The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board approved a $285-million, 14-mile rapid busway between Woodland Hills and North Hollywood on Thursday, handing a major victory to proponents who have worked for more than two decades to bring large-scale mass transit to the San Fernando Valley.
The 8-to-3 vote to accept the draft environmental impact report supported arguments by the MTA staff that building the busway along Chandler and Burbank boulevards was the best way to link the Valley with the city's larger transit grid and ease congestion on freeways and surface streets.
In reaching its decision, the board appeared to be swayed by Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who warned that the MTA would have to "use or lose" $145 million in state funds allocated for the project.
"This may be the last chance in a generation to improve public transit in the Valley," Hertzberg told the board. "And it is an opportunity that must not be missed."
Hertzberg's argument was enough to sway Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, who as late as Wednesday said he favored deploying more rapid buses throughout the Valley rather than building an expensive busway.
After Hertzberg called him Thursday morning, Hahn said he decided to support an alternate route for the busway that would take buses along Oxnard Street in North Hollywood and Valley Village. The plan was favored by the area's Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods on Chandler Boulevard but was rejected 8 to 4 Thursday by the board.
Instead, the board adopted a motion by Yaroslavsky selecting Chandler Boulevard for the busway while leaving open the possibility of rerouting the service on Saturdays and Sundays to Oxnard Street and Lankershim Boulevard, rejoining the line in Van Nuys. The plan would address safety concerns of Jews who walk to shul on the Sabbath.
The holdouts against Chandler were Hahn, Allison Yoh, who was appointed to the board by Hahn on Wednesday, and Supervisor Mike Antonovich. Another new appointee, Broadway Federal Bank President Paul Hudson, abstained, and Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson, who was reappointed by Hahn, voted with the majority.
Despite the decision, the mayor said he had done his best to keep a campaign promise to the Jewish community.
"I told them that I was opposed to this and that I would try to find a better way to move people around the San Fernando Valley," Hahn said. "I thought there would be more support for that position, but that was not the case."
Under the accepted plan, buses using two reserved lanes could travel across the Valley in 30 minutes, stopping at 13 stations along the way, MTA officials said. The MTA estimates it takes 55 minutes to make the same trip using current bus service on city streets.
Construction, which would include landscaping and a bike path, could start late next year and be completed in 2005.
Amnon Charash, a Chandler area resident and busway opponent, said he was disappointed with the vote, but that he believed Hahn kept his campaign promise to Chandler Boulevard residents to try to keep the busway off their street.
"He was one of the three votes opposing the busway on Chandler," said Charash, who with other Orthodox Jews argued that the busway would drive down property values and increase noise, pollution and accidents. "We regret he was unsuccessful in keeping it off."
Diana Lipari, a leading busway opponent pushing for enhancing rapid bus service, offered a more blunt assessment. "Hahn sold us out," she said.
MTA officials announced the agency's plans for the busway two years ago and in May released a 600-page draft environmental impact report.
But the debate over the busway dates to the mid-1980s when the MTA's predecessor--the Southern California Rapid Transit District--proposed an elevated rail system through the area.
MTA officials followed up with a proposal to build a light-rail line on the same route, which was purchased by the MTA in 1991 for $100 million.
About that time, former Gov. Pete Wilson signed legislation requiring that any rail line through the area be placed underground.
The MTA has spent at least $12 million since 1983 on more than a dozen studies of Valley transit projects, including reports on subways, monorails, light rail and the busway. The state provided $145 million for the project, officials said.
Valley business leaders and mass transit proponents argued that the Valley has repeatedly lost out on transit funding and projects because residents and public officials could not agree on routes and technology. They applauded Thursday's decision.
Richard Katz, who backed Valley transit projects when he was assemblyman and chaired the Assembly's Transportation Committee, said: "After watching hundreds of millions of dollars bypass the Valley because of downtown priorities or a lack of consensus within the Valley, it was gratifying to see the widespread support for the Chandler busway and the MTA making a decision."
Yaroslavsky concurred, saying: "After years of indecision, the MTA has finally made a decision, and the Valley is finally on its way to being part of the regional transportation network."
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Boulevard of Buses
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is proposing a dedicated two-lane busway that would run from Warner Center to the North Hollywood Red Line station. The project, expected to ease traffic congestion, could begin construction late next year and be completed in 2005.