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CITY SIGNALS SLOW DOWN RAPID BUS.

Byline: Lisa Mascaro Staff Writer

The Metro Rapid bus line on Van Nuys Boulevard has failed to live up to the promise of running 25 percent faster than regular lines because of city construction delays, Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said Monday.

Among causes of delays was that the contractor was pulled off the bus line job to put up a traffic signal wanted by City Council President Alex Padilla at an intersection where a man was struck and killed earlier this year.

City transportation officials said it now could take until early next year before the traffic signals are upgraded so that bus drivers will be able to control them to avoid being caught at red lights.

``It's horrible. It's absolutely horrible,'' said the MTA's director of regional transit plans, Rex Gephart.

``It's almost Metro Rapid, but not quite. This is the first corridor we opened without signal priority. ... We would prefer never to do it again.''

Department of Transportation officials said they're working hard to get the work done on the Valley's second-heaviest ridership corridor so that Bus Line 761 operates as it should.

``We're all concerned the project has slipped a little bit,''

said DOT Assistant General Manager James Okazaki.

``We're going to catch up. In five years, if we finish all 28 (Metro Rapid routes) in time, forgive us for some of the screw-ups in the middle.''

Even if the Van Nuys Boulevard contractor, Amelco Engineering, gets finished with the $3.4 million job in coming months as hoped, the technology might not be able to function as it should because of work problems along the San Diego Freeway corridor on another Valley project.

That project includes key cabling needed to relay information from the streets back to a city traffic control center, and the contractor is having to redo some work with a different type of cable, DOT officials said.

``We're working as fast as we can,'' said city transportation engineer Glenn Ogura. Okazaki noted that project remains on schedule.

The Metro Rapid project, with its striking red buses that make fewer stops, has been a top project for the MTA in recent years as it tries to give riders a faster alternative to local buses.

The Metro Rapid buses on Ventura and Wilshire boulevards have proven popular, with increased ridership, and officials have set an ambitious schedule to add two new routes every six months across the county.

But when Line 761 opened in June, it didn't yet have the signal priority system, which allows the driver to keep traffic lights green so the bus can more speedily cross intersections.

City officials said at that time that delays in awarding the contract - which included work on the Florence Avenue Metro Rapid line - had pushed back the completion date back to the end of September.

They now say they are hoping the contractor gets the work done by mid-November.

Okazaki added that Van Nuys was the first corridor in the bus program the department didn't construct with in-house staff.

Amelco project manager Dennis Heaps said the project was delayed in part because of soil conditions different from those the builders expected and slow payments from the city. The contractor started being fined $1,000 a day in penalties starting last week.

``It's a series of problems,'' Heaps said.

Padilla spokesman Bill Mabie said the councilman makes no apologies for the council decision to order a signal at Van Nuys Boulevard and Kewen Avenue after a man was killed there. That work should have caused only minor delays to the other project, Mabie said.

``Our first responsibility is to make transportation as safe as possible,'' he said.

``When you have finite resources ... the things that have greatest priority go first,'' he said. ``We're not going to apologize for that. It's something that needed to be done.''

Ogura said the Van Nuys Boulevard route might be plugged in regardless of the San Diego Freeway corridor work, but might not work as well as it could.

Still, officials are pressing to get both projects done before the city's holiday-season moratorium on transportation work begins in mid-November. Any unfinished work could get pushed off until after New Year's Day, they said.

Gephart said the signal priority is one of three components needed - along with scheduling and fewer bus stops - for Metro Rapid to run optimally. ``Without one of them, the program is not the program,'' he said.

He said the signals account for about one-third of the 25 percent saving in time on on Rapid routes.

Gephart said studies had not yet but done, but he estimated the system was running about 15 percent faster than typical lines.

But rolling out a program without its being fully operational is something he plans to avoid in the future.

``The public wants fast service on opening day,'' he said. ``We're not going to let this happen again.''

Lisa Mascaro, (818) 713-3761

lisa.mascaro(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 7, 2003
Words:824
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