By Jordan Graham, May 13, 2014
The way in which people travel to, from and around the San Fernando Valley will significantly transform over the next three decades.
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and other agencies are set to pour billions of dollars into beefing up bus and rail lines, freeways and bikeways. The result will better link Valley residents to each other and connect L.A.’s northernmost regions with the rest of the city.
This is a glimpse into the future of transportation to and from the Valley:
1. A Valley-to-Westside bus line that uses I-405’s carpool or shoulder lanes
Projected completion date: One option could launch between June and year’s end. Other options would take more time.
Why it’s needed: It can take an hour to drive from Sherman Oaks to Santa Monica during rush-hour traffic and more than two hours via public transportation. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Transportation listed I-405 as the busiest urban highway in America and the third-most congested. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority said traffic is expected to increase from its current volume of 331,000 vehicles per day to 430,000 by 2030.
The proposal: Next month, the last leg of I-405’s northbound carpool lane is set to open, marking the completion of a five-year, $1.1 billion Metro project that created high-occupancy vehicle lanes in both directions between I-10 and the 101. Now, Metro is eyeing a way for buses to take advantage of that new space.
County Supervisor and Metro board member Zev Yaroslavsky recently asked the board to study the possibility of launching bus line 788 – a peak-hour express bus that would run from Panorama City, south on Van Nuys Boulevard, then travel west, parallel to the Orange Line, before running nonstop on I-405 to Westwood.
But those buses would still enter the freeway using regular on-ramps and operate in mixed traffic with motorists. If the carpool lanes and ramps also are congested, bus 788 would be stuck, as well. That’s why Metro also is considering a plan that calls for the agency to build direct-access ramps for buses, which would provide direct access to bus-only lanes. A second plan would allow buses to use freeway shoulder lanes during peak hours.
Funding: Nothing has been budgeted for a new bus line to launch in 2014.
What’s next: Yaroslavsky asked the board to report on its findings about bus line 788 at the board’s May 22 meeting.
2. A tunnel under the Santa Monica Mountains
Projected completion date: Metro’s long-range plan lists the opening year as 2039 because funding for the project won’t be available for at least another 14 years. But if the agency partners with private companies to build the tunnel, the project could be completed much sooner.
Why it’s needed: The Santa Monica Mountains are without a doubt the greatest impediment to fluid travel from the San Fernando Valley to the L.A. Basin, with only a few passes and canyons slitting through the divide. As the Valley population continues to grow, improvements to public transportation on and along I-405 likely won’t provide enough options for those crossing the hills.
The proposal: Three of the options Metro has proposed to improve travel from the Valley to the rest of the city rely on a tunnel. The proposals include:
• Constructing an 11-mile tolled tunnel for buses and automobiles that would run from the 101 to Santa Monica Boulevard.
• Creating a 6-mile tunnel that would provide a path through the mountains for a new 28-mile light- or heavy-rail line that would connect the Sylmar Metrolink Station to a future Crenshaw/LAX Line station near LAX.
• Building two tunnels: a 21-mile tolled highway tunnel with multiple access points from Roscoe Boulevard to near LAX and another 21-mile tunnel for a private rail shuttle with five stations from Van Nuys to LAX.
Funding: Metro has budgeted $2.47 billion to improve traffic flow through the Sepulveda Pass, but the agency estimated that the most basic tunnel option would cost at least $10 billion.
One way to make up the difference would be for Metro to partner with one or more private companies that would help construct the tunnel in exchange for a cut of toll revenue or the rights to operate a private rail shuttle. Metro has discussed the possibility with several privately owned companies.
Another option would be for voters to approve another L.A. County sales tax similar to Measure R. In March, local transportation advocacy group Move LA proposed Measure R2, another half-cent sales-tax increase that the group estimated would raise $90 billion over 40 years and help pay for the tunnel.
What’s next: Metro plans to conduct a survey to determine how much drivers would be willing to pay to use a tolled highway through the mountains.
