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Transit panel backs added bus services

October 15, 2005|By By Alicia Robinson

Decision scraps Centerline idea in favor of rapid bus lines for O.C., new studies.The bell officially tolled for the Centerline light-rail project Friday, when the Orange County Transportation Authority unanimously voted to shift all funding from Centerline to other mass transit projects.

Instead, the transportation agency will pursue a $298-million plan for three bus rapid-transit lines, a new shuttle service in Irvine and an expansion of the existing Metrolink service.

The only bus line that will go through Newport-Mesa is a 19-mile line running up Harbor Boulevard from Triangle Square to Fullerton.

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The end of the Centerline project, a 9.1-mile light rail line that would have passed through Costa Mesa, wasn't a surprise. It was projected to cost more than $1 billion, but it faced bitter opposition and appeared headed for the scrap heap when it was denied $483 million in federal funds in November 2004.

Costa Mesa City Councilman Gary Monahan said the bus rapid transit plan is more realistic for Orange County than a rail line, which was small and expensive and didn't benefit much of the county.

The bus plan, he said, "is the beginning of a system and it's county-wide and it has support from all over the place.... Centerline failed because nobody was able to articulate the vision for what it eventually would have been."

The projects the transportation authority board approved Friday include:

* Bus rapid transit lines on Harbor Boulevard from Coast Mesa to Fullerton, on Westminster Boulevard from Santa Ana to Long Beach, and a route from the Brea Mall to the Irvine Transportation Center.

* New carpool lane exits that could be used by rapid-transit buses at several locations, including one at the Bear Street exit from the San Diego Freeway (405).

* A pool of $30 million for studies on how cities can use various modes of transit to get people to Metrolink stations.

The rapid bus service is projected to be 20% to 40% faster than regular bus lines, transportation authority spokesman Michael Litschi said.

The rapid buses won't have their own traffic lanes on Harbor Boulevard, but the project will include some road improvements and bus turnouts, and the rapid bus system can keep traffic lights green to get buses through faster, he said.

Orange County Supervisor Jim Silva, who also is on the transportation authority board, said it will be vital to get each of the county's 34 cities on board with the project. Overall, though, he thinks it's a good start to a county-wide mass transit system.

"I want to see the largest bang for our buck in getting people out of their cars," Silva said. "We widen our freeways and as soon as we widen them, they're at capacity."

QUESTION

Will rapid bus lines be more beneficial to the county than a light rail? Call our Readers Hotline at (714) 966-4664 or send e-mail to dailypilot@latimes.com. Please spell your name and tell us your hometown and phone numbers for verification purposes only.

* ALICIA ROBINSON covers government and politics. She may be reached at (714) 966-4626 or by e-mail at alicia.robinson@latimes.com.

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