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Was the Orange Line Extension A Waste of Taxpayer Money?

A total of 3 passengers board the Orange Line Extension at the Chatsworth Station granted it was the end of the day on a Summer Sunday.
The 4 mile Orange Line Extension from Canoga Park to Chatsworth opened on June 30, 2012 to much fanfare and excitement with a record 16,999 riders beating the previous record of 15,629 set in June 2008. It was exciting to see the neglected and ignored old Southern Pacific Railway finally get some kind of development and attention. 

But the more I started to think about this project, I had lots of doubts about the real benefits for SFV residents who now have the option of leaving the gas guzzling SUV's behind and travel all the way from the West Valley to as far as Downtown L.A. But questions started to emerge which I will discuss below.

Southern Pacific R.R. tracks in Chatsworth. Image courtesy Terry Guy Flickr
I will start off with the positives. The Orange Line Extension converted an unused rail line that was occupied  by mostly automotive based businesses like used car lots, rental cars, and mechanic shops but also included a landscaping company, other mfg. businesses, and a lumber yard that was formerly the Canoga Park (Owensmouth) Southern Pacific Railroad Station (which had  HCM # 488 designation on May 30, 1990 but was delisted due to fire damage in 1995). The rest of the land was dirt conveniently used by the "local cowboys" for horse riding  next to the only horse zoned community in Canoga Park at Parthenia. 

Owensmouth Southern Pacific Railroad Station circa 1915.  Image courtesy CSUN Digital Library
Canoga Park (Owensmouth Southern Pacific R.R. Station HCM#488. Image courtesy Valley Relics Flickr

Canoga Park Southern Pacific R.R. Station after 1995 fire. Image courtesy Terry Guy Flickr
The other positives was the creation of a walking trail adjacent to the extension that became heavily used even before the extension opened allowing for local residents to "get out" and burn some calories. Another positive is the obvious ability to take public transportation to other parts of the Valley, Hollywood, the Westside, and Downtown L.A. Another positive is that this extension created jobs and adds to the local economy. The last positive which is truly remarkable was that the project was under budget saving $62 million and was completed ahead of schedule which seems like a miracle considering other civil engineering projects that have gone wrong. 

So lets switch to the negatives which are the focal point of this post. Who actually uses this line? Was it worth the $154 million in taxpayer funding? Has local traffic increased as a result of adding this line? Have the businesses who were forced to relocate been hurt by moving? Was there another area in need of public transportation? And is this line running at a profit or breakeven?

Whenever I am at the extension sitting in my car waiting for the bus to pass by or simply waiting longer as a result of the extension, I try to count the number of passengers with respect to the time and day. While my data is very crude and informal, it seems that there are only a handful of riders during rush hour especially as you get closer to the Chatsworth station. I am not even sure if there are any riders that live in Chatsworth that use that line as Chatsworth is one of the least densest towns in the San Fernando Valley. The Chatsworth Station is fairly busy but how many riders who are boarding the Metrolink via Simi Valley, Moorpark, and all the way from Ventura are getting off and hopping onto the Orange Line when they can they continue with limited stops and faster service to Downtown and use the Red Line to connect to other parts of L.A.

Which leads to my other concern with this line is that its not fast compared to other modes of public transportation like light rail and subways. This line stops at every station as well as intersections which makes a trip from Chatsworth/Canoga Park to the NoHo Station take roughly 1 hour which can be completed in 20 minutes when driving by car.

Probably the most important concern I have regarding this project is that it cost $154 million of taxpayer funds that I believe could have been redirected to other areas of the SFV in greater need of public transportation improvements.  The ridership of this extension is expected to reach 9,000 passengers per day by 2020. So how many are riding today? Would it have made sense to wait till a later date and focus on a more crowded area like Van Nuys Blvd or Sepulveda Blvd? Also, is this line running at a profit or breakeven meaning that based on the fares collected, is it enough to pay for the operation of this extension?

So I am all in favor of public transportation, adding jobs, and beautifying the SFV, I now wonder if this effort and energy would have been better suited for another area. I realize that this project was an "easy choice" due to the defunct Southern Pacific Railway and could be readily connected to an existing line so the scope of the project was limited allowing for it to be completed relatively quickly and efficiently. I just think this project should have been completed at a later date.

This money should have gone into expanding transportation options along Sepulveda Blvd and the 405 freeway. According to a Texas Transportation Institute study conducted in 2011, the number of vehicles on the 405 freeway between the 101 and the 10 is 295,000 vehicles per day in 2010 and expected to reach 430,000 vehicles per day in 2030 making it the 3rd most congested highway segment in the U.S. With the upcoming Measure J which extends Measure R sales tax increase voted in 2008 for another 30 years to 2069, if approved, this money should be allocated to adding more transportation options along the Sepulveda Pass Corridor. And it shouldnt stop there by adding various phases to include transportation options all the way up to Santa Clarita. I would love to see a Subway run through here or some kind of light rail. I dont care how long it takes and the cost. We spent trillions and countless lives in Iraq and Afganistan, we shouldnt have any problems spending billions and 15 years adding a subway along the Sepulveda corridor.
Metro Sepulveda Pass Corridor Planning Study Concept #6. Image courtesy Metro
I have had these thoughts for quite some time and it looks like others are sharing the same vision as their is a Facebook page called Sepulveda Pass Subway (Give them a Like to get updates) which is drumming up support for this idea and expressing their ideas to The Metro who have also started to acknowledge these concepts.


Orange Line Could Boost Valley Business by Christina Villacorte on June 23, 2012; LA Daily News

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Marty Mcfly

Anything and everything about the San Fernando Valley. This blog will take you back in time when the valley was covered with dirt and orange groves to a leader in the space race to its current status as America's suburb. Come along and join me on this adventure, I guarantee you have been influenced/impacted by the San Fernando Valley in one form or another even if you have never visited or heard of the SFV.

1 comment to ''Was the Orange Line Extension A Waste of Taxpayer Money?"

  1. Orange line extension was not a waste of money. The Orange Line was a waste of money. Metro built a bus road that isn't faster then the street and was obsolete years ago when ridership demand exceeded capacity.

    The extension was just built so Metro could say "We finished a Measure R project. And in the Valley none the less. So everyone give us more money". What Metro should have done is extended the red line west to the 405, then south through the Sepulveda pass to connect to the west side extension. A transit loop around the most heavily congested corridors in the County (and the Country).

    But instead we got small slow buses and continue to get sold on small slow buses and that is why we defeated Measure J.


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