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Busway extension gets boost from MTA.

Byline: Troy Anderson Staff Writer

TRANSIT: Local funds will be used to keep the

Orange Line advancing.

With the state withholding start-up money for the project, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board voted Thursday to use local funds to kick start the $216 million Metro Orange Line Extension from Canoga Park to Chatsworth.

Faced with its own budget troubles, the state could not not give Metro $14.7 million in Proposition 1B bond funds to start the busway extension. So in a 7-0 vote, the Metro board decided to use voter-approved Measure R half-percent sales tax funds instead.

Metro officials hope the state will repay them later.

"This decision helps keep the project on track," Metro spokesman Dave Sotero said.

"Ultimately, it's going to connect Amtrak to Metrolink services in the west portion of the San Fernando Valley with the Orange Line," Sotero said. "That will enable people who are coming in from Ventura County to be able to get into the west part of the Valley."

In what marked the first official project to begin construction under the Measure R transportation sales tax, Metro announced last summer it planned to break ground on the four-mile extension of the Metro Orange Line north from Canoga Station to the Chatsworth Metrolink Station.

But the project was put on hold due to the state budget crisis.

"The vote allows us to use some of Metro's own sales tax money to keep this project moving in lieu of the state's grant, which is not available at the moment," said David Yale, Metro's deputy executive officer for regional programming.

With the funding approval, Sotero said the project is expected to begin in March and be completed in 2012.

The extension will add a new north-south busway in the West Valley and create a connection between the Orange Line and Metrolink and Amrak rail system throughout Southern California.

When completed, the extension will transform the Metro-owned right-of-way into an attractive landscaped busway similar to the existing Orange Line corridor, Sotero said. It will include four station stops at Sherman Way, Roscoe Boulevard, Nordhoff Street and Chatsworth, a new 207-space park-and-ride facility at the Sherman Way Station, landscaping and parallel bicycle and pedestrian paths.

"I'm not completely sure whether or not it's going to be as high of potential ridership as people think because our existing local lines between the Chatsworth Metrolink station and Warner Center don't have that high of a ridership," said Kymberleigh Richards, the public and legislative affairs director for Southern California Transit Advocates. "But at the same time ... it does create some connectivity between three of our highest ridership east-west streets - Sherman Way, Roscoe and Nordhoff. That's not a bad thing."

The vote comes as Metro faces a record operating deficit of $279 million, considers cuts in bus and rail service and experiences an 8 percent drop in bus ridership over the past year.

Metro fares are set to increase from $1.25 per ride to $1.50 in July.

"We are working with the board to determine how to bring (the operating deficit) down," Yale said. "Everything is on the table. We have to work with our board to figure out how to close that gap."

Meanwhile, the Metro board voted 7-1 to approve an $11.5 million contract to study the feasibility of six transportation projects, including a controversial proposal to build a tunnel to extend the 710 Freeway from Interstate 10 to the 210 - the famous "missing link" because it would be the final piece in the Southern California freeway system. The project, embroiled in legal battles, has been stymied for decades.

If ultimately approved, transportation officials would have to choose between six corridors to construct the 4.5-10 mile tunnel costing $4-$4.5 billion, said Douglas E. Failing, Metro's executive director of highway programs.

"It would be larger than most of what we see here today in California for transportation tunnels," Failing said. "It would be the same size as tunnels we see in other places around the world - Spain, France and Russia."

Failing said five routes are being considered for the possible tunnel, including one that would connect with Route 2 at the border of Los Angeles and Glendale.

La Canada Flintridge Mayor Laura Olhasso objected to the study, saying "developing a strategic assessment and business case for the public-private funding and expedited project delivery of the SR-710 North tunnel project is a commitment to the project prior to environmental review under CEQA."

troy.anderson@dailynews.com

213-974-8985
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 29, 2010
Words:751
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