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Congress Approves DisneySea's Wish List for Transit : Transportation: Disney officials had lobbied Washington for car-pool lanes and monorail-design funds.

December 05, 1991|BETTINA BOXALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The massive federal transportation bill approved by Congress last week includes money for several Long Beach projects that are vital to the Walt Disney Co.'s proposed waterfront theme park.

Various local improvements funded in the $151-billion transportation measure would make it easier for tourists to whiz to and from DisneySea, the huge resort and amusement complex Disney is considering building in the port area.

The legislation authorizes funding for new car-pool lanes on the Long Beach Freeway leading to the waterfront, $4 million for the design of a monorail or other mass transit system between downtown Long Beach and the theme park site, and Alameda Street improvements that would divert truck traffic from the heavily used freeway.

"They're important," observed David Malmuth, a vice president of the Disney Development Co. "More capacity on the (Long Beach Freeway) makes it easier for guests to arrive." He said Disney favored all three projects and had lobbied Congress for them.

Although the city has long sought the highway and Alameda Street projects to ease traffic on the truck-clogged Long Beach Freeway, the proposal for a monorail study sprang directly from Disney's interest in building a theme park in the port area. The company expects to decide by the end of the year whether to construct its second Southern California amusement complex in Long Beach or Anaheim.

"If Disney's not going to locate (in Long Beach), there's obviously no need for a study like this," acknowledged an aide to Rep. Glenn M. Anderson (D-San Pedro). Anderson requested the monorail funding after discussions with Disney representatives and City Councilman Evan Anderson Braude, his stepson, who represented the port area until the recent council redistricting.

The city has never officially pushed for the study, but Braude said it would be "great" to have a transit system connecting the end of the Blue Line light rail in downtown Long Beach with the theme park site.

Disney's original proposal included a monorail system running through the park, over the mouth of the Los Angeles River and to the south side of the Convention Center. The study, which would include preliminary engineering and design, calls for extending the line a few blocks to the downtown transit mall, where the Blue Line and a number of bus routes end.

In light of the enormous cost of monorail construction--approximately $165 million for the project--Malmuth said Disney might choose some less expensive form of transit for the route. "We don't know what it (will be)," he said, adding that the study would examine alternative types of transport.

The $4 million of federal money is only half of the study's total estimated cost, according to documents from Anderson's office. The rest would have to come from state and local pockets. If Disney doesn't come to Long Beach, the money would in all likelihood never be appropriated.

Although there is widespread interest in running mass transit to the Disney complex, some are raising questions about using public money to pay for the study.

"It's pork in the worst form, in my opinion," declared Stanley Green of the Belmont Heights Community Assn. "It's there to benefit a private business. . . . If Disney wants to spend $4 million of their money, that's a business decision. But I'm uncomfortable with dipping into taxpayer money."

Braude and Anderson's aide both countered that the monorail study was a legitimate public expense. "I think the city would be the major beneficiary," contended the aide, who did not want to be identified.

Malmuth also argued that the port master plan calls for the creation of recreation facilities near the Queen Mary, regardless of Disney's plans. So even without a Disney park, a transit system may be needed.

It's not the first time Disney has been criticized for pursuing public money for projects that would benefit its enterprises. Earlier this year, the company was chided for lobbying for $395 million in federal funds for public transportation improvements near Disneyland in Anaheim. In the end, Disney made few gains, as last week's transportation measure includes only about $15 million to build ramps to car-pool lanes on the Santa Ana Freeway in Anaheim.

For all the federal money headed in Long Beach's direction, the transportation funding falls considerably short of the city's hopes.

"We're very happy the Long Beach projects were left in the bill and approved," said John F. Shirey, assistant city manager. "But we're disappointed that there will not be as much funding as we expected."

The federal dollars represent only a portion of the projects' total costs, and construction is still years away.

For instance, the bill authorizes $7.4 million for car-pool lanes on the Long Beach Freeway, but Shirey said it will cost at least $280 million to finish all the roadwork.

The total costs of upgrading the Alameda corridor for truck and rail traffic out of the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports is a staggering $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion. The bill provides $56 million.

Other Long Beach projects funded in the transportation measure include $8.5 million for intersection improvements leading to the Long Beach airport and nearly $14 million to build a bus maintenance facility for Long Beach Transit.

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