Convert Orange Line busway into light-rail line?

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Could the popular Orange Line buses in the San Fernando Valley be replaced by light-rail trains? (KABC)

Could the popular Orange Line buses in the San Fernando Valley be replaced by light-rail trains? A bill signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown has opened up that possibility. And that opens up the debate over whether the highly popular busway might be converted into a light-rail line.

While the Orange Line is popular, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said whether it's with the current buses or with a new light rail, there is room for improvement.

Whatever happens next won't happen overnight.

The current Metro Orange Line serves upwards of 32,000 riders daily. Yaroslavsky calls that a major public transportation success, considering it's been in service for less than decade.

"There was a lot of opposition to the Orange Line when we first conceived of it," said Yaroslavsky. "I think now there would be a revolution if anybody tried to dismantle it."

"It's pretty convenient, it doesn't ride in normal traffic like most buses do," said rider Joe Bloom.

But now, the Orange Line could essentially revert to what it once was years ago: a rail line.

California Assembly Bill 577, authored by Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian (D-Sherman Oaks) and signed by the governor, will allow for above-ground rail transit along the southern San Fernando Valley -- an issue that was otherwise banned until this week.

"Obviously converting the most successful busway in America into a light-rail line has its own challenges, and there's a long way to go between the signing of this bill and actually getting something like this done," said Yaroslavsky.

"Currently there is no funding in Measure R for the project because the prohibition was in place when Measure R was approved by voters in 2008," said MTA Spokesman Dave Sotero.

Despite that, Sotero says Metro supports the discussion moving forward, much of which will address the funding: an estimated $100 million per mile.

Keep in mind the Orange Line is about 18 miles long.

"It would probably be pretty bad, it would probably charge more, increased the price on tickets and probably wouldn't run as frequent, so it wouldn't be convenient for anybody," said rider Chris Mendoza.

While some riders are against the idea of replacing or tearing up what's already in place, Supervisor Yaroslasky admits the Orange Line could serve more riders.

"It is so successful that it's overcrowded, and it's successful beyond our expectations, 12 hours a day," said Yaroslavsky.

The 13-member MTA Board needs to approve a study to look at the cost and environmental impact. Yaroslavsky believes that any movement to actually build and complete a light-rail line would not take place for another 10 to 15 years.

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