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Subway Proposal Wins Key Recommendation : Transit: The L.A. Transportation Department rejects the choice of an elevated train across the Valley.


The Los Angeles Department of Transportation recommended Monday that the City Council and the Mayor 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 comes 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.

In an analysis released Monday, the department said a mostly subway line parallel to Burbank and Chandler boulevards is superior because it would more easily integrated with existing bus lines, create less traffic congestion around stations and would be a less expensive choice if future funding problems force construction to proceed by short segments, among other reasons.

The recommendation is crucial in part because Mayor Richard Riordan--a member of the MTA who also appointed three others on the 13-member panel--has said that he would take into account the department's recommendation before rendering his own 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 vote on it by the City Council.

A spokeswoman for Riordan said Monday that the mayor had yet to read the report and thus could not comment on it.

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

Supervisor Edmund Edelman, a long-time supporter of the subway alternative, 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, a past president of the Universal City/North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which backs the subway option. "It's a pleasure to have the support of the City of Los Angeles."

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 proposed freeway monorail over 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 prepared statement.

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

"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," he said.

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 debated over the route and technology of a line that would connect the Valley with the Red Line subway to downtown Los Angeles.

As currently 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 already 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 have focused on cost estimates. But he said the city should consider other factors.

For example, Yates said, the Burbank-Chandler line would be closer to heavy population centers such as Pierce and Valley colleges and creates a new transportation corridor that could continue operating if the freeway corridor is damaged in a quake or other natural disaster.

Because the subway line would be further north than the freeway alignment, he said, it would "provide a more effective linkage to existing north-south bus services."

In addition, he said funding constraints may delay construction of the entire length of the line to Woodland Hills. If such delays occur, Yates said a subway could be built more cheaply in a shorter segment than an elevated line.

But Tom Silver, an Antonovich transportation aide, called this last point a "gross error," saying that recent studies show that the construction of short segments of either project would be nearly equal in cost.

"That makes you wonder about the motives of the report," he said.

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