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Orange County

CenterLine Rail Project Is Shortened Again

Transportation: The once-ambitious plan to connect north and south commuter destinations now ends at Irvine City Hall.

July 20, 2002|EVAN HALPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Call it the incredible shrinking rail line.

Orange County's controversial CenterLine project is being trimmed again. The proposed light rail line--initially pitched as a 35-mile mass-transportation link from Fullerton to Irvine, then cut in half--is now down to less than 12 miles and won't reach the Irvine Spectrum, leading some to call it the "train to nowhere."

That's not a sentiment many Irvine officials share. On Friday, they called the latest revamped route a perfect starting place for a high-tech rail system and said doubters will be begging to link their neighborhoods to the line when service begins about 2011. The alignment is being scaled back to eliminate a controversial link that would have gone through three residential communities on its way to the Irvine Spectrum.

The Irvine City Council will vote Aug. 13 on whether to present the scaled-back plan to the Orange County Transportation Authority, the lead agency for the project. Authority officials say they are prepared to shorten the route if asked.

But in doing so, the final stop of the train is no longer a transportation hub, business park and entertainment complex. It's Irvine's remote civic center--a destination for few people.

"We want to take this train system not just where it is needed, but where it is wanted," said Irvine Mayor Larry Agran, explaining the shortened route.

He predicted that opposition in neighborhoods the train would have cut through will wither after the line starts running, and the city can then work to expand it.

"Once people see it, feel it and experience it, they tend to be enthusiastic about linking their communities," Agran said. "This system would be noise-free, pollution-free, and we think aesthetically and functionally attractive."

Officials displayed digitized images of what the futuristic train cars would look like as they speed through the Irvine Business Complex. They resemble the high-speed transportation system that zipped city dwellers around in the film "Minority Report."

Arthur Leahy, chief executive officer of the OCTA, supported the city's decision not to push the train system through resistant neighborhoods.

But he warned that Irvine will have a difficult time expanding the system to the Spectrum because it will have to compete for funds with North County cities like Brea and Cypress, which are eager to link onto the CenterLine at the Santa Ana side.

"Other cities are already looking at expanding this line," said Leahy. The shortened route unveiled Friday did little to comfort opponents of the light-rail system.

"It's an incremental approach to the same bad project," said Irvine Councilman Greg Smith. "Citizens will still be faced with the question of whether they want a 40-foot-high rail line running through their backyards."

Opponents of CenterLine have launched a referendum drive to stop Irvine from participating in the project, which would essentially kill it. They will begin collecting signatures in an effort to get the issue on the Irvine ballot in February.

"Now, more than ever, we need to protect the city from this boondoggle project," said Bill Mavity, treasurer of the group Fund Alternatives Instead of Rail Transit. "You don't know where it will go when they come back to expand it. And they will come back."

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