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Transit committee backs mega station in Anaheim amid funding questions

January 13, 2011 |  6:09 pm

Orange County transportation officials Thursday sought to change their funding guidelines to resolve whether a mega transit center planned for Anaheim can receive almost $100 million in sales tax revenue that has been earmarked for the project.

A seven-member committee of the Orange County Transportation Authority also expressed support for the $184-million Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center, which has been on the drawing board almost 25 years.

Committee members took action in response to questions raised at their meeting by Orange County Supervisor and OCTA board member Shawn Nelson, who said the so-called ARTIC station is not qualified to receive money from Measure M, the county’s half-cent sales tax to pay for transportation projects.

Nelson contends that under the measure’s guidelines, funds can be used only to pay for the modification of existing Metrolink stations, not construction of new ones elsewhere. In addition, he said, projects at Metrolink facilities that are financed by Measure M must accommodate planned high-speed rail systems, such as the California bullet train.

“This is not infrastructure for high-speed rail. It is now called a stand-alone station,” said Nelson, who is not a committee member. “There was a rush to get ARTIC funded because of high-speed rail. But Anaheim is no longer in the first leg of the project."

The first tracks are now slated for the Central Valley.

"The question now is: Will there ever be a leg of high-speed rail” to the city?" Nelson said.

The city’s current train station, which serves Metrolink and Amtrak passengers, is a modest stucco building on the north side of the Angel Stadium parking lot and west of the 57 Freeway. ARTIC would be built about 1,400 feet away on the east side of the freeway next to the Santa Ana River and near the city’s Platinum Triangle redevelopment zone.

Its cavernous interlocking concourses with arching roofs of translucent material and steel would allow trains to come and go from tiers. Transit ways, bus facilities and bicycle racks would be built outside, where station platforms would extend to the old Metrolink site.

City officials said the ARTIC station is designed to handle growing local needs, but there are plans to add facilities later for high-speed rail. They said they remain confident that the state’s bullet train will eventually come to Anaheim despite current uncertainties about the project’s funding.

If the Measure M funding is reversed, it could significantly delay or even scuttle ARTIC, which would help deliver visitors to Disneyland and link local bus and rail service to the California high-speed rail project should it extend to Anaheim.

“We are pleased with the committee’s support. The board can make changes if necessary,” said Anaheim  Councilwoman Kris Murray. “The station is needed, and it will be an important part of the economy.”

Committee members directed OCTA’s attorney to draft proposed revisions to the guidelines so funding can be used for relocation and replacement of Metrolink stations.

The new wording is scheduled to be considered by the transit committee Feb. 10. Depending on what happens then, the OCTA board, which has the power to change the funding guidelines, could hear the matter Feb. 14.

“We need to define all this,” said Santa Ana Mayor and OCTA board member Miguel Pulido, who serves on the transit committee. “Santa Ana is planning changes to its station in the future. It’s very important to know what we can and cannot do and make sure what we are doing is legal.”

During the discussion, Ken Smart, OCTA’s general counsel, said that a court probably would not uphold using Measure M funds for ARTIC under the guidelines as currently written. He added that it would be appropriate for the board to clean up the language to eliminate any ambiguities.

Nelson said the proposed revision does not address a second key goal in the guidelines that station improvements must accommodate planned high-speed rail projects.

Because engineering problems could preclude an exclusive right-of-way for the bullet train from crossing the 57 to reach ARTIC, high-speed rail officials are considering whether to share the existing corridor between Anaheim and Los Angeles with Amtrak, Metrolink and freight railroads.

But Nelson said it was clear from his recent discussions with high-speed rail engineers that they don’t yet know if the shared track arrangement would work. "Who would fund a station where it is hard to get high-speed rail to?” he asked.

-- Dan Weikel