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Carpool Lanes May Be Delayed

Freeway: State turns down MTA request to speed up funding for project on I-5 in San Fernando Valley.


A vital carpool lane extension on Interstate 5 in the San Fernando Valley could be delayed by up to four years after a state agency Thursday turned down a request to speed up funding for the project, local officials said.

The slowdown is the result of the California Transportation Commission's approval of a five-year budget that does not include $193 million requested by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to help complete carpool lanes in both directions on the Golden State Freeway, between the 134 and 170 freeways.

MTA officials said the funding would have allowed them to complete the job by 2007. Now they will likely need until 2011. MTA Chief Executive Roger Snoble decried the decision, saying carpool lanes in the Valley are "one of the few things we can do and do quickly to provide some congestion relief."

The state commission approved $650 million to help pay for other key Los Angeles County freeway improvements. It did not OK the I-5 carpool lane project because the MTA simply failed to indicate it was a priority, the state agency's top official said.

The decision on the San Fernando Valley carpool lanes was met with deep disappointment at the MTA's downtown Los Angeles headquarters, where Snoble has touted the creation of a full-fledged network of carpool lanes throughout the San Fernando Valley.

MTA officials acknowledged they had not made the lanes a priority in initial funding requests, but said they shifted gears in recent months to make it clear to state officials how crucial the lanes are in their plans.

"I thought we could keep the door open and we had a chance to work something out," said Snoble, who added that he is certain the project will be built. Now, it's likely his agency will have to wait for the next budget cycle by the state officials, Snoble said. The MTA could also look to other sources, such as a bond issue.

Also disappointed was Richard Katz, co-chair of the San Fernando Valley Transportation Strike Force, a group trying to implement transit improvements in the area. He said the decision shows that the state transportation commission "can't figure out what is important" to the Los Angeles area and that its members spend too much time "driving around in Northern California."

But commission Executive Director Diane Eidam defended the decision. "Our priority was to fund the projects they had an absolute priority for," she said. "It just was not feasible this time around."

Eidam noted that the MTA could have another shot at the money in two years, when the state commission reexamines its budget.

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