July 24--Calling the San Fernando Valley one of the most underserved areas in the county for public transit, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board on Thursday authorized a study on changing the Orange Line busway into a light rail system.
"One of five county residents lives in the San Fernando Valley, and yet of the 80 rail stations in the system, only two are in the Valley," said Councilman Paul Krekorian, who serves on the Metro board.
"It is clear today that the Valley has not benefited to the degree of other areas. At the same time, the Orange Line has been a phenomenal success, putting to rest the unfair stereotype that Valley residents will not get out of their cars."
Krekorian, with support from Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Zev Yaroslavsky, chair Mayor Eric Garcetti and other board members, won unanimous passage of his proposal to have the Metro staff report back on what would be involved in costs, construction and timing of changing the Orange Line to a light rail system.
"I think we should have this dialogue," Krekorian said. "I believe we can't delay any further to meet the underserved needs of the San Fernando Valley."
The study is possible due to recent state legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown and authored by Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Sherman Oaks, that lifts the 23-year ban on any transit construction unless it is for a subway.
Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who represents the Warner Center area, said the transit improvements are badly needed.
"My perspective is from the West Valley that is growing by leaps and bounds," Blumenfield said. "We just signed the new Warner Center specific plan that will bring in 30,000 new jobs. All of this is being built as transit-oriented development, yet our only transit system is the Orange Line. It is imperative we look at increasing its capacity.
"It can make a tremendous difference on the entire city. This is about feeding the economic engine of the West Valley."
The proposal also drew support from a variety of speakers.
Stuart Waldman, president of VICA, said the project would be an initial investment in other Valley-wide transit improvements.
"In some ways, the Orange Line has been a victim of its own success," Waldman said. "It suffers from overcrowding, and the only way to get more people off the 101 Freeway is with a light rail system."
Plans to be studied would convert the 18 miles of the Orange Line system from Chatsworth to North Hollywood into light rail, with a goal of eventually linking it to other rail systems in the county.
In related actions, the board Thursday approved its 10-year Short-Range Transportation Plan, which lays out specific steps toward reaching the goals of 2009's 30-year vision for fielding growth and traffic issues in the county.
Members also recommended awarding a $1.6 billion contract to construct the Westside subway to the joint venture of Skanska-Traylor-Shea, despite indications of protests against the deal.
One of the firms competing for the contract, Dragados, said it submitted the lowest bid but that MTA officials chose to ignore that with its recommendation. The contract will not be executed until any protests are resolved.
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