LH works on final piece of OC Loop
By Jay Seidel
La Habra Journal
The plans for the North Orange County Loop, or the 66-mile bike path that is planned to connect through the cities of Anaheim, Fullerton, Brea, La Habra and Buena Park was proposed two years ago.
While much of the loop has been created, the nearly four miles in La Habra remain the largest section undeveloped. However, it’s not due to a lack of effort.
The main issue is the inability to obtain an easement from Union Pacific Railroad along the proposed trail area through the city.
The planned loop is set to connect from Brea at the rail lines and continue along the railway through the midsection of La Habra south of La Habra Boulevard and along Guadalupe Park. The loop will come out to Beach Boulevard and then connect with the Coyote Creek Trail at Imperial Highway.
With the railway being the major part of the La Habra trail, the city has reached out to the company that operates “North America’s premier railroad franchise, covering 23 states in the western two-thirds of the United States,” but was initially unable to gain much attention. La Habra has since joined with the Orange County Transportation Authority, OC Parks and OC Supervisor Shawn Nelson to reach out to Union Pacific officials as a larger entity.
Justin E. Jacobs, director of corporate relations & media for Union Pacific’s Western Region said the company is in communication with OCTA in regard to the project, and that they have been discussing this matter with them.
What is at dispute is that the rail line in La Habra is still deemed as an active rail line. A company on the border of Brea and La Habra continues to receive material by rail and has said that after recently upgrading the tracks that serve their company and the high cost of truck delivery, they have no interest in switching from rail delivery.
So with the rail line remaining in an active status, the city, OCTA and OC Parks are looking for an easement that will allow UP to continue to use the railway while walkers, bikers and others will be able to utilize the trail.
La Habra City Manager Jim Sadro explained that the city of Brea purchased the railways from UP outright, but they were deemed as “dead” or inactive rails.
According to Cindie Ryan, Communications & Marketing Manager for Brea, said the city purchased two segments from Union Pacific. One is about 170,000 acres (0.3 miles) for $2.5 million in 2012. The other is about 565,000 acres (0.8 miles) for about $7.9 million in 2010.
She explained that the total land acquisition of over 47 acres from various owners (total trail will be over 54 acres, but the City already owned a small portion of the land).
“Redevelopment funds and a number of grants from State and Federal agencies were used to purchase the land,” Ryan said. “So far we have earned approx. $17.5 million in grants.”
She also said that the Brea City Council has also authorized the use of some Park Fund dollars (which is a restricted fund that can only be used on parks).
According to Ryan, the total project cost for Brea, including land, construction and amenities is estimated at about $29 million for the entire trail.
Marissa O’Neil, Public information officer for OC Parks, which is taking the lead on the development of the project, said that the sections of the loop within the city of La Habra are “relatively high-cost segments due to the need for traffic and/or specialty crossing signals.”
According to a feasibility study by OC Parks, the two segments in La Habra are estimated to cost over $33 million.
Segment A and T in the plan are in La Habra. Segment A extends parallel along the Union Pacific Railroad right of way, west from Beach Blvd, passing into Los Angeles County and connect with the Segment T, which runs down Beach Boulevard and to the Coyote Creek Trail or connect with the trail that runs into Whittier.
Sadro, added the city of Whittier purchased the rights to easements along the rails, but La Habra is not in a position to pay the amount Union Pacific is asking and is actively seeking grants and other funding opportunities, like those with OCTA.
“La Habra and OCTA have been actively coordinating with Union Pacific to secure a permanent easement along the railroad right-of-way,” said Joel Zlotnik, Strategic Communications Manager of OCTA.. “La Habra pursued additional state funding for a bikeway along the railroad during the May application deadline, and the awards are still pending from that application for state funding.
Sadro said that city officials explored other routes for the trail through the city, but nothing posed such a clear and safe way as the path along the railway.
The city, in conjunction with the La Habra Collaborative, recently was awarded a healthy communities grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to develop a “Wellness Corridor” along Guadalupe Park, which will help serve as part of the OC Bike Loop. (See related story above.)
Once the section of the loop along the rails in La Habra is secure, the city will work with Caltrans on developing a dedicated bike lane along Beach Boulevard to connect with the Coyote Creek Trail. Officials at Caltrans said they are willing to work with the city, but will wait until the negotiations with Union Pacific have been resolved.
According to Sadro, the city is committed to working with its partners in developing this trail through La Habra and connecting with the OC Bike Loop.