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Rail Decision Sets New Course for Future : Timeline: Valley subway will probably take decades to complete.


The vote is in--but actual subway cars whisking commuters across the San Fernando Valley are still years, if not decades, away.

Earlier this week, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted to pursue construction of a mostly subway transit line across the Valley, rejecting the idea of an elevated rail along the Ventura Freeway.

Yet even if the project moves forward on a fast track--which MTA officials concede is highly unlikely--16-year-olds getting their driver's licenses this year will be at least 40 when the 13.8-mile project is completed, sometime after 2018.

Consider, too, that the largest group of riders may be people who don't even live here--or who have yet to be born. More than a quarter of present Valley residents will have died of old age by the time the project is completed, based on U. S. Census Bureau statistics.

Under the best conditions, construction is not expected to begin until 2002. It will take that long for the MTA to raise the money and complete the studies necessary to build the line, which would run roughly along Burbank and Chandler boulevards between North Hollywood and Warner Center.

The line's ultimate size and shape will be determined over the next several years, said Judith Wilson, the MTA's director of planning and programming. So far, the only definite aspect of the project will be the route.

Wilson said of the route: "I won't say that it has been studied to within a gnat's eyelash, but I will say that it has been studied in a lot of detail."

Total cost for the subway line ranges between $2.2 billion and $2.4 billion.

Questions over how best to proceed will be addressed in a so-called major investment study, which will take two years to complete. The study essentially argues to the federal government that the project is a worthwhile use of tax money and that local transit officials studied all alternatives before deciding.

But how the line ultimately will operate depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is how much money the MTA is able to secure from the federal government.

MTA officials are uncertain even how many of the planned 10 stations along the line will be built when the line starts up. If funding falls below expected levels, some stations may be deferred or the line may terminate at the San Diego Freeway until more money can be found, Wilson said.

Money for the project will come from a combination of federal, state and local sources. Wilson said the MTA expects the federal government to finance about half of the costs. More money would come from Proposition A and C funds, generated by voter-approved sales tax hikes of half a cent each.

For all the uncertainty, MTA officials said they can count on one thing: lawsuits. The location of the line is sure to continue to raise the ire of opponents, who have argued for years that the line should not cut through their neighborhoods.

"At the MTA, we are no strangers to controversy," Wilson said. "Hopefully we won't be challenged successfully. We find that generally the best defense against a legal challenge is to do the very best job we can."

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