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City Panel Gives Valley Subway Concept a Boost : Transit: Mayor has said he will consider recommendation before he votes next week as an MTA director. Monorail supporter says it 'ignored the will of the public.'

October 18, 1994|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation recommended Monday that the City Council and Mayor Richard Riordan back a subway line across the San Fernando Valley instead of a rival plan for an elevated train above the Ventura Freeway, adding a powerful voice to the pro-subway camp in the lengthy debate.

The recommendation came a week before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is scheduled to make a final decision on the politically contentious fight over which route and technology should be used for the mass transit line that will run east and west through the Valley, connecting it to the Metro Rail subway to Downtown.

The department said a primarily subway line parallel to Burbank and Chandler boulevards on the south side of the Valley is superior because it would be more easily integrated with bus lines, create less traffic congestion near stations and cost less if funding problems force construction to proceed in short segments.

The recommendation is crucial in part because Riordan--a member of the MTA board who also appointed three other directors to the 13-member panel--has said he would take into account the department's recommendation before rendering his decision.

In the past, Riordan had voiced support for the elevated freeway line but has signaled that he may change his position based on the department's report and today's scheduled City Council vote on the issue.

A spokeswoman for Riordan said Monday that the mayor had not read the report and could not comment.

Nonetheless, subway supporters counted the recommendation as a key victory.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Ed Edelman, a longtime supporter of the subway, said he was elated by the recommendation.

"I hope this helps the mayor and the City Council make a decision" in favor of the subway, he said. "How can they go against their experts?"

"It's a very significant step," said Guy Weddington McCreary, past president of the Universal City/North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which backs the subway.

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But the key proponent of the freeway alignment, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, blasted the report, saying it ignores a 1990 referendum in which Valley voters backed a freeway monorail rather than a subway line.

"This is not the first time that the Department of Transportation has ignored the will of the public," Antonovich said in a statement.

He also cited the recent tunneling troubles that have caused streets in Hollywood to sink as evidence that subway construction is too risky.

Earlier this month, the Clinton Administration suspended $1.6 billion in future federal funding for MTA subway expansion. The funding will be unfrozen, federal officials said, when MTA demonstrates that it can competently manage subway construction.

Antonovich said: "With Hollywood sinking like the Titanic and the merchants likely to file a $1-billion class-action lawsuit against the MTA, the last thing we want to happen is to export this type of disaster to the San Fernando Valley."

McCreary called such criticism a "red herring." As long as construction is done properly, he said, subways are solid transportation projects.

For more than five years, Valley residents and their elected representatives have engaged in a heated debate over the route and technology of a line that would connect the Valley with the Red Line subway to Downtown Los Angeles.

As envisioned, the Ventura Freeway line would have 15 elevated stops between Universal City and Warner Center. Although no decision has been made on the technology, many supporters back a quiet, high-speed monorail for the line, and usually refer to their project as "the monorail."

The mostly subway alternative calls for an extension from North Hollywood to Woodland Hills with 10 stations. The MTA has paid $159 million to acquire the right-of-way for the subway line.

There is not much difference in cost. According to an independent review released last month, a subway would be more expensive than the monorail by only $19 million--less than 1% of the total cost of either project--if open-air stations were built in some locations.

In the city's report Monday, Robert Yates, general manager of the Department of Transportation, said much of the previous analysis of the rail options has focused on cost estimates. But he said the city should consider other factors.

Yates said the Burbank-Chandler line would be closer to heavy population centers such as Pierce and Valley community colleges and would create a new transportation corridor that could continue operating if the freeway corridor is damaged in an earthquake.

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