Friday, November 26, 2004

COST rails against new MTA study
Busway report slanted?
By Lisa Mascaro - Staff Writer

The Orange Line's strongest critic has blasted the MTA's environmental study on alternatives to the San Fernando Valley busway, one of dozens of comments being reviewed in advance of next month's vote on the $330 million project.

In a 120-page letter, accompanied by a box of documentation, Citizens Organized for Smart Transit -- which won a temporary halt to the project last summer -- claims the Metropolitan Transportation Authority unfairly favored the Orange Line over Rapid bus routes throughout the court-ordered study.

"This wasn't a butcher putting his thumb on the scale; this was jumping up and down on the scale," said Tom Rubin, an unpaid consultant to COST, who also has worked as a paid consultant to MTA's labor unions and to Los Angeles Unified's bond oversight committee.

"They did incredible things. They measured the times different ways ... very single way was in favor of making the Orange Line faster."

An MTA spokesman declined to comment. The agency is preparing formal responses to the nearly 30 letters received by this week's deadline to comment on the EIR.

In October, after the study was released for review, the MTA said the Orange Line would attract more new riders and be $10 million a year cheaper to operate than a system of Rapid buses.

"Metro staff will have to respond to every substantive comment made that we've received," spokesman Marc Littman said then. "That's going to occupy a lot of our time."

The MTA board is expected to vote Dec. 13 to accept the new report, but COST plans to be back in court on Tuesday in its continuing efforts to halt busway construction.

COST filed suit in 2002, challenging the busway and saying a system of Rapid buses had never been considered. Culminating in a series of court battles, the Court of Appeal temporarily shut down the project last summer and ordered MTA to study alternatives.

COST maintains that Rapid buses -- which make fewer stops and get green lights at intersections -- would be just as effective as the Orange Line at a fraction of the cost.

"Why do we want to spend $300-plus million ... when we can get the same result for under 2 percent of that?" Rubin said.

The MTA's new environmental study showed the Orange Line making the trip between North Hollywood and Warner Center in 28 to 40 minutes, depending on speed and traffic signal timing, compared with 41 to 45 minutes for Rapid buses on such routes as Victory Boulevard, Sherman Way or Vanowen Street.

COST claims MTA skewed the results, in part by making the Rapid bus route on Victory Boulevard slightly longer than the Orange Line route.

It further said MTA failed to account for recently announced plans to provide for traffic signal upgrades on many of the Valley streets that could operate Rapid buses. COST adds that the alternative routes studied were "sub-optimal" and "unimaginative."

The MTA has long maintained the Orange Line would be better than Rapid buses because the busway will run in its own lane and won't have to contend with other motorists.

The new EIR also said traffic is expected to grow so much by 2020, it will take twice as long to drive on Los Angeles County's streets and freeways.

Orange Line supporters say the busway will provide an alternative to the Ventura Freeway (101) after failed efforts to extend the Red Line subway or build light rail.

Bart Reed, executive director of Valley based The Transit Coalition, said COST's complaints are without basis.

"There's no advantage to what they keep pitching as the Rapid bus," said Reed, a bus and train rider.

His group is pressing the MTA to build an underground connection from the Orange Line's North Hollywood terminus on the west side of Lankershim Boulevard with the subway on the east side of the street so riders don't have to cross the boulevard.

Lisa Mascaro, (818) 713-3761

(11-29-2004) Busway politics: MTA's slanted study parallels COST's skewed view - Editorial
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