By HOWARD FINE
If you thought future rail projects by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority were dead, think again.
While voters passed a subway construction moratorium last year, the MTA is now studying mass-transit options along the very same routes that the subways would have traveled.
Along with busways, the options being considered include heavy and light rail.
"The initiative didn't ban rail construction, just subway construction," said Dave Mieger, MTA project manager for transit corridor studies. "We said at the time that we would come back and look at alternatives for the subway routes that were halted. And that's what we're doing now."
After the corridor studies are completed in December, the MTA's 10-member board will be presented with various options for the three former subway routes. That is likely to be followed by another round of studies detailing environmental impacts and pinpointing exact routes. As a result, any construction could be years away.
Transit routes being studied are:
? The San Fernando Valley East-West Transit Corridor along right-of-way acquired from the Southern Pacific Railroad and now used by Metrolink.
? The Eastside Corridor through Boyle Heights and into East Los Angeles.
? The Mid-Cities/Westside Corridor that runs west along Wilshire Boulevard with a detour south to the Mid-City area.
MTA Chief Executive Julian Burke said all options would involve dedicated transit systems separate from street-level traffic. One possibility is light rail, which, like the Blue Line to Long Beach, uses overhead electrical wiring.
Also being considered are heavy-rail systems, which use larger cars and an electrically charged third rail to power the trains. While the Red Line subway is a heavy-rail system, Mieger said such lines do not have to be built entirely below ground. (Large portions of heavy-rail systems in Chicago, Boston and Washington are above ground.)
The final option is dedicated busways that are set aside from street and pedestrian traffic and can use traditional buses, "accordion buses" connected with passageways of rubber tubing, or a series of buses attached like rail cars.
Mieger said the cost of developing each transit corridor would likely run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, depending on the option and design chosen.
There are federal funds specifically set aside for such transit projects, although L.A. would have to get in line behind dozens of other cities that already have applied for their own transit projects.
While the studies are just getting under way, there already are skeptics.
"It seems that these corridor studies, especially the one on the Eastside, are leaning toward rail," said Tom Rubin, a former chief financial officer for MTA's predecessor agency who is now an Oakland-based transportation consultant.
"Rail or even busways down narrow corridors won't serve the vast numbers of people in L.A. who rely on mass transit," Rubin said. "What you really need to do is to improve and expand the bus system, to take transit-dependent people from the inner-city to the suburbs, where the jobs are."
There also is the ongoing dispute over the consent decree that requires the MTA to reduce overcrowding on its buses. The MTA has agreed to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy 2,100 new buses, and a federal judicial appointee has ordered the agency to buy nearly 500 more.
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