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Hed — Tunnel vision

That underground Valley subway idea just won’t die.

Just when it seemed as if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had finally found sanity when a committee voted to kill the long-proposed but never-funded east-west route, along comes the full board last week to delay the inevitable.

The board’s decision to hold off final action most likely until after April’s municipal elections supposedly was based on procedural matters, not political ones. But to us, it comes off as another example of the board’s collective inability to make the tough calls on future subway construction. No wonder federal officials are so fed up with the whole mess.

The MTA faces a wholesale crisis in management, in construction and in funding. It’s a man-made disaster that requires extraordinary attention, including a complete reassessment not only of the subway’s future but of the board makeup itself.

Richard Katz, the former state assemblyman and architect of the MTA, correctly assessed the situation during our interview with him last month. “I think the MTA needs to look at a six-to-nine month period to take a deep breath and reassess where they are,” said Katz.

On its face, the decision to defer on the Valley line could be interpreted as just such a deep breath. The deferral was proposed by Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who believes that a long-awaited environmental impact report scheduled to be released this spring should be reviewed before the MTA makes any definitive plans.

“At that point, we’re going to have some difficult decisions to make,” he said.

But in the meantime, certain things are quite clear starting with the futility of an underground east-west Valley line. Despite one-time support among the Valley’s politically influential homeowner and business groups, the consensus is that the project will never happen. Both Yaroslavsky and Mayor Richard Riordan acknowledge as much.

So why didn’t the MTA board make that acknowledgment at last week’s meeting? Why couldn’t board members declare an end to the pipe dream and instead vow to craft a multi-faceted transportation strategy that would include more buses, more links to outlying rail lines, more HOV lanes and more research into improving traffic flow?

Frankly, we would go a lot further by suspending all subway work including the Hollywood-to-North Hollywood and Eastside extensions until a broad-based transportation blueprint can be forged. We realize that’s asking a lot, given the political constituencies involved, as well as the money already spent.

But little funding has been expended on the Valley plan and support there for an underground subway is lukewarm at best. Here is a perfect opportunity for the contentious and polarized MTA board unable to reach a consensus on most any issue to just say no.

Instead, the matter has been deferred and the Valley subway plan lives on. In the meantime, the needs of the people who use mass transit namely, L.A.’s bus riders continue to get short shrift.

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