3. A rail line, bus lane or tram on Van Nuys Boulevard
Projected completion date: 2018, according to Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan. But if the agency opts to build a light rail line instead of a bus-rapid transit system, the opening date could be delayed to sometime between 2020 and 2030.
Why it’s needed: Of the 460,000 people who live in the East San Fernando Valley Corridor (a term coined by Metro to describe an area lying roughly between I-405 and Fulton Avenue from Sherman Oaks to the city of San Fernando), 35 percent depend on public transportation. The stretch is the seventh-busiest bus corridor in the Metro system and has the second-highest number of bus boardings of any region in the Valley, behind only the Orange Line.
The proposal: Van Nuys Boulevard is one of the widest streets in the Valley because, during the first half of the 20th century, Pacific Electric operated an electric train that ran on the street’s median until the service ended in 1952. Metro aims to create a similar system; in October, the agency proposed five mass-transit options for the corridor, which included bus-only lanes, a light-rail line or a tram that would run either curbside or in the median from Sylmar to Ventura Boulevard.
Each transit option has various pros and cons. A bus line could have twice as many stops in the corridor as other options but would travel at a lower speed and have less capacity. A light-rail system would run the fastest and hold the most passengers but would be expensive and have fewer stops. A tram could operate in lanes with cars and would have a high rider capacity, but Metro has no experience with this mode of transit.
All options would take lanes away from motorists and remove parking spots, and local businesses and neighborhood groups have voiced concern that the projects could further congest roads, make it difficult for emergency vehicles to travel the boulevard, and take away business from the area. Metro has countered that the dedicated mass-transit lanes would be able to carry more people through the area than cars could.
Funding: Metro’s plan budgets $170 million for the project, but early cost estimates ranged from $250 million to more than $2 billion. Metro has said it could pursue other funding sources, depending on which option it chooses.
What’s next: Metro is creating an environmental impact report that examines several of the options and is expected to be available for public review this summer.
Unfunded, unplanned or unlikely options
4. The “Valley U” Proposal: A 5-mile stretch of Ventura Boulevard sits between the southern ends of the 741 and 761 bus lines. The “Valley U” line would fill this gap and provide more access to Ventura Boulevard by creating a seven-day-a-week, U-shaped bus line that ran from Northridge down to Sherman Oaks and back up to Pacoima. This line could also include service to Westwood.
5. The bullet train: California plans to build a $68 billion high-speed rail system from San Francisco to Anaheim, and the California High-Speed Rail Authority has proposed three potential stops in the San Fernando Valley – in the cities of San Fernando, Pacoima and Burbank. The plan calls for the 520-mile line to be completed in 2029, with a train capable of transporting passengers from L.A. to San Francisco in less than three hours. But an ongoing court case and proposed legislation threaten the state’s ability to use money from the $10 billion bond measure California voters passed in 2008, and politicians have proposed everything from proposed public-private partnerships to emissions trading credit income to fund the project.
6. Bob Hope connections: Metro’s 2009 Long Range Transportation Plan is more than a document that simply plots the future of Los Angeles County rapid transit; it also is a wish list for transportation projects Metro and county municipalities would like to see completed, regardless of whether they can be funded. One such proposal is a rail line or dedicated bus lane that would connect North Hollywood to Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport.
7. Switching the Orange Line to a rail system: The Orange Line bus right-of-way runs along the route once traveled by the Southern Pacific Railroad’s former Burbank Branch freight line. Though the path is a former railway, Metro never had the opportunity to build a light-rail system because California law forbade it on that corridor. But with the success and high ridership of the Orange Line, state Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Sherman Oaks, sponsored legislation that would allow a rail line to be built on the route.
More bike lanes
The Los Angeles Department of City Planning’s second-year bike lane implementation plan calls for two new Valley bike lanes: a 1.4-mile lane to be built along Woodman Avenue from Roscoe Boulevard to Sherman Way and an 8.4-mile lane to be built along Parthenia Street from Topanga Canyon Boulevard to Kester Street. At least 15 additional bike paths are planned or envisioned for the Valley.