Davis Praises New Lane on the 405, Other Projects

Times Staff Writers

State and federal officials celebrated two major transportation projects in the San Fernando Valley on Friday, the opening of a new two-mile lane at the Ventura-San Diego freeway interchange and the kickoff of construction of an east-west busway.

"Mobility is essential to this region's prosperity," said Gov. Gray Davis, touting several future congestion-relief projects with a total price tag exceeding $1 billion.

The positive mood at the governor's Sherman Oaks news conference contrasted sharply with the uncertainty and nervousness apparent in Sacramento, where the California Transportation Commission, which allocates the state's transportation money, met Friday to discuss the budget crisis.

Under the governor's budget proposal, a fund meant to pay for many of the state's most needed traffic-reduction projects could be cut by roughly $1.6 billion, according to the state legislative analyst's office.

Los Angeles County could lose $500 million in transit funds during the next 18 months, said David Yale, director of regional transportation planning for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. If the cutbacks continue through 2009, the county would lose $2.3 billion in state funds -- about one-third of its total transportation program.

Despite Friday's groundbreaking, officials in Sacramento say the budget crunch could delay for years the east-west busway, which the MTA is hoping to open in April 2005.

The $329.5-million project, which would run buses in a designated corridor from the MTA's Red Line subway station in North Hollywood to Warner Center in Woodland Hills, has received $184.5 million in local funding and $47 million in state funding. The remaining $98 million has not yet been allocated.

State officials say it is unclear how much transportation money will be available in the next couple of years and who should lead the debate over transit funding.

"It's the blind leading the blind," said commission Chair R. Kirk Lindsey during a meeting that included transportation officials from all over the state.

But in Sherman Oaks, Davis and others were decidedly more upbeat. When it comes to transportation projects, "90% of the money that's supposed to go out, will go out," the governor said.

Davis acknowledged that the state will have to tighten its belt, but expressed confidence that the future of the busway is secure.

"There's ample money to start this project, and we expect it to be fully funded over time," he said.

The governor praised the $11-million auxiliary lane that opened this week on the northbound San Diego Freeway between Mulholland Drive and Ventura Boulevard, which motorists say has already begun improving traffic flow and safety.

Davis also touted future state Department of Transportation projects to improve the interchange, including a $40-million effort to replace the Ventura Boulevard onramp with an underpass, a $98.6-million project to improve freeway connectors and a carpool lane for the northbound San Diego Freeway, which could cost as much as $1.4 billion.

Davis called on the federal government to provide more transportation funding for the state.

"Any time you are getting a positive message from the governor about a project in today's environment, it is a good thing," Yale said.

"We have a lot of ideas to make this funding work and we will work with him to see those are implemented."

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