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Cost of a New Rail Line Stop: Millions More

Transit: For the Laguna Niguel MetroLink station, officials nearly double the original budget.

August 24, 1999|MEGAN GARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A new MetroLink station in Laguna Niguel will cost nearly double its original estimate and possibly much more, sending county officials scrambling to find millions in additional dollars to fund the long-planned South County station.

City officials say the station will cost far more than the $2.75 million budgeted, despite efforts by planners to take out all the frills--even down to removing colored tile from the train platforms.

On Monday, Orange County Supervisor Tom Wilson, who is also board chairman of the Orange County Transportation Authority, asked staff to find a way to cover the funding shortfall. "I've been watching commuters in South County be frustrated for years just trying to get on MetroLink," Wilson said. "It's a solution that's long overdue."

The supervisor's request gave supporters new hope for the troubled plan.

"This is the best news we've had in a while," said Ken Montgomery, Laguna Niguel's director of public works.

The new station would be on Forbes Road, near the junction of the San Joaquin Hills Toll Road and Interstate 5. The stations closest to the proposed one--Irvine and San Juan Capistrano--are overcrowded, and parking lots fill up day after day.

"The ones waiting patiently are truly the potential riders," said Peter Hidalgo, spokesman for MetroLink, which serves about 5,300 people a day on its Orange County line.

Work on the station had been scheduled to be underway by now, and a grand opening had been planned for June 2000.

Funding for the 400-space parking lot and train platform was slated to come from cities, state grants and county tax dollars, including $1.9 million from Measure M, the half-cent supplemental sales tax passed by county voters in 1990.

But plans for the station hit a major snag this summer when construction bids came back far higher than anticipated. City officials were caught off guard by bids that were $2 million to $4 million more than available funding.

Now, a bare-bones plan for the Laguna Niguel-Mission Viejo station, which had already been scaled back before, will be put out for bid again in the hopes of finding someone capable of doing the work for less, said Montgomery, the public works director.

The funding problem is the latest in a series of setbacks for planners who have been working since 1993 to make the station a reality. Originally, it was to be built in Mission Viejo just north of Oso Parkway. When that land was deemed too expensive, Mission Viejo officials worked with neighboring Laguna Niguel to find another suitable location.

Until this week, city planners had been pushing an alternative "half station" plan with a platform on only one side of the tracks. That plan called for the remainder of the station to be built later when more funds would become available.

But county transit officials rejected that plan as too costly, requiring a $1-million switching station that wouldn't be needed if the plans for a complete station were followed.

Also contributing to this report was Times correspondent Rebecca Harris.

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