A rendering of the 67,000-square-foot Anaheim Regional Transportation… (City of Anaheim )
Soon it will sprout from an industrial patch between Anaheim's sports stadiums, a massive 67,000-square-foot structure with white steel ribbons arching high into the sky and a state-of-the-art transparent material that will let the Southern California sun gleam into what has been billed as the upcoming transportation hub of Orange County.
The Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center — known simply as ARTIC among transportation planners — will look like an iceberg beside the 57 Freeway by the time it's estimated to be finished in 2014.
Supporters hail the $184-million project as the realization of a long-held ambition and an essential piece of the transportation puzzle in Orange County, where current rail and public transit options might someday meet up with the promised California high-speed rail or other futuristic projects.
Its detractors scoff at the station now under construction as ostentatious and ill-advised — the "Crystal Cathedral of train stations," as one critic put it.
But civic boosters say ARTIC, with its arresting architecture, will serve as a bold reminder of Anaheim's prominence as one the state's large cities.
"Anaheim is really a centerpiece, a gateway for Southern California," said Kris Murray, a city councilwoman. "It's a beautiful facility. I think it will be a destination in itself."
The station is being planted alongside some of the top destinations in the city: It's wedged between the homes of the Angels and the Ducks. The convention center, among the largest on the West Coast, is nearby. Disneyland is too.
"The design reflects what it really is," said Lorri Galloway, another city councilwoman and an Orange County Transportation Authority board member. "It is iconic, futuristic — something that draws people, the mere beauty of it."
It's also something, they argued, that a county with 40 million annual visitors desperately needs. Planners anticipate that ARTIC will draw more than 10,000 daily boardings once it opens and will encourage residents and tourists alike to consider transportation options other than clogging the freeways.
ARTIC will replace a more modest station closer to Anaheim Stadium that now is a hub for Metrolink and for Amtrak, with 2,700 daily boardings, according to city officials.
The new station, officials say, will consume a 200,000-square-foot plot of land — enough for 41/2 football fields — and have 1,082 parking spaces. Yet it's going to be energy-efficient, they promise, with a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification.
The project is funded predominantly through Measure M, the county's half-cent sales tax that voters approved in 1990 and renewed in 2006. Over the years, the tax money has mostly been spent widening freeways.
Natalie Meeks, Anaheim's public works director, said the concept of ARTIC has been discussed by city officials for nearly 20 years. The notion gathered momentum when Anaheim was chosen as the southernmost terminus of the planned statewide high-speed rail line.
At one point, construction was set to begin in Anaheim, but now there's some doubt whether the high-speed train will ever extend this far south.
During the design process, Meeks said, plans centered on two goals: "It needed to be functional, it needed to work, it needed to be convenient and seamless," she said. Yet it also had to be "iconic and really make a statement about coming to Orange County and coming to Southern California."
Shawn Nelson, a county supervisor and OCTA board member, fears that ARTIC's planners may be more concerned with building something iconic than being judicious in spending taxpayer money and serving transit riders.
The ridership numbers, he argued, just don't justify the investment. Fullerton and Irvine, he said, have more train riders and operate without such expansive — and expensive — stations.
"It's a cool-looking monument," Nelson said. "It's like saying, 'What does the Eiffel Tower do?' It doesn't do anything. It just looks cool.
"They won't be aided in anything [by having ARTIC], but they won't be impeded either. It's a nothing."
Murray disagreed, contending that the station would be a critical asset — one that would be useful the moment it's scheduled to open, in two years. Among the benefits would be the 5,000 jobs that officials said ARTIC would create during and after construction.
"It's foundational to quality of life," she said. "It's foundational to the economy. It's foundational to the environment.... It's thrilling we are moving forward with a project of this magnitude."
Galloway also challenged those who say the investment is too costly. She said it's a project that "catapults Anaheim to a significant place" by trying to be forward-looking in terms of transportation.
Critics may say "it's too much money, it's a boondoggle," Galloway said. "It's exactly the opposite," she said. "This is the future."