Orange County Streetcar Project Is Over Budget and Behind Schedule

January 25, 2021 Updated: January 25, 2021

The county’s first modern electric streetcar will cost more than originally anticipated and take longer to complete, Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) officials said during a Jan. 25 meeting.

The project has faced a number of unforeseen challenges during its construction phase, said OCTA spokesperson Eric Carpenter.

“Some of those challenges have included unknown or unmapped utilities in city streets, thicker than anticipated asphalt on streets, contaminated soil and materials such as old rail ties and the discovery of Native American bones on the project site, resulting in a temporary work stoppage in that immediate area,” Carpenter told The Epoch Times Jan. 25.

“All of this has meant the project is going through the contingency fund faster than anticipated and some construction delays.”

Orange County Supervisor and OCTA Director Andrew Do said the board doesn’t know what it will encounter underground during the construction phase.

“Some of those systems are so old and antiquated, they don’t even show up on the city plan,” Do said.

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

The initial anticipated cost for the project was about $408 million, but Jim Beil, OCTA executive director of capital programs, said it will go over budget due to the contractor requiring more oversight.

“Based on the contractors’ quality control effort in the field … the contractor is making us double down on making sure we’re staffing the project correctly to answer questions, to ensure quality,” Beil said.

Orange County Supervisor and OCTA Director Don Wagner said the problems that have arisen during the latest phase of the project are uncommon, and something that the board usually doesn’t consider in its budget.

“The concern we have here is so much more beyond what is common and what we typically budget for has suddenly reared its ugly head,” Wagner said.

Director Michael Hennessey questioned whether the board was being “gamed.” He said a common way contractors will manipulate their clients is through issuing multiple requests for information (RFIs), a written request about the suppliers to inform the contractor on what steps to take next. These RFIs can be used to delay the construction.

Beil responded, “I wouldn’t go on to say that we’re being gamed, but … the methods for managing the contract have become very challenging.”

Director Barbara Delgleize said, “What I’m a little concerned about is the fact that—given a feeling that you’re expressing—that they don’t know what they’re doing and they need to rely on OCTA.”

OCTA chief executive Darrell Johnson said the agency is trying to be transparent with the project’s challenges and contractor’s performance.

“We have had some challenges with the project, with the schedule, with the contractor, and under the terms of the full funding grant agreement, with the Federal Transit Administration,” Johnson said.

“We’re going through a risk assessment to determine impacts to schedule and budget, and we’ll be returning to the board next month with some initial thoughts on that.”

The OCTA initially planned to begin streetcar testing and operations early in 2022, but now says the date has been pushed back to fall 2022.

More details on cost and schedule impacts are expected as early as next month.

The streetcar, which will run 4.15 miles through Santa Ana and Garden Grove, will include 10 stops in each direction.