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Transit Center Is Back on Track

Anaheim resumes work on regional rail and bus station, which would double as county cultural center. Maglev terminal is part of plan.

November 10, 2002|Dan Weikel | Times Staff Writer

On paper, Anaheim's $250-million transportation center is a palace for mobility: Cavernous interlocking stations with arching roofs of glass serving tens of thousands of people a day.

Metrolink, Amtrak, a maglev train to Las Vegas, the state's high-speed rail project, and the county's CenterLine system are shown converging as if all tracks lead to Anaheim. Designed like a giant layer cake, the station will allow trains to come and go from tiers.

Outside are transit ways and bus bays, bicycle racks, ample parking and easy access to the Orange and Santa Ana freeways. Edison International Field, the Arrowhead Pond and new office buildings -- so-called transit-oriented development -- surround the complex, dubbed the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center. Disneyland is just a few shuttle stops away.

Shelved for almost a decade as too much, too soon, the center is dormant no longer. Anaheim has resumed planning Orange County's version of New York's Grand Central Station. Along with Ontario International Airport and Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, the Anaheim transit hub is envisioned as one of three fully integrated hubs connecting the sprawling Southland metropolis.

Although hurdles remain, city leaders believe a regional transit center will be necessary to Orange County's tourist industry, job market and population growth. Work must proceed today to accommodate transit demands 10 to 20 years from now, officials say. "We want and need better access to grow and prosper economically, not just in Anaheim, but across the region," said Gary Johnson, the city's director of public works.

Planners want to build the complex in a notch of land formed by the Orange Freeway and the Santa Ana River. The site lies mostly on city and county property immediately northeast of Edison Field and just south of Katella Avenue.

City officials say the site will be designed to accommodate five types of rail lines and a variety of buses services -- from shuttles to express routes -- on specially designed transit ways.

Motorists would be able to reach the transit center from the Orange and Santa Ana freeways. Parking would be available in a large structure, in nearby lots and at Edison Field.

"It's a great idea to put the various modes of transportation in one location," said Kristi Kimball of the Surface Transportation Policy Foundation, a Washington think tank. "Intermodalism is far more convenient for travelers."

High-density office, residential and commercial buildings, restaurants, cinemas, clubs and shops would be encouraged around it. Amenities are available near major train stations around the country, often transforming them into focal points for travelers and people in surrounding communities.

"Stations can be huge attractions," said Sarah L. Catz, director of the Center for Urban Infrastructure at UC Irvine's Institute for Transportation Studies. "I have seen what they've done to Union Station in Washington, D.C., and Grand Central Station in New York. If ARTIC is created, it could be a wonderful cultural center for Orange County."

Anaheim's transit hub has a long way to go from renderings to reality. The station depends on rail systems that have yet to be approved or face serious economic hurdles.

Amtrak, the national passenger service, is struggling financially, although it recently received a transfusion of federal funds to keep it going.

Maglev, or magnetically levitated trains, can go 200 to 300 mph but are expensive and unproven commercially. Japan and Germany have experimented with them for decades but have not put any into service.

City officials would like Anaheim to be a terminus for the proposed California-Nevada Super Speed Train, a $4-billion maglev route that would link the city with Ontario International Airport and Las Vegas.

The so-called "Gambler's Special" was proposed almost 20 years ago. The project's commission is now seeking federal funds for environmental studies. If everything falls into place, the system might be built by 2008.

Rail enthusiasts are eagerly awaiting the world's first commercial application of maglev technology. The Chinese government is building a $2-billion, 18-mile line from Shanghai's main business district to a new international airport.

Uncertainty also surrounds the $25-billion California High Speed Rail Project, the state's version of the bullet train. In November 2004, voters will be asked to approve a $9-billion segment from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Even if that first leg is approved, Anaheim might have to wait years to be included in subsequent phases of the project. Overall plans call for high-speed rail links from San Diego to San Francisco and Sacramento.

"If they can pull it off, it would be a fantastic, world-class center," said David Elbaum, director of strategic planning for the Orange County Transportation Authority. "But in our thinking, you clearly will need CenterLine, high-speed rail service and Metrolink to make it work."

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