Friday, December 31, 2004

Orange Line construction under way
Citizens group says busway not best solution
By Lisa Mascaro - Staff Writer

After years of public debate, construction of the San Fernando Valley busway got under way in 2004, only to come to a grinding halt when a judge ordered another study on the Orange Line project.

Although work was allowed to resume after 23 days, the project's August 2005 opening is in jeopardy, and the $330 million project faces up to $10 million in additional overtime costs.

"I think it's going to be a huge success," said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member who has championed the project through his Valley-based district.

"I think the community's going to love it. It's going to be an amenity," he said.

"My hope is that not only is this going to be a success for the San Fernando Valley, that if it is as successful as I hope it will be, this should spread to the rest of the county like a wildfire."

The 14-mile busway, christened the Orange Line last January, comes after years of failed efforts to bring a subway or light-rail line to the region.

The Orange Line will run buses along the old rail route between North Hollywood and Warner Center every five to seven minutes during rush hour, drawing an estimated 18,700 weekday boardings by 2020.

Construction started in earnest at the beginning of 2004 but was slowed when contaminated soil had to be removed. By summer, businesses were complaining of lost revenues as dug-up intersections impeded customers.

Then, in July, with construction nearly 40 percent complete, the grass-roots Citizens Organized for Smart Transit convinced a court of appeal to order a new review of alternative routes. In August, the court halted work.

COST had been fighting the project for more than two years, claiming that Rapid buses would be cheaper and serve more people than the Orange Line.

Construction resumed and the MTA completed the court-ordered study. It found that the busway would be at least a few minutes faster than Rapid buses and $10 million a year cheaper to operate.

But COST chairwoman Diana Lipari disputes those findings as skewed. She also opposes new, mixed-use housing and retail developments the busway is expected to attract in the future.

"What we have asked for was a discussion of the facts," she said. "If you're going to stand up there and say, This is a great transportation project, you better know what you're talking about."

Lisa Mascaro, (818) 713-3761 lisa.mascaro@dailynews.com

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