect to existing transit systems, thus helping with the “first-mile last-mile issue.” It fills the gap so travelers can get to the next part of their trip without calling for an Uber or taxi, or having to walk.
According to OCTA, the preliminary cost estimate for the OC Streetcar is $423 million and is being funded through a combination of federal, state, and local funds. While $172.8 million came from taxpayers as part of Measure M, the state provided $25.5 million, and the federal government provided about $225 million.
Testing of the OC Streetcar is expected in 2022 with plans to officially welcome passengers in 2023. The cost will be the same as a bus ride.
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