Proposals for two major new transportation corridors through Santa Ana and surrounding cities have become a focal point in recent months for efforts to relieve a growing traffic crunch in the expanding urban centers of central Orange County.
Studies over the next few months will look at proposals for a six-mile extension of the Orange (57) Freeway to the San Diego (405) Freeway and a combination expressway/busway along an abandoned rail line between the Santa Ana Civic Center and Stanton--both designed to provide options for motorists now using the overburdened Costa Mesa (55) Freeway.
The Orange Freeway extension has been discussed for a decade or more. But past proposals centered on punching the six-lane route through existing neighborhoods and shopping centers in Santa Ana--a hugely expensive proposition, estimated at $1.28 billion, and one that promised almost certain political defeat.
A new study, scheduled for completion in the next few weeks, addresses the possibility of elevating the new freeway on piers thrust into the Santa Ana River bed, a plan that could capitalize on plans to reconstruct the river channel as part of a $1.1-billion flood protection plan now before Congress.
A separate study to be undertaken by Santa Ana, Garden Grove and the Orange County Transit District will look at building an expressway and busway between the Santa Ana Civic Center and Beach Boulevard in Stanton, along a route once planned for construction of a light-rail transit line.
The abandoned 100-foot-wide rail right of way was purchased by the Transit District in 1983 for $15 million, but defeat of a proposed local sales tax increase a year later effectively scrapped plans for the light-rail system. The new proposal would provide an option for using the land to serve the same travelers who might have used the trolley line, said Brian Pearson, OCTD's director of development services.
Both proposals address a long-seen shortfall in Orange County's freeway system: the lack of any major north-south routes in the central part of the county. Motorists now traveling from Anaheim or Fullerton to the South Coast Plaza and John Wayne Airport areas must get off the Orange Freeway at its current terminus and then either switch to surface streets or to the Santa Ana Freeway and the Costa Mesa Freeway at some of their most congested points.
Yet a study by South Coast Plaza developers C.J. Segerstrom and Sons, who have been quietly but vigorously promoting the Orange Freeway extension, shows that most of the county's heaviest employment, recreation and population are all located near the proposed route.
The corridor would handle 50% of the anticipated north-south freeway traffic volume in Orange County, serving 350,000 southwestern county residents and 515,000 north and central county residents, according to Segerstrom's analysis of county traffic forecasts.
County officials will be looking closely at ways to connect the 57 extension directly to the Corona del Mar Freeway, rather than dumping all of the traffic directly onto an already-congested portion of the San Diego Freeway, said Jerry Bennett, county transportation planning director.
That way, he said, motorists will be able to drive directly down the Orange Freeway, onto the Corona del Mar Freeway and directly from there onto the proposed new San Joaquin Hills Freeway as far as San Juan Capistrano. County officials say an elevated ramp between the Santa Ana River and the Corona del Mar Freeway is probably the easiest way of making the connection.
David Grosse, Santa Ana's public works director, said cities along the extension route would probably establish a developer fee program to help finance the new freeway. A similar program is being established for the new San Joaquin Hills, Foothill and Eastern freeways in south and east Orange County.
Link to Flood Control
But county officials say the new study will also look at ways of financing portions of the project through programs established for the Santa Ana River flood control project.
The proposal for new Santa Ana-Stanton transportation facilities on the old Pacific Electric "red car" trolley line is less well-defined. Santa Ana and Garden Grove officials are primarily interested in a high-speed boulevard through some of the major recreation, government and commercial centers between the Santa Ana Civic Center and the Garden Grove Freeway.
But the Transit District will also be looking at a busway along the right of way--a set of lanes reserved for buses, van pools and car pools similar to the commuter lanes on the Costa Mesa Freeway, but more sophisticated.