Thirteen Los Angeles-area members of Congress are asking President Obama to include $4.2 million in the fiscal 2017 budget for planning and designing the proposed Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration project.
The project is expected to cost more than $1.3 billion and take decades to complete.
The city has long eyed adding bike paths, parks and new construction along the river. Competing plans range from addressing just a few acres to overhauling more than 51 miles.
In July, the Civil Works Review Board of the Army Corps of Engineers unanimously approved a plan to restore habitat, widen the river, create wetlands and provide access points and bike trails along an 11-mile stretch north of downtown through Elysian Park.
That proposal also would need approval from Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Office of Management and Budget and Congress before it could move forward. Also unclear is how much the federal government would contribute, and what amount the city would have to come up with to fund the restoration project.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said last year the federal government would split the cost, an arrangement that would put the city on the hook for about $500 million. But a report issued earlier this year by L.A.'s chief legislative analyst stated the city's share of the cost could rise to as much as $1.2 billion.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Downey) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) were the original signers of the letter. They were joined by 10 colleagues from the Los Angeles area.
"The progress of this project is the product of several years of collaborative work by citizens, stakeholders, and elected leaders to reestablish [the] Los Angeles River as a source of Angelino pride and vitality," they wrote to Obama. "Your leadership to move this transformative project forward will not only improve our communities for today, but the world we leave for our children tomorrow."
Schiff said the Army Corps' initial approval brings the project closer than ever.
"After years of strong advocacy by Los Angeles residents wanting more green space as a retreat from urban life, we are finally within striking distance," he said in a statement.
Including the funding in the federal budget is "critical" to the project moving forward, Roybal-Allard said.
"Including these funds in the President's budget will send a strong message that the administration is committed to helping us realize our dream of a rich and vibrant L.A. River which will be enjoyed by Angelenos for decades to come," she said in a statement.
Becerra said the river could be a "beloved treasure" for the city.
"We must continue moving forward on its restoration for the sake of guaranteeing Angelenos an outdoor space that they can enjoy with their families today and for generations to come," he said in a statement.
The president will release a budget proposal next year. But presidential budgets are viewed by Congress as a starting point for discussion, so even if Obama includes the requested funding for river restoration, it could be a long haul to win approval of the money.
Follow @sarahdwire on Twitter
Read more about the 55 members of California's delegation at latimes.com/politics