Local transportation officials are set to vote next week on two controversial transit projects that would connect Downtown to the beach at a cost of up to $1 billion.

One project calls for a $350 million bus lane down Wilshire Boulevard from the Metro Red Line station at Western Avenue; the other would either be a $300 million busway or a $650 million, 16-mile rail line down Exposition Boulevard from USC. Both would terminate in Santa Monica within blocks of the ocean.

While MTA officials see the projects as another step in the badly needed expansion of the transit system, there is plenty of opposition. Local elected officials, homeowners and even some businesses view the proposals as too disruptive of the surrounding neighborhoods. As an alternative, they are urging the MTA use the funds to expand its successful year-old Rapid Bus program.

"With these rapid buses, we finally have something that works and people actually like," said Gary Russell, president of the Wilshire Center Chamber of Commerce. "Let's add to that already existing system on an incremental basis before we pour hundreds of millions of dollars into some completely new and untested system."

The 13-member board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is set to vote on both projects June 28. If approved, they would still need further environmental scrutiny and funding would have to be secured from Sacramento and Washington. The start of construction would be two years away, at the earliest.

"This is indeed a big vote. We're finally going to have some direction on how to connect the Westside to the rest of our transit system," said David Mieger, the MTA's project manager for the Westside transit projects.

Since the MTA board gave initial approval to these projects 15 months ago, its staff has scaled back the Wilshire line from an exclusive busway to a more conventional bus lane. "We had a lot of opposition to the purely dedicated bus lane concept," Mieger said. "So we came up with a design halfway between that and the rapid bus system we have now."

Under the revised plan, the bus lane would be exclusive only during rush hour; the rest of the time buses would travel in traffic as they do now.

Other changes would be the introduction of articulated or double-decker buses to relieve overcrowding, and bus stops that resemble Metro Red Line stations with ticket dispensing machines and digital readouts.

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