San Fernando Valley light-rail line is back on the table

Metro's Orange Line busway in Van Nuys.
(Genaro Molina, Los Angeles Times)

For the first time in more than two decades, Los Angeles transportation officials can legally discuss building a light-rail line through a southern swath of the San Fernando Valley.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Tuesday that will allow the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to convert the Metro Orange Line busway to light rail. Brown’s signature reverses a 1991 law that banned above-ground rail through North Hollywood and Van Nuys.

Transit advocates said reversing the so-called Robbins Bill, authored by then-state Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Tarzana), is a needed step for the Valley, which is home to just two of Los Angeles County’s 80 commuter rail stations. But Metro officials say the hardest work is still ahead.

“I don’t want to give people the impression that now that the legislation is signed, tomorrow they’re going to start digging up the street,” Metro spokesman Marc Littman told The Times. An Orange Line project is not included in the agency’s list of short-term priorities, he said, and the route has no additional funding identified in Measure R, the half-cent sales tax for transportation passed by Los Angeles County voters in 2008.


But Los Angeles City Councilman and Metro board member Paul Krekorian wants to push ahead immediately. Krekorian plans to ask Metro this month for a feasibility study on how to convert the busway to light rail, a source with direct knowledge of the situation told The Times.

Krekorian will ask Metro to analyze ways to connect the Orange Line to the Red Line’s North Hollywood terminus and to the Gold Line in Pasadena, including cost estimates.

“Opening up the possibility of light rail on the Orange Line is a critical first step toward reshaping transit throughout the Valley,” Krekorian said in an emailed statement. “Residents want and need the increased efficiency and connectivity that light rail offers.”

At least seven of Metro’s 13 directors would need to approve Krekorian’s request.


The Orange Line has been widely praised as a cost-efficient transit solution along a chronically congested corridor. Some refer to the line as a “train on wheels” because a separated road allows buses to avoid rush-hour traffic. Since the Orange Line’s debut in 2005, ridership has risen to about 30,000 boardings per day.

In a statement, the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn. said the Orange Line is overcrowded and inefficient, and that conversion to light rail is “the best option.” The organization said light rail is “the only mode of transportation that will get a large enough number of people out of their cars to lessen traffic on the 101 and 405 freeways.”

A generation ago, officials envisioned a light-rail line along Chandler Avenue, using the right-of-way from a defunct Pacific Electric streetcar route. But after years of delays, protests from the traffic-wary Orthodox Jewish community and the passing of the Robbins bill, Metro settled on a busway instead.

Some have said Los Angeles County’s rail boom has been unfair to the Valley, which is home to nearly 20% of county residents. None of the 37 miles of rail that Metro hopes to build in the next decade will be north of the 101 Freeway.


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