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MTA Panel Rejects Deal on Valley Line

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials have rejected a proposed settlement of a dispute between the agency and the city of Los Angeles over delays in constructing a San Fernando Valley subway line, and no compromise appeared imminent Thursday.

The dispute began when the MTA, responding to federal displeasure over continuing disarray in the agency’s rail construction program, adopted a “recovery plan” that delayed the start of construction of the line across the Valley until at least 2011.

Angry Valley members of the Los Angeles City Council responded by voting to withhold $200 million in payments to the MTA unless construction on the line begins by 2007.

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Since then, MTA and city officials have been scrambling to reach an accord before the MTA’s recovery plan goes to a congressional transportation panel Tuesday for funding.

“I remain hopeful that we can get there, but so far the MTA has not made any progress,” Councilman Mike Feuer said.

On Wednesday, the transit agency’s acting chief, Linda Bohlinger, tried to resolve the dispute with a plan that guarantees that construction of a Valley rail line will begin by 2007. Under her proposal, the city would turn over $58 million of the $200 million to the MTA. If the MTA balks at building the line as scheduled, the MTA would have to return the $58 million.

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But a four-member ad hoc panel of the MTA board rejected Bohlinger’s plan, saying the promise to start building the Valley line in 2007 could jeopardize the timetable for other projects, such as a light-rail line from downtown Los Angeles to Pasadena.

Bohlinger said the panel members felt that they could not guarantee the Valley line construction schedule because funding for all the projects depends on unpredictable transit taxes. Cost overruns on other projects also could alter the schedule.

The ad hoc panel included county Supervisors Gloria Molina and Don Knabe, Duarte City Councilman John Fasana and Michael Bohlke, a senior deputy to county Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke.

Fasana and Burke said they opposed the proposal to return the $58 million.

“I’m totally uncomfortable with the loan idea because we can’t issue bonds for other projects on a loan,” Fasana said.

The rejection of the settlement offer prompted angry reactions by Valley lawmakers.

“What the MTA panel did was a continuation of the in-your-face attitude toward the city in general and the Valley in particular, and it’s a road to nowhere,” said county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a member of the MTA board.

Bohlinger, however, said she has not given up hope that the dispute can be resolved by next week. She said the MTA ad hoc panel is willing to give the city a guarantee on a Valley construction schedule--so long as new funding or cost savings are identified.

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