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Valley Busway Plan Advances

MTA: Some strongly oppose the east-west project, which critics say won't pass legal muster.

March 01, 2002|CAITLIN LIU and KURT STREETER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Turning aside protests from residents who live along the 14-mile route, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Thursday approved a key environmental report for a proposed east-west busway in the San Fernando Valley.

The MTA board also allocated $1 million to study the feasibility of a north-south Valley busway. In addition, the panel voted to vastly expand Los Angeles County's rapid-bus network, from two lines to 25.

Thursday's approval of an environmental impact report allows the MTA to solicit construction bids for the $329.5-million, east-west busway, which is separate from the rapid system.

The busway would run along Chandler Boulevard and Topham Street, from Warner Center in Woodland Hills to the Red Line subway in North Hollywood. It is scheduled to open in 2005.

The route would be used by buses only, and would include stops at Pierce College, the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area, the Van Nuys government complex and Valley College.

State officials and the Valley's business community have pushed for the busway for years. But some residents and rail transit advocates have vehemently opposed it.

"We could have 10 rapid bus routes" for less than the cost of the busway, said Diana Lipari, chairwoman of Citizens Organized for Smart Transit, which was formed to fight the project.

She noted a 2001 study showing that a rapid bus serving a similar 14-mile route would cover the distance in 43 minutes. MTA's latest estimates show that an end-to-end busway ride would be 35 to 40 minutes.

"Why are we spending all this money?" Lipari asked.

Edward Grossman, a representative of the Yad Avraham Congregation in Valley Village, told the board the busway would endanger members of his synagogue, senior citizens and children who walk in the neighborhood.

The busway may not withstand legal scrutiny, warned Kymberleigh Richards, a spokeswoman for Southern California Transit Advocates. She said a state law calls for a rail line in that corridor, and $44.8 million of the busway funding came from a bond issue that requires the route to be converted to rail within 10 years.

But MTA board President John Fasana said the busway is on "solid footing" legally and financially.

Also backing the busway were representatives of the California Department of Transportation, Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., and United Chambers of Commerce of San Fernando Valley, as well as Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) and state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica).

Earlier Thursday, the MTA board voted to add 23 lines to the Metro Rapid network. The rapid buses now serve two lines--along Wilshire and Whittier boulevards from Santa Monica to Montebello, and along Ventura Boulevard in the Valley.

The first six of the new lines will be added within three years, at a cost of $24 million, according to the MTA. They will include a second Valley line, along Van Nuys Boulevard.

The rapid buses share streets with autos. They cut travel time by making fewer stops and are equipped with transponders that keep traffic lights green longer.

Also Thursday, the MTA board approved a study that clears the way for construction of a six-mile light rail line from downtown to the Eastside.

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