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Officials Fight Halt of Valley Busway Project

Lawmakers announce a strategy to undo last week's ruling by a state appellate court.

August 10, 2004|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

Local, state and federal officials are banding together to reverse a court ruling that has halted construction of the San Fernando Valley east-west busway, a half-built project whose fate is now uncertain.

On Monday, officials gathered near tall mounds of dirt in Van Nuys for a news conference to denounce the state appellate court in Los Angeles' decision last week that stilled bulldozers and caused 120 workers to be laid off.

"It's absurd that judges, who are not responsible for the San Fernando Valley, would be making these decisions," said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks). "This is a project that should go forward for the benefit of the community. To stop this project now would be a mistake."

Today, Los Angeles Councilman Tom LaBonge will introduce a motion directing the city to ask the court to allow the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to resume work on the Orange Line project, a 14-mile dedicated bus corridor from the Metro Red Line subway station in North Hollywood to Warner Center in Woodland Hills.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 11, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Valley busway -- An article in Tuesday's California section about the east-west busway in the San Fernando Valley misidentified Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky as chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He is an MTA director, but no longer chairman.

Later this week, Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) plans to propose legislation that would suspend a portion of a state law on new projects -- upon which the appellate ruling was based -- so it would not apply to the Orange Line and allow construction to proceed.

"This project is being opposed by a very small number of people that are grasping at straws," Levine said. "Everyone I spoke with in the last few days has been outraged by this."

Two years ago, a group of busway opponents called Citizens Organized for Smart Transit filed a lawsuit challenging the MTA's environmental impact report for the project. A trial judge threw out the case, but a state appellate panel reversed that action, ordering the MTA to stop construction immediately and consider as an alternative a network of rapid buses that run on city streets.

Busway opponents said they should not be blamed for the project's woes.

"I challenge the proponents of the busway to get into a room with me and discuss the facts," said Diana Lipari, chairwoman of the citizens group.

The group contends that a network of rapid bus lines would cost less and be more convenient than a single bus corridor.

More than $100 million has been spent on the busway, originally scheduled to open in August 2005. Every day that the project is idle costs taxpayers $69,000, MTA officials said.

"If this gets stopped for a number of months, the contractor is off the hook for the bid," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, chairman of the MTA board. "We'll have to rebid and renegotiate."

In court documents filed Monday, MTA officials estimated that a new study to assess the rapid bus alternative, including a public comment period and time for the board to consider the findings, would take about nine months, and rebidding the contract to account for increased costs of labor and materials would cost $38 million to $72 million.

If the project stalls for too long, the agency could lose $68 million in state funding, MTA officials said.

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