Orange County transportation planners on Monday approved a second bus system that will have fewer stops and take riders to their destinations a third faster than regular routes.
Three major north-south and east-west corridors have been selected for Bus Rapid Transit, which now operates in Los Angeles County.
A fleet of new buses costing an estimated $133 million and powered by compressed natural gas will pick riders up at stops about a mile apart. Plans call for larger bus shelters with high-tech aids that will give minute countdowns for bus arrivals. The information will also be available on cellphones connected to the Internet. Rapid buses use transponder technology to keep traffic lights green as they approach.
For the Orange County Transportation Authority, the new program is an alternative to the agency's controversial CenterLine, a light-rail system that was shelved two years ago.
"The main thing about this system is that it's rubber wheels rather than rail," said OCTA Chairwoman Carolyn Cavecche. "We can change it and we can move it if we want."
That flexibility was endorsed by the Automobile Club of Southern California, said Hamid Bahadori, the group's public policy and programs director.
"Bus Rapid Transit systems are much more flexible in accommodating unforeseen future market and ridership changes compared to light-rail systems," Bahadori said.
But the Auto Club will not support converting any existing traffic lanes to Rapid bus lanes because they result in more congestion and delay for the entire corridor, he said.
Dedicated lanes for the buses have been discussed, but no decision has yet been made.
The proposed routes:
* Harbor Boulevard: A 19-mile line linking Fullerton at Cal State Fullerton in the north to Costa Mesa's Triangle Square. It would serve Anaheim, Garden Grove, Santa Ana and Fountain Valley.
* Westminster/17th Street: A 22-mile line from the Long Beach Transit Mall east to the Santa Ana depot. The line would serve Long Beach, Seal Beach, Westminster, Garden Grove and Santa Ana.
* Brea/Irvine: A 28-mile line that will serve riders in the county's northern area at the Brea Mall, south along State College Boulevard to Anaheim's proposed regional transportation center near Anaheim Stadium, down Bristol Street to South Coast Plaza, then to John Wayne Airport and the Irvine Transportation Center.
The new system also includes a shuttle between Tustin Metrolink station, an Irvine business complex and John Wayne Airport.
The Harbor Boulevard corridor is expected to start running late next year, the Westminster corridor in 2009 and Brea/Irvine in 2010.
OCTA board members urged staff to explore other options they said could enhance the system, including wireless communications for laptops on buses and ticket dispensers at bus stops.
Several board members, including Costa Mesa Mayor Allan R. Mansoor, asked that staff explore extending the Harbor corridor terminus now at Triangle Square in Costa Mesa into Newport Beach.
Mansoor's idea was supported by another board member, Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, who said one of the major requests by tourists visiting Anaheim's resort area was for a public bus they could take to the beach "without needing four transfers."