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Commentary : Maligned Airport Monorail Is the Little Transit System That Will

February 05, 1989|BOB YOUNG | Bob Young is president of the McDonnell Douglas Realty Co.

"Look up into the sky!" the child exclaimed. "It's a monorail!" Gliding swiftly and silently above the honking horns and choking exhaust fumes, the silver capsule comes to rest in the center of a beautiful new airport terminal. Smiling passengers disembark, refreshed and ready to begin their journey. Sounds like a Tomorrowland, doesn't it? But it's not. It's 1990--and we are almost there.

The monorail proposed by the McDonnell Douglas Realty Co. at John Wayne Airport continues to generate interest, enthusiasm and support as it winds its way through the governmental review process. However, like anything new and untried, we have our critics, skeptics and a handful who believe that the monorail is not really necessary.

Some call us "dreamers," and in fact the idea of a monorail at John Wayne Airport did begin with a dream. As we developers in the airport area advanced from garden offices to a high-rise, urban environment, change was inevitable. During the last 10 years, we have progressed from a small town with a single-story airport terminal handling under a million passengers a year, to a major urban area with the same airport handling many times that passenger volume. With the beautiful new terminal under construction, John Wayne will become a major urban airport.

In the past we merely walked across the street from our Douglas Plaza area to catch our flight. But the huge new terminal complex is located half a mile farther north and does not permit this easy access. So, we started "dreaming" about how to provide for our customers that easy and quick access directly into the terminal.

Our first approach to the problem was a pedestrian bridge. But a half-mile walk heavily laden with baggage is not a comfortable stroll to the airport. Thus was born the idea of a monorail.

The proposal has had a very positive impact on the community. People are tired of fighting Orange County's polluted, unsafe and congested streets and highways. They long for clean, quick, economical transportation. A year ago, our proposal drew derisive laughter. But no more. Laughter has turned to praise. The monorail is on its way. I find it amazing that some critics still want to block the project, considering that it will be privately funded and won't cost taxpayers a cent.

Although the monorail will be experimental, I predict that it will succeed beyond our wildest dreams. Every developer that sees it will want it to connect to his project. Through its sheer innovation, I think it will stimulate Orange County.

Of course, there will always be prophets of doom--such as one Orange County Transit District official who recently said, in effect: "Forget it. It's antiquated and won't do the job." He prefers light rail. Why this negative attitude? Because OCTD is a bus company, and that's all they ever really want to be. OCTD officials have told me pointedly that they don't want to serve the airport area because there is no demand. The reason there is no demand, of course, is because there is no bus service. Sounds like a real Catch-22, doesn't it? It is difficult to believe, but there are no terminal provisions for buses in the new airport project.

In Orange County, we have a tremendous number of people who have low to moderate incomes. How are we going to accommodate these people in the future? They can't afford the $15 a day it costs to park in the commercial garages. Some don't own a car. Do we forget them or do we start planning and building public transportation systems now?

It is our absolute obligation to blend the public sector with private developers to accommodate all the people and to provide an alternative form of transportation. It is easy for someone to berate our planned monorail in favor of automated light rail or some other "pie-in-the-sky" technology. Well, the monorail and light rail are two very different animals.

The monorail we propose is a local collector/distributor system costing $4 million and funded privately. Light-rail systems are intended to serve entire regions and could cost tens of millions of dollars per mile, and would be paid for by the overburdened taxpayer.

Our small monorail can be up and running in 2 years, and other developers can easily and economically connect to it. Eventually, we will distribute passengers throughout the Irvine, Newport Beach and Costa Mesa area comfortably, quickly and economically. Then you will see a major impact on traffic congestion.

It is not, in itself, a major transportation system--and no one ever said it is. It will be a small part of a much larger solution that may very well include monorails (of varying sizes and capacities), light rail, Amtrak, car pools and even those inefficient OCTD buses.

Some have told me that the monorail can't handle large numbers of people. As a matter of fact, Walt Disney World's monorail in Orlando, Fla., handles between 80,000 and 100,000 passengers per day. The greatly publicized and very expensive BART in the San Francisco Bay Area handles fewer than 200,000 per day. And Disney World is expanding its system to handle 150,000. Antiquated? Inefficient? Baloney! I've ridden it. It's fast, economical, comfortable . . . and people love it.

Our initial monorail system begins to solve the transportation problems of the airport and local streets. It will be the catalyst for generating the public's interest, enthusiasm and spirit needed to get the transportation job done.

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