By Steve Hymon, July 25, 2014
Three Metro Board Members and other elected officials, activists and business leaders held a media event on Friday morning at the NoHo Orange Line station to discuss the Board’s passage Thursday of a motion calling for feasibility studies of improving the Orange Line and potentially connecting it to Burbank, Glendale and the Gold Line in Pasadena.
A video with some nuggets from the media event is
Sorry about the shaky camera — I left a key piece of my tripod at home.
I’ve had several people ask why is this an issue now and the answer is twofold:
•Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, who represents Van Nuys and the surrounding area, wrote a bill reversing a 1991 bill that banned any kind of rail project on the old Southern Pacific rail corridor that became the Orange Line. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month.
•With a potential Metro ballot measure on the horizon in 2016, officials and activists realized that could be an opportunity to fund such a project but that having some studies done would help this effort.
I can’t emphasize enough that the motion only asks Metro to study possible upgrades for the Orange Line. Despite what may be said, at this time no decisions have been made about any possible improvements, nor is such a project funded or in Metro’s long-range plan.
It’s important to note that the Board also on Thursday approved an amendment to the motion by Board Members Pam O’Connor and Don Knabe directing Metro staff to develop protocols for adding unfunded projects to its long-range plan — a need brought in part by Metro studying a future ballot measure. As the amendment notes, some Measure R road and transit projects remain underfunded or are facing higher expenses to build, adding to the difficulty of building projects that are not set to receive Measure R funds.
In other words, there is a pecking order in which transit projects are funded at Metro and at present, that order begins with the projects funded in part by Measure R.
There was also a separate motion by Board Members Michael Antonovich, Ara Najarian, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Ara Najarian that was approved by the Board that directs Metro to continue the planning process for expanding bus rapid transit to eligible corridors, including Vermont Avenue and a line connecting the Orange Line to the Gold Line. The motion asks for a report from Metro staff this fall with a staffing, funding and implementation plan on expanding BRT. The point of emphasis here: a lot of planning needs to be done and funding needs to be secured for these BRT projects to happen.
Could the Orange Line be converted to a light rail line? That optimism is certainly expressed by some in the above video. And the short answer to the question is yes it’s possible, but but there are many rivers still to cross. A potential 2016 ballot measure could certainly be used to fund new transportation projects, but keep in mind there are still Measure R projects — including the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor — that also need additional funding to get built.
All that said, it is refreshing to see people talking about improving something that is already by all accounts, a very busy and popular transit line (in the past two years, there have been several months in which there have been more than 30,000 boardings on the Orange Line). It may turn out that there are ways besides conversion-to-rail to speed up the Orange Line and add capacity. We’ll know more in September when Metro staff and the Board discuss the different types of studies that they could potentially undertake.