SANTA ANA, Calif. — In about two years from now there will be a new way to get around parts of Orange County. The OC Streetcar project has historic roots and aims to address modern day transportation gaps.
The OC Streetcar, which has been years in the making, includes a more than four-mile route that will travel between Santa Ana and Garden Grove. Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) CEO Darrell Johnson has seen it go from ideas and sketches to real life construction. He said it’s, “So exciting to see that we are changing the future of transportation in Orange County.”
The CEO said he didn’t plan on originally getting into the transportation field — a field he’s now been working in for nearly three decades. “I had anticipated going to law school. That’s what I wanted to do," Johnson said.
But while getting his degree at the University of California Riverside, Johnson said he took a local government class that changed his career path. “What really intrigued me about it was, making transportation investments really make quality of life in our communities that much better.”
“Harbor boulevard is unique in the sense that it is the busiest OCTA bus route that we have,” Johnson said. He also noted that along the way there will be stops at 18 of the busiest bus stops in the county. The streetcar will then head east into downtown Santa Ana near the Civic Center. The Civic Center is “the single largest employment center in all of Orange County,” Johnson added.
He said the OC Streetcar will get people to where they need to go while helping with what’s known as the “first-mile last-mile issue.” “What that really means is giving people that opportunity when they get to their destination to not have to worry about getting a cab, or an Uber, or walking, or a bike, whatever the case might be," Johnson said. "They can get to that last part of their trip.”
While addressing modern day transportation gaps with the OC Streetcar project, crews also dug up some history. Click here to see pictures of rail ties from the Pacific Electric Railway that ran until 1950.
“Digging up those old rail ties is both positive and negative," said Johnson. "Positive is we get to see a great part of Orange County’s history.” But, Johnson said the rail tie removal process took up valuable time, so did cleaning up the soil afterwards. This also means added costs for the already $407-million-dollar project (The project is funded partly with a half-cent sales tax called Measure “M” in Orange County, as well as a funding grant from the federal government).
“But at the same time, we want to make sure that when this project is done, it is good for the community," Johnson said. "The dirt is clean, the soil is clean, free of contaminations.”
At the end of the day Johnson is happy he got into the transportation authority business. "For me it’s been the most fulfilling career that I could have ever imagined,” Johnson said.
The OC Streetcar is expected to officially welcome its first passengers in 2023 and officials said the cost will be the same as a bus ride.