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OCTA Nominates Its Candidates for First Elevated Rail Route : Transportation: Agency staff has five proposed links to evaluate, with the final choice to be made early next year.


SANTA ANA — Orange County's first elevated urban rail line might link Irvine with South Coast Plaza, with no direct link to the Los Angeles rail system. Or it could run from Stanton to Santa Ana. Then again, it could run somewhere else entirely.

Experts will evaluate five possible routes--each between nine and 13.5 miles long--during the next few months to see which one makes the most sense, county transportation officials said Thursday.

The five routes were outlined for the first time in an Orange County Transportation Authority staff report that is expected to be approved when the OCTA board meets on Sept. 13.

Release of the route maps is expected to spark competition between cities that seek the rail line to boost local redevelopment efforts and showcase transit facilities, such as Santa Ana, Anaheim and Irvine.

The so-called starter line, which won't be built for another seven to 10 years, would be expanded to 47 miles later and would become part of a countywide network in 20 to 30 years.

The five "candidate" routes are: Norwalk to Disneyland, with a connection to Los Angeles' urban rail system at the northern terminus; Beach Boulevard in Fullerton to The City shopping center in Orange; Disneyland to South Coast Plaza, mostly via Main Street in Santa Ana; Beach Boulevard in Stanton to the Santa Ana Transportation Center (an Amtrak station) via the old Pacific Electric Red Car line, and South Coast Plaza to the Irvine Transportation Center (an Amtrak station).

The Transportation Authority plans to present preliminary findings to the agency's board on Nov. 22.

"The candidate corridors and technical evaluation results will then be compared to the findings of the market research and public outreach efforts," according to the OCTA report. "If any corridors are identified in the public outreach that are not now identified, they will be evaluated based upon the same technical evaluation criteria. . . ."

A market research effort is underway, a portion of which involved 5,353 telephone interviews of a sample of Orange County commuters. A survey of workers at major employment sites is also being completed.

The staff is scheduled to recommend one route to the OCTA board on Feb. 14. If the OCTA board approves it, the recommended route will be released for public review and comment for two months, and a final board vote on April 11 would start the formal federal funding application process for further planning studies.

About $750 million was set aside for the starter line in Measure M, the half-cent sales tax for traffic improvements adopted by county voters in 1990.

The five routes outlined Thursday were evaluated based on their acceptance by surrounding communities of an interim rail terminal, the availability of adjacent land for rail yards and shops, and the potential availability of funding, officials said.

The next round of evaluations will focus on factors such as current and adopted land use plans, transportation benefits, access to other transportation facilities, and projected ridership.

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