Orange County Streetcar Expenses Continue to Grow

By Jack Bradley
Jack Bradley
Jack Bradley
Jack Bradley is a daily news reporter for The Epoch Times based in Southern California.
July 12, 2021 Updated: July 12, 2021

The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) on July 12 approved an additional $1.1 million for the county’s first modern electric streetcar.

While constructing track bed for the streetcar, crews unexpectedly discovered utility lines underneath Santa Ana, Calif.’s 150-year-old streets. Additional funds are needed to engage in exploratory potholing to avoid obstructing the track’s construction, a project leader said during a July 12 meeting.

“The only way to have known about these unknown utilities during the design phase would have been to excavate multiple trenches through city streets,” Program Manager Ross Lew told the OCTA board.

Lew said his team didn’t excavate the trenches to find these obstructing utility lines earlier because “it would have been very disruptive and impactful to the traveling public, residents, and businesses. As a result, we are addressing these hidden utilities now during construction.”

The Orange County streetcar will serve as a 4.15-mile public transit system between the Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center and a new station in Garden Grove, on the corner of Harbor Boulevard and Westminster Avenue.

The project is part of a 30-year, voter-approved Measure M half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements.

In 2018, OCTA received a $149 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration to help begin the project, which received an additional $9.4 million in federal relief from the American Rescue Plan Act last March.

The project’s initial anticipated cost was about $408 million; Jim Beil, OCTA executive director of capital programs, said in January that it would likely exceed that budget.

The board had initially approved $200,000 to cover the cost of excavating potholes for the streetcar. However, this wasn’t enough to cover the expenses of potholing the newly discovered utility lines, Lew said.

Lew said it’s common during public works projects to find unknown utilities through exploratory potholing.

It’s not the first time this project has received unexpected complications.

During the excavation phase, ancient remains of Native Americans were discovered multiple times. Those remains have since been repatriated, and the construction sites have reopened.

Director Vicente Sarmiento said the track’s construction, along with “multiple projects that are going on concurrently,” is causing road detours and traffic congestion.

The extra funding was approved by every OCTA board member present, with the exception of Director Don Wagner.

“I believe the project is a waste of taxpayer dollars and consistently vote no against throwing even more money at this expensive, ill-considered project,” Wagner told The Epoch Times.

Youth Ride Free

The board also approved a promotional free pass for youth ages 18 and under that is set to launch in September.

The Youth Ride Free pass will be available to all youth riders, ages 6 to 18, through February 2022.

Youth Ride Free “continues to focus on that reliable accessible and balanced transportation system,” OCTA Chief Executive Darrell Johnson said during the council meeting.

Students will now have the opportunity to ride to and from school, and to various locations within the community.

Chairman Andrew Do said as the county becomes increasingly urbanized, the pass would be a good opportunity for the youth within the community who don’t yet have their driver’s licenses.

Jack Bradley
Jack Bradley
Jack Bradley is a daily news reporter for The Epoch Times based in Southern California.