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Red Line Breakthrough at Hand? : Subway option--with a caveat--now clearly is better than freeway route

October 19, 1994

We hope there will never again be a mass transit decision-making process that is as bitter and drawn out as that of the east-west San Fernando Valley rail project. Arguing over how to extend the Red Line subway across the width of the Valley has gone on for five years, and the matter may yet deteriorate into a swamp of legal challenges.

That would be sad, given the scarcity of transportation dollars and the Federal Transit Administration's recent order halting federal funds for the Red Line until construction and management problems are resolved. There must be no further delay in a decision on the Valley rail project. Fortunately, one option has emerged as the more sensible choice--with a caveat.

When the Metropolitan Transportation Authority considers the matter late this month, it will have the choice of a subway route along Burbank and Chandler boulevards or an above-ground option along the Ventura Freeway. We strongly support the subway option.

Four years ago, in an advisory vote, residents favored the freeway route. But the best cost estimate for the subway then stood at $3.03 billion, compared to $2.59 billion for the freeway route. The most recent cost estimates, based on new engineering, have shaved the edge to less than 1%: $2.27 billion for the subway and $2.25 billion for the freeway route. The new estimates were part of the reason the Los Angeles City Council, following the lead of several of its members from the Valley, voted 11 to 1 Tuesday for the subway option.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation says that the subway could be more easily integrated with existing bus lines, would create less traffic congestion and would be easier to construct segment by segment if funding problems arise.

In the event of another major earthquake, a separate subway and freeway would increase the chances of one surviving intact. Finally, $159 million has already been spent on subway rights of way.

The only caveat here is that the MTA must ensure that there be no repeat of the kind of outrageous tunneling problems that have marred construction efforts to date. Is that too much to ask?

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