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MTA Will Run Orange Line Out to Chatsworth

Buoyed by the busway's success, the agency will extend route six miles from Woodland Hills.

September 29, 2006|Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writer

The little transit line that could is about to get bigger.

The Orange Line, the busway between North Hollywood and Woodland Hills that has broken ridership projections since it opened last fall, will be extended six miles to Chatsworth under a plan approved Thursday by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board.

The Orange Line carries about 20,000 people a day -- three times more than transit officials expected.

Though not the busiest transit line in Los Angeles County -- that honor belongs to the Red Line subway -- the Orange Line was much cheaper to build than rail. The expansion will cost $135 million and should be completed in 2012.

"We have an opportunity to do something to build on the Orange Line's success," said county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, an MTA board member.

The MTA board was under pressure to act quickly or risk losing $98 million in state funds that were dedicated in 2000 to improving north-south traffic flow in the San Fernando Valley. The money must be allocated by Jan. 1, 2009.

Board members voted unanimously to begin work to extend the Orange Line along Canoga Avenue from Warner Center in Woodland Hills to the Chatsworth Metrolink station.

They also instructed MTA staff to study the feasibility of stretching the Orange Line farther north to the 118 Freeway and building a park-and-ride lot there.

In addition, the board began the process of creating bus-only lanes on parts of Van Nuys Boulevard, among other proposed road improvements for that region, as part of its effort to improve public transit in the Valley.

"We are trying to address the north-south issues," said MTA board member Richard Katz, referring to the plan to allocate millions of dollars to road improvements on Lankershim, Van Nuys, Sepulveda and Reseda boulevards.

Transit agency staff recommended against seeking federal funds for those projects because the application process could delay construction, jeopardizing the state money.

Kymberleigh Richards, chairwoman of the MTA's Valley advisory council, questioned the board's spending priorities. Improved bus service on bustling Van Nuys Boulevard should be the agency's top priority in the region, she said.

"Shouldn't we be making those decisions based on where our passengers are already?" Richards asked in an interview before the meeting.

MTA estimates show that bus-only lanes would increase boardings along Van Nuys Boulevard by 14,400 annually while the Orange Line extension would draw 4,000 more boardings per year.

But Yaroslavsky disputed those numbers. He said those estimates were several years old and failed to take into account the Orange Line's success.

Transit officials hope that extending the line will lure more commuters out of their cars and onto buses.

Rick Sagerman used to drive half an hour from his Newbury Park home to his sales job in Burbank. Since his car broke down six weeks ago, he has spent 90 minutes each morning on a train and two buses.

"It's not horrible," he said, as he waited at the Metrolink station in Chatsworth last week, his back to the bright afternoon sun.

With better connections, though, he said, he would do it every day. "If I could get on the Orange Line here [to Burbank] and walk two blocks to my office, I would switch, absolutely."

Since the busway opened last October, ridership has surpassed the agency's 15-year projection, reaching a record 21,828 average weekday boardings in May.

Orange Line riders can now travel from Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood to Warner Center in less than an hour; the additional six miles to Chatsworth would take 10 to 14 minutes, according to MTA staff.

More commuters, however, still rely on buses traveling along Van Nuys Boulevard, where MTA officials counted more than 25,000 average daily boardings from January to March, the latest ridership statistics available.

Improving bus service in the Valley has been a priority for years. The MTA has added red Rapid buses, which stop less frequently, along a few major streets.

But riders say traffic congestion slows them down.

"I think it's just the name," said Leticia Meneses, 36, of Van Nuys, referring to the Rapid bus line. "It doesn't go that fast."

As she sat waiting on a Rapid bus, Meneses, a housekeeper in Bel-Air, said she liked the idea of dedicating a traffic lane to buses only. "I think it will help," she said.

Some local merchants, however, oppose removing street parking to make room for bus-only lanes, even if it is during rush hours only.

"Of course, it's going to affect our business," said Mike Shary, who manages the Van Nuys Mart, which sells bright blue and red luggage, white athletic socks and baseball caps. The store is on Van Nuys near Victory Boulevard.

Without street parking, Shary predicted, his customers would shop elsewhere. "They would go to the big shopping centers like Wal-Mart," he said.

Extending the Orange Line along Canoga Avenue would be much more expensive than the proposed street improvements elsewhere.

But MTA staff believe that the extension is more attainable than the smaller projects because the MTA already owns the land.

The staff members expressed concern that disgruntled business owners and city traffic engineers opposed to dedicated bus lanes would hold up the proposal, endangering the state money.

With the Orange Line, "we don't have to remove parking. We don't have to remove any traffic," said Carol Inge, the MTA's chief planning officer.

Chatsworth resident Art Wyckoff said that extending the Orange Line would improve service for him and other transit-dependent residents of the northwest Valley, where bus service is sparse after 8 p.m.

"It would help my social life immensely," said Wyckoff, 52.

jean.guccione@latimes.com

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