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MTA May Seek Federal Rescue of Valley Line : Transportation: A Riordan aide reaffirms the mayor's support for the key link to the subway system.

August 25, 1993|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles County transportation authorities, who revealed recently that they may not have the money to build a promised mass transit rail line across the San Fernando Valley until well into the 21st Century, will consider appealing to the federal government to rescue the project.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will debate at its meeting today a proposal to ask the federal government to fund half the bill for the east-west line, which it is estimated could cost as much as $2.79 billion.

Nick Patsaouras of Tarzana, an MTA alternate member who is pushing the proposal, said in an interview Tuesday that the funding request could be sold to the Clinton Administration as an ideal way to improve regional transportation while creating jobs to revive the local economy.

"You push for what you can get," Patsaouras said. "The worst that can happen is they say no."

Because federal dollars have already provided 50% funding for the $5.4-billion Metro Red Line subway from downtown Los Angeles to North Hollywood, MTA officials have been reluctant to press the federal government for additional funding on other lines.

But based on discussions with other MTA members, Patsaouras said he believes the MTA will now be willing to study the possibility of applying for federal funding.

The MTA spends about $800,000 a year on lobbyists and this would be a chance for them to earn their pay, said Patsaouras, who takes part in MTA votes if county Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who appointed him, is absent.

Antonovich, a longtime MTA member, also supports studying the feasibility of using federal funds for the Valley line, said Habib Balian, his transportation assistant.

"It's an idea that needs to be looked at," he said.

Rae James, deputy mayor for transportation, said Mayor Richard Riordan would support any funding mechanism, including applying for federal grants, to keep the Valley line on track.

"We think the Valley line is a critical line," she said. "Wherever the money can come from . . . we think it needs to be done."

Riordan has already taken steps to try to revive the Valley line's fortunes. He persuaded the MTA at its July meeting to delay adopting its proposed 1994 budget, which contained no funds for the Valley line, to give members more time to try to find money for it. The budget comes up again today.

But even if federal funding is obtained, Valley residents will most likely still have to wait about a decade to hop aboard a cross-Valley rail line connecting to the Metro Red Line subway to downtown.

The route that such an east-west line would follow is still the subject of a long-running, contentious dispute between backers of two alternatives: A mostly subway line parallel to Burbank and Chandler boulevards and an elevated line over the Ventura Freeway.

The MTA is not expected to make a final decision on the route until next year, after engineering and soil studies are completed to answer remaining questions about the feasibility of both alternatives.

The Valley line's financial problems began in June when MTA members discovered that shrinking tax revenues meant its construction would have to be postponed for up to 10 years unless other funding sources were found. Previously, construction was to begin in early 1995. The first phase was to be completed by 2000.

The delay would have put off completion of the first phase until at least 2010.

But to accept federal funding to build the line would be to accept the strict federal environmental restrictions that come with it.

For example, federal law prohibits building transit projects on parkland unless no other "reasonable and prudent" alternative is available, said David Mieger, an MTA rail project manager.

Plans for the proposed elevated freeway line call for construction of two stations and a rail yard on about 19 acres of parkland in the Sepulveda Basin. The Burbank-Chandler line would require no parkland.

Mieger said the federal environmental rule would require the MTA to rethink the construction of those stations and rail yard.

Nonetheless, the Valley line has some advantages in the competition for federal funding.

For example, extensive environmental studies have already been completed on both alternative routes, Mieger said. If a special federal waiver is approved, the studies can be used to meet the requirements for federal environmental reviews, he said.

In addition, he said, the MTA is willing to provide 50% matching funds toward the project while most cities seeking federal funding offer only 20% matching funds.

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