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Public Support Called Key to Acquiring Light Rail

Times Staff Writer

The San Fernando Valley could have light-rail service by the early 1990s, but aggressive community support is needed to assure that the Valley does not lose out to other areas that are bidding for transit systems, a member of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission said Wednesday.

No New Freeways Foreseen

“Our traffic gets worse weekly,” but “we really aren’t going to get any new freeways in the San Fernando Valley,” commission member Marcia Mednick, a Woodland Hills resident, told a business group.

The proposed light rail system, which would extend 16.7 miles from North Hollywood to Chatsworth, “is the only game in town” when it comes to major transportation improvements, said Mednick, who also is project director of Vitalize Van Nuys, a nonprofit development corporation.

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But planned light-rail segments elsewhere in the county “already have their advocates, their cheering sections,” Mednick told a luncheon meeting in Van Nuys of the Valleywide Transportation Committee.

Community Support Sought

“If we don’t get this community support, the San Fernando Valley’s going to miss the train,” Mednick said.

In contrast to the third rail used to power so-called “heavy rail” mass transit systems, light-rail systems use overhead electric lines. Because of this, light-rail lines, such as trolley lines, can be operated on existing streets and highways and generally cost much less to build.

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The Valley light-rail project would be part of the 150-mile countywide rail transit network that voters endorsed in 1980 through Proposition A, the ballot measure that created a half-cent sales tax to improve public transit.

The County Transportation Commission, which administers the fund, has authorized construction of three rail segments: the $600-million Long Beach-to-Los Angeles light-rail line, scheduled for ground breaking next month; the Century Freeway light-rail line between Los Angeles International Airport and Norwalk, and the downtown Metro Rail project, which is the backbone of the system. The House last week authorized start-up funds for the $3.3-billion Metro Rail, but Senate action is still pending and the Reagan Administration opposes the system as too costly.

Mednick said the commission has ordered “route-refinement” studies for three segments that are next in priority: the proposed Valley line, a South Bay line and an East Los Angeles-to-Pasadena line.

The commission last week voted to award a contract for the Valley study to Bechtel National Inc. of San Francisco. The study, scheduled for completion next year at a cost of up to $300,000, will identify possible station sites and engineering problems along the tentative route. The route would extend northwest from the planned Metro Rail terminus at Lankershim and Chandler boulevards to the San Diego Freeway at Victory Boulevard; would run west from there to Canoga Avenue and then north to Canoga and Plummer Street.

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Mednick said the study should also establish a firmer idea of the project’s cost, which could be anywhere from $300 million to $800 million. She said another question to be resolved concerns the feasibility of the Valley line should the embattled Metro Rail line be further delayed or canceled.

After the route-refinement studies are completed, Mednick said, the commission will decide which route or routes deserve the extensive environmental review required before construction could start. She said public support could be a key factor, since the commission is probably unable to build three more lines at once.

“This kind of system is by no means a given for the San Fernando Valley,” Mednick said. In terms of public support, she said, “the San Fernando Valley has a lot of catching up to do.”

Mednick and other commission officials will be stumping for the project before other Valley groups this fall. The commission will also kick off a series of open houses in January to field questions and get feedback from Valley residents.

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