Funding promised to the San Fernando Valley for transit improvement projects is said to be secure, despite state budget threats resulting from the ongoing energy crisis.

But much of the funding has been delayed for two years.

Representatives of Caltrans and the San Fernando Valley Transportation Strike Force, formed earlier this year, insist that the Valley is actually getting more money for local transit improvement projects than was initially promised.

Caltrans spokesman Dennis Trujillo said state budget revisions, made last month by Gov. Gray Davis to offset massive expenditures for electrical power and a slowdown in tax revenue, will not cut into the $5.2 billion Traffic Congestion Relief Program. On the contrary, said Trujillo, the program will get a $7.5 billion infusion over time through gasoline sales tax revenues.

Initially, the TCRP was to be partially funded through sales taxes from gasoline for five years, which should have begun this year. The distribution of those funds, though, has been delayed two years so that the money can be used to fund other state programs.

"Essentially, what's going on is the two years added on to the back end (of the TCRP program) will give the program more funding than we were initially going to get," said Trujillo.

Trujillo said the gasoline sales tax deferral will free up $1.06 billion in the 2001-2002 fiscal year for other state programs, and another $1.8 billion in the 2002-2003 fiscal year.

The governor's refinancing program will also result in an additional $2.5 billion in relief from the general fund over the next four years, Trujillo said. Additional funding is expected to come over the next five years from local agencies.

"We originally reported that there is $500 million set aside for the Valley in the governor's transit program, but the figure is actually closer to $750 million," said David Grannis, with the Pasadena-based Planning Company Associates.

Grannis is the chief consultant for the strike force, co-chaired by David Fleming, head of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, and former Assemblyman Richard Katz, who leads the Valley Industry and Commerce Association's transportation committee.

Paul Hefner, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, who had encouraged Valley business leaders to create the strike force, said the gasoline sales tax deferral program is a direct result of the governor's promise to keep transit improvement projects on the table.

"The governor has said that no transportation projects are going to be threatened by budget revisions," said Hefner. "So the extension of the program essentially guarantees that the projects will be protected."

The extra funding, along with what appears to be more attention from Sacramento, represents a much-needed shot in the arm for the strike force. Fleming and Katz took heat from Caltrans and the Governor's office when they formed the group in March. Now, however, Caltrans Director Jeff Morales says the persistence of the strike force has played a role in pushing up some of the original dates for completion.

The strike force is focusing on three major projects: a Valley-wide signal synchronization program, a new east-west busway route connecting North Hollywood and Warner Center, and a north-south busway, which would intersect with the east-west system.

Grannis said the $84 million needed for the signal synchronization program is fully funded, meaning Caltrans has been given approval to release the money. But the timeline for getting that project off the drawing board and completed is 10 years.

"That timeline is just ridiculous," said Grannis. "And that's our purpose. Our focus right now is making sure that those kinds of timelines come down to a one- to two-year timeframe. There is no reason in our minds it should take that long."

Grannis said money set aside for new carpool lanes along the Golden State (5) Freeway through the Valley and the Hollywood (170) Freeway to Route 14 (Antelope Valley Freeway) has also been cleared for release and the project should go into design phase sometime this month.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.