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Irvine to Examine the Best Way of Getting Around Town

October 08, 2006|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

Portland, Ore., has its light rail shuttling riders into downtown, and Las Vegas has its monorail. Will Irvine be next to shuttle people in high-tech style to shop and dine at the Spectrum or visit the Orange County Great Park?

"We need a monorail or something like that," said Richard Ruszat, a lawyer from Irvine who rides Metrolink daily to and from work in Los Angeles. "With a monorail, it's elevated and lets you go up top and ride high and see how beautiful the city is," he said one recent afternoon at the Irvine train station.

This week, city transportation officials will examine what inter-city transit system -- monorail, trolley, streetcar, and yes, bus -- the city should pursue. The study, largely gauging the sentiments of residents, will take nine months.

"There is no preferred type of transportation," said Rick Sandzimier, Irvine's director of development.

"This is a blank canvas."

A team of consultants has been hired by the city to hold public meetings, seek ideas and provide recommendations to the City Council by June.

While the final route is uncertain, one possible path would be to have it depart the city's train station for the Spectrum office and retail area, return, and then head to the Great Park, a distance of at least four miles.

Irvine has prided itself as a "visionary city," according to its website, one that touts its "top-rated educational opportunities and unrivaled quality of living."

The mode of transportation the city selects will have a bearing on its image. Metrolink riders, who might use the new system to get to work or visit the park, said during a recent city meeting that they hoped the city would select something "sexy" such as a monorail, rather than a bus, even if it uses alternative fuel.

Irvine has a $120-million allocation from a 1990 statewide transit initiative that it has not tapped, though it must provide matching funds, city officials said.

The money is earmarked for "anything elevated or on a fixed track like a specific lane," said Marty Bryant, the city's public works director.

That could be a bus, Bryant said, but it also might be personal electric vehicles carrying as many as four passengers and their luggage on an elevated track similar to Disneyland's Autopia cars.

Once a recommendation is made, the city wants to begin whatever construction is needed in 2010 and finish in two years.

Metrolink and Amtrak riders who attended a recent city meeting at the Irvine station said they like a high-tech choice that uses electricity.

"As long as it's clean and it doesn't pollute," said Lito Villamayor, 51, a business executive who lives in Poway.

Villamayor, who was in Irvine for a business meeting, described himself as a "committed" rail rider: "I will never drive again."

If Irvine builds an elevated transit system, he said, he intends to bring his family to the Great Park, once the job of transforming the old El Toro Marine base is completed.

Not all riders were enthusiastic about the city's plans. Said Javier Estrada, 31, of San Bernardino, who works in Irvine as a microbiologist: "Come on weekends to visit the Spectrum or the park? I don't think so. I'll stay in San Bernardino."

david.reyes@latimes.com

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