Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Big growth in Metrolink plan
OCTA plans to more than double the number of trains over 25 years,
and add midday and evening runs.

Byline: HEATHER LOURIE - The Orange County Register

SANTA ANA Expanded Metrolink service -- including midday and evening runs by 2006 -- was approved Monday by the Orange County Transportation Authority.

The expansion, to be implemented over 25 years, is part of OCTA's long-range plan for county commuter-rail service. Today, 40 trains serve three routes through Orange County.

By 2030, 98 trains will serve those routes.

"It will make it much more convenient," said Buena Park Councilman Art Brown, an OCTA director.

The first phase of the expansion will start within a year, allowing Metrolink passengers who buy 10-trip tickets to ride Amtrak trains at no additional cost. In 2006, a dozen additional trains will enable Metrolink to offer midday and evening service Monday through Friday. By 2009, riders traveling between Fullerton and Laguna Niguel will be able to catch a weekday Metrolink or Amtrak train every 30 minutes from 5 a.m. to midnight.

OCTA spokesman Michael Litschi said ridership on the three lines is expected to climb to 10.8 million passengers a year in 2030 from today's 2.62 million.

He said OCTA pays about $8.3 million a year to operate Metrolink service in Orange County -- funded by Measure M, a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1990 for transportation-related projects.

The 25-year plan will cost $653 million and includes new train cars and locomotives, storage tracks and parking lots. Measure M is expected to fund the program through 2015. The agency has indicated it will ask voters to reauthorize the tax.

Also:

OCTA adopted its $613.3 million budget for fiscal 2004-2005, which includes funding for widening the Garden Grove (22) Freeway, bottleneck projects, the CenterLine rail project and expanded Metrolink service. It also includes improvements to local streets and roads.

OCTA agreed to spend $200,000 for additional oversight and inspection for a cracked flyover bridge near John Wayne Airport. Last week, the California Department of Transportation told OCTA directors that the car-pool ramp required additional repairs and six more months were needed to complete the work. Caltrans said Monday that the additional work, costing $700,000 to $1 million, could be funded from the project's existing budget.

A cost-of-living adjustment will increase tolls on the 91 Express Lanes -- a 10-mile tollway in the median of the Riverside (91) Freeway -- by 3.64 percent. The increase, effective July 1, is the first in three years. It will add 5 cents to 20 cents to tolls that now range from $1 to $6.25, depending on time and day.

In a separate move to manage congestion, eastbound tolls will increase by 75 cents from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, 4-5 p.m. Wednesday and 3-4 p.m. Friday. Those tolls will not be affected by the cost-of-living adjustment.

(949) 454-7335 or hlourie@ocregister.

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