Letter to the editor, Daily News, February 2, 1997
(Portions of my original letter omitted from publication are highlighted in underlined italics.)
In all of the debates over how to best bring a cross-Valley rail line into existence, there has been a near-polarization of viewpoints: Some favor a subway across the Burbank-Chandler alignment, others a monorail down the center divider of the Ventura Freeway. Now the MTA is finally owning up to a fact most of us had suspected for some time: There will likely never be funds to construct a deep-bore subway.
Almost immediately, Supervisor "Monorail Mike" Antonovich began a new campaign for his pet project, even trotting out the rabbi from the Shaarey Zedek synagogue at the January 22 board meeting to try to convince the MTA board to abandon the route of the now-unlikely subway. The rabbi even claimed to have evidence that there was no potential ridership for a rail line in that neighborhood.
Unfortunately for the rabbi and the supervisor, current MTA service would appear to prove precisely the opposite. MTA's scheduling and operations planning departments have the curious policy of running bus service in a given area based upon the ridership counts.
Current bus timetables show why any proposed cross-Valley rail service should follow the route adopted for the now-unlikely subway. Metro Bus Line 420 roughly parallels the Burbank-Chandler alignment through North Hollywood. Ridership is sufficient to sustain 235 bus trips per day -- a far cry from the "no one will ride your rail line" warning.
The MTA owns the right of way on the Burbank-Chandler corridor. That means that underground rail construction between the North Hollywood Red Line station and the intersection of Hazeltine Avenue and Oxnard Street can be accomplished without using deep-bore subway tunneling methods. The MTA can use "cut-and-cover" or "open trench" construction methods. This means a light rail system can be constructed just below ground level and then be brought up a gentle grade west of Hazeltine Ave. to operate at street-level across the remainder of the alignment. This is already being done, to a limited degree, with the Metro Blue Line as it enters 7th St. Metro Center, and the original alignment for the Pasadena Blue Line extension had called for the light rail line to continue underground operation through downtown to Union Station.
In contrast, MTA does not own the right of way to the center divider of the Ventura Freeway. Any construction of this magnitude down the center divider will require lane closures to accomodate construction equipment during the entire period of construction (compared to putting construction equipment on a dedicated right-of-way already owned by the agency). Further, the construction of aboveground stations is considerably more expensive than street-level stations; the monorail alignment would require that every station be aboveground, whereas the light rail alignment would require -- at most -- three underground stations (one of which would be at the already under construction North Hollywood Red Line station; the other two, at Chandler/Laurel Canyon and Valley College, would be relatively inexpensive to construct, since the light rail tracks would not be as deep below the surface as would a subway's).
A combination underground and street-level light rail line is the only feasible and cost-effective option. Given how quickly the Blue Line was built between downtown and Long Beach, it is also likely to be the option that can be brought into service the fastest.