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Metro Rail: Money Bill Deals Foes a Setback

Times Staff Writer

Enactment of a strong congressional directive to fund the first phase of the Los Angeles Metro Rail project has dealt a substantial blow to longtime opponents of the subway who have battled to prevent its construction, now expected to start in the next three months.

While critics still contend the $3.3-billion project is too expensive, will not attract the ridership projected and has not had adequate environmental impact studies, some admitted Friday that the proponents are now in a stronger position.

“I am less optimistic (about stopping the project) than I was before the passage of the bill,” said Rep. Bobbi Fiedler (R-Northridge), the most vocal and tireless congressional critic of the $3.3-billion subway.

‘Looks Pretty Good’

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Martin Wachs, a UCLA professor of urban planning and critic of the project, said: “There still may be hurdles, but it looks pretty good for those who want to see it built.”

Fiedler, who has concentrated her fight on trying to halt Metro Rail funding, insisted the struggle is not over. She said she will urge the Reagan Administration, which opposes the project as too expensive, to hold up funds as long as possible.

And Fiedler said she will try to persuade the Administration to require additional environmental impact studies on tunneling, which has been an issue since the explosion last year of seeping methane gas in a Fairfax area clothing store.

However, another anti-Metro Rail group, Rapid Transit Advocates Inc., has been unsuccessful in its past legal challenges of the project’s environmental impact reports.

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Foes’ Options Narrowed

Generally, language in the law, a $368-billion federal spending measure signed Thursday night by President Reagan, appears to narrow the Administration’s options in imposing further delays. The law rejects an Administration request to defer expenditures on Metro Rail. And it instructs the Urban Mass Transportation Administration to negotiate a contract with the Southern California Rapid Transit District to provide the remaining $429 million federal share of the $1.25-billion, 4.4-mile first segment within 90 days. The RTD will direct the building of the project.

Urban Mass Transportation Administrator Ralph Stanley has warned there are “critical” issues, including additional financial commitments by participating local agencies, to be worked out in the funding contract. But under the law, if agreement is not reached, both sides must report back to Congress, where bipartisan backers of the project have threatened to initiate stronger legislation to force the mass transportation administration to proceed.

The Administration’s Metro Rail opponents also acknowledge that they are required to follow the directions of Congress on funding. While there may be some disputes over interpretations, some have conceded privately that the project probably will get started. “There’s no question we will obey the statute,” said a spokesman in the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, at a crowded City Hall news conference, Mayor Tom Bradley, flanked by other key backers of the project, basked in their victory. Saying Metro Rail funding is now the “law of the land,” the mayor said he expects ground breaking by March. RTD officials said the first major work downtown will be on the Union Station maintenance yard and the Civic Center station at 1st and Hill streets.

Questions Brushed Aside

Bradly brushed aside questions about a host of uncertainties that will lie ahead even if construction begins, such as the effects of the Gramm-Rudman deficit reduction spending cuts.

Also unresolved is how a major Westside rerouting will be made to avoid methane gas fields, as well as how long it will take to extend the line to North Hollywood. As a condition for use of state funds on the project, the RTD must begin building the Valley station one year after construction begins downtown.

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Shaking his head at reporters, Bradley said: “Let’s rejoice. Stop looking for possible holes in the project.”


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