Transit Panel Votes to Study 2 Light-Rail Plans, Subway
Rejecting a proposal that could have sidetracked the drive for a San Fernando Valley rail route, the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission on Wednesday voted to study two controversial light-rail routes plus a rival plan to extend the Metro Rail subway across the Valley.
The unanimous vote returns the issue of a Valley rail line almost to its status of last November, when commissioners halted a $1.6-million study of Valley rail routes in the face of growing opposition from vocal and well-organized homeowners.
“This keeps us in the ballgame and keeps all our route options open,” Commissioner Marcia Mednick, a Van Nuys businesswoman, said after the vote Wednesday, referring to competition between the Valley and other areas of the county for rail-construction funds.
Light-rail routes to be studied in an environmental impact report are along the Ventura Freeway from Universal City to Warner Center and along a railroad freight right-of-way that parallels Chandler and Victory boulevards from North Hollywood to Warner Center.
No precise route has been proposed for a cross-Valley Metro Rail extension, but planners have suggested that such a line would largely follow the Chandler-Victory route.
Panel Rejects Delay
In voting to go ahead with the study, the commission rejected a proposal approved Sept. 19 by its Transit Committee to delay any study of Valley rail routes until the City Council chooses between the Valley and other areas of the city in the competition for the next Metro Rail extension.
However, a letter delivered to the commission shortly before Wednesday’s meeting appeared to take the starch out of that plan.
In the letter, seven Valley council members said that such action by the commission would delay or jeopardize a Valley rail line because it would force the council into a “divisive prioritizing of potential Metro Rail extensions between west, east and Valley corridors.”
The commission vote was a sharp blow to about 25 protesters, most of whom live near one of the light-rail lines.
The light-rail opponents, most of whom have gravitated in recent months to support for a cross-Valley subway, urged the commission to drop both light-rail lines, saying the routes would bring noise, congestion and visual blight to residential neighborhoods.
“This is a complete rejection of what we asked for and it will pit the homeowners directly against this commission,” Encino homeowners leader Gerald A. Silver said after the vote.
Silver, who played a key role in organizing the opposition that led to the commission’s cancellation of Valley rail studies in November, vowed to “really step things up to get this turned around.”
After halting the Valley rail study last November, the commission challenged the council to choose a route that has broad support.
The council created a 32-member advisory panel, a majority of whose members recommended that either the freeway or the Chandler-Victory routes be selected depending upon the outcome of an environmental study.
The advisory panel was the first group to suggest that Metro Rail be substituted for an elevated or ground-level light-rail line. It proposed that the high-capacity, high-speed subway--expected to be built in North Hollywood by 1997--might be extended westward across the Valley.
That proposal, which advocates acknowledge may be too expensive, survived the council review and Wednesday was incorporated by the commission into the upcoming environmental report.
The commission staff has estimated that a subway to Warner Center would cost $2.7 billion to $3.3 billion, while a part-subway, part-elevated line could be built for $1.8 billion to $2.2 billion.
A Chandler-Victory light-rail line could be built for $700 million to $900 million and an elevated route along the freeway would cost an estimated $1.1 billion to $1.6 billion, the staff estimates.
The staff predicts that the commission will have about $900 million for new rail projects in the next 12 years, but federal matching funds could be available.
The council had also recommended a study of a proposed Sylmar-to-Union Station light-rail route parallel to San Fernando Road, but commissioners voted to reaffirm their previous determination that an east-west line was the top priority for the Valley.
If the council wants a study of the San Fernando Road route, it will have to finance it, the commission said.