Federal bill earmarks $270k for CSUN trams

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The federal transportation reauthorization bill, signed into law in August, will produce $23 billion for the state of California in construction project and repair funds, and will earmark $271,000 in funding for CSUN’s tram service.

Congressman Brad Sherman, D–27th, who represents the Northridge area, worked to acquire $13 million for the improvements of roads, transit systems, bike paths and the I-5 Freeway between Route 134 to 170 in the San Fernando Valley area.

The $271,000 CSUN will have access to for its tram service developed out of a relationship between administrators and representatives from Sherman’s office.

Michael Tou, an aide to Sherman, approached CSUN last year asking for transportation projects that Sherman could pursue as earmarks for the campus, according to Dorena Knepper, director of governmental affairs at CSUN.

CSUN initially requested $500,000 for two projects: the tram system and a special project involving the construction of a transit center on campus. The transit center never made it to the reauthorization bill, according to Knepper, and the tram service was eventually given the $271,000 sum.

The new funding is not coming to campus directly, but rather through the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. University officials, including Knepper and Facilities Planning Director Colin Donahue, met with Tou and officials from MTA on Tuesday to discuss the details of the new funds.

According to Knepper, the university cannot legally get the money without it first going through a transportation agency of some kind, in this case MTA. Knepper said this was a peculiarity in the way that federal spending is handed down.

According to Astrid Logan, transportation program coordinator at CSUN, the university is in the preliminary phase of looking at the tram service’s effectiveness, areas of possible improvement, and any considerations that need to be made for the type of tram that CSUN operates. Logan stressed that the school was still early in the process.

Changes to the CSUN tram service could be contingent on route adjustments, such as near parts of campus where there are sharp turns and corners.

Beyond CSUN’s campus, major construction will occur that could improve traffic on area freeways.

A multi-million dollar project to create an additional carpool lane on the Sepulveda Pass on the 405 Freeway is also underway. The carpool lane will also benefit commuters who drive hybrid automobiles, as Sherman helped create a provision for commuters who drive hybrids to use it even if they are not carpooling.

Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Board Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa also laid out plans for improving transportation.

“The Metro Gold line will be under construction until 2009, but will link East Los Angeles to downtown, Hollywood, North Hollywood and Long Beach”, said Dave Sotero, MTA spokesperson. “The Metro Gold Line will open up a 73-mile network.”

“There is a great demand for the line to open,” Sotero said. “There are 23,000 commuters that board daily from East L.A. The new transit system will significantly decrease their current commuting time.”

While many improvements will be made to reduce traffic problems and increase transit systems in the San Fernando Valley, there are other transportation projects that will not receive funding from the Surface Transportation Act.

“The San Fernando Valley’s worst intersection is where the 405 (Freeway) and the (Highway) 101 meet,” said George Passantino, senior fellow in government reform at the Reason Foundation, a public policy think tank in Los Angeles. “It is a mega-million dollar project to fix. The 101 is stacked up, and with the growth in urbanization to Santa Clarita, the 405 has and will have major traffic issues.”

“We need as much expansion as we can get. We need to think much bigger than adding a lane,” he said.

Any incidents on Route 14 can create many problems for commuters from Palmdale to Los Angeles, Passantino said.

“Positive developments of incremental fixes are never going to tackle any long term challenges,” Passantino said. “Californians love their cars and these improvements would be counterproductive.”

Ryan Denham and Michael Sullivan can be reached at editor@csun.edu.