Many of the folks who travel to our nation's capital, Washington, D.C., are greatly impressed with its state-of-the-art Metrorail system, which combines both aboveground and underground segments. Just one part of that line is still incomplete and jeopardized by funding limitations. Therein lies a lesson for Valley residents, elected officials, and local transit authorities.
Consider the case of Washington's Green Line. When completed, it was supposed to run north from Prince George's County, Md., through some of Washington's poorest neighborhoods, and back into Maryland again. Over the course of construction, however, the Green Line was the one segment that was shackled with major disputes over where the track would be laid. The most rancorous of these involved where the line's southern terminus would be located.
Eventually, the disputes turned to grinding legal battles. The result was that the Green Line still showed up on subway maps under "future construction," while the system's other legs were completed, or nearly so. Today, the Green Line still is not finished, and the rest of the system is already showing signs of age. It means that more transit dollars now have to be devoted to repairs and less to new construction.
Now consider the Valley. There still has been no decision on where the Red Line extension into the west San Fernando Valley will be built, nor on what form that construction will take. Will it be an aboveground monorail along the Ventura Freeway, a subway under Chandler and Burbank boulevards, or some combination of aboveground and underground transportation? The proponents of the first two options are as firmly entrenched in their positions as ever and show no willingness to compromise. The debate has dragged on for years. Cost projections are due in August.
We have supported the latter idea: an extension of the subway to the San Diego Freeway, with consideration of an aboveground option for the remainder of the route. But what we also support is a decision, period--one that comes sooner than anticipated, and one that is allowed to be the final word on the issue. Why?
Well, don't forget about the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's looming $126-million budget deficit. Don't forget the problem of an overly generous labor contract that must be scaled back to fit these difficult financial times, and the related threat of a strike. Don't forget the lingering effects of the long recession on sales tax and fare-box revenues. Don't forget that transit officials might feel tempted to use, for operating expenses, some of the funds that were earmarked for new rail projects. Don't forget cost overruns, misaligned subway tunnels and the need for re-excavations. Don't forget construction timetables that are already months out of whack because of delays. Don't forget the question of whether the bus routes will be shifted from the current grid system to a more efficient hub-and-spoke system that will take riders to and from the most frequently visited destinations.
We've probably left out an argument or two, but you get the point. The Valley East-West Rail Project deserves a place on that long and difficult list of things to do, but it won't get a proper level of attention until some agreement can at least be reached over where it will be built, and what form it will take. These days, we're having turf battles over who will inherit the leadership of the MTA.
What we need is the spirit of compromise and concession, not only on the part of MTA officials who will choose one of the Valley East-West rail options, but also on the part of prospective neighbors who could further delay matters even after a decision has been reached. As long as there is no clear and undisputed decision on the East-West Rail Project, it will be easy to put the whole thing on a back burner.