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Valley Must Unite Now to Demand Rail Project : Six years ago, a divisive battle over alignments cost the region millions of transit dollars. It's time to join together and demand our fair share of MTA funds.

July 31, 1994|MEL WILSON | Mel Wilson is on the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. and

Within the next two months, a decision will be made that will affect the quality of life for the San Fernando Valley for the next 50 to 75 years.

The board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been waiting for a year to receive the results of two independent studies that evaluate the important elements of building an east-west Valley rail system.

The board is due to review the findings and then adopt one of these alignments as the next new preferred local rail alignment to be built in Los Angeles County. The alternatives under study are an elevated train along the Ventura Freeway and a subway farther north.

Whichever route is chosen, the Valley will be in fierce competition with other areas for the money. It is critical that those who live and work in the Valley voice support for the next MTA rail project to be built here.

We have a compelling case.

TAX EQUITY

The 1.4 million people living in the Valley make up one-third of the population in the City of Los Angeles and almost 16% of the county. With the passages of Proposition A and Proposition C, more than $5 billion in sales tax dollars have been collected. Close to $800 million in taxes have been paid by the Valley for public mass transit. Other regions have gotten major rail projects. What does the Valley have to show for its taxes?

Thanks to the election of Mayor Richard Riordan, due in part to Valley voters, the Valley is finally getting some attention. The Valley is counting on the mayor and his influence to deliver us a rail transit system here where it is wanted, needed and deserved.

We have been paying one extra half-cent sales tax since 1982 and another since 1991. This money is to be used to improve transit services and operations, reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality, efficiently operate and improve the condition of the streets and freeways utilized by public transit, and reduce foreign fuel dependence.

FAIR SHARE

Other than Metrolink commuter trains and two Metro Rail stations, the construction and operation of the east-west rail alignment is the only rail project being considered for the Valley. Both the Westside and the Eastside of the Los Angeles basin have more than one project planned or under construction. We want and expect no less than our fair share.

CONGESTION AND AIR QUALITY

The Valley east-west corridor is one of the most congested in the Los Angeles region. It serves as a major access route connecting population and employment centers in the San Fernando and Conejo valleys, Hollywood, Mid-Wilshire and Downtown Los Angeles. A well-planned rail system will also connect to the northeast Valley.

The mere fact that we live in a valley with narrow pass-through access creates additional transit and mobility problems. Our freeway rush hour now lasts 4 1/2 hours, with traffic crawling at average speeds of 21 m.p.h. despite the recent widening of the Ventura Freeway. What's more, buses, which contribute to poor air quality, travel at an average speed of 17 m.p.h. A modern rail system will provide a viable alternative to future gridlock because low-emission trains move at overall speeds of 30 m.p.h. to 40 m.p.h., including station stops.

Six years ago, the Valley was scheduled to be the site of the next rail project to be funded. We became embroiled in a divisive public debate about which rail alignment should be adopted. Meanwhile, transit board members representing Pasadena, East Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley built a community consensus that resulted in the Pasadena Blue Line being adopted and partially funded. Millions of dollars intended for the Valley went elsewhere.

As I attend community meetings, I consistently hear that the Valley wants and needs a modern rail system. Active support for an east-west rail system has been shown by most of the east-west corridor homeowner associations, business groups and elected officials. I feel there is a strong consensus for an east-west Valley rail system.

As I indicated, there is fierce competition for the scarce public transit dollars in Los Angeles County. Several rail projects are waiting to be built, but without funds. One should ask who are the losers and who has the most to gain from our millions of tax dollars? Where do they live and whom were they elected to represent? I compliment those officials who have been successful in gaining transit authority approval for their communities.

Let's agree to come together now and work tirelessly for our fair share of transit tax dollar improvements. We owe it to our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to do our part to make the San Fernando Valley a better place to live and make a living. I hope citizens will call the MTA board and elected officials and tell them the San Fernando Valley wants rail now!

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