Expanding public transportation for San Fernando Valley commuters is crucial to reducing traffic congestion, growing our economy and improving the Valley business climate.

Valley business and community leaders recognize this and have been working hard to draft a smart plan we can all support that is both practical and strategic.

For months, Valley leaders have worked to identify our region’s transportation needs. Paul Krekorian, a member of the Los Angeles City Council and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, has hosted community outreach meetings. Assembly member Adrin Nazarian joined him and conducted a survey of Valley residents, drawing more than 1,000 responses.

In addition, the Valley Industry & Commerce Association and the Valley Economic Alliance have each engaged the business community and energized the debate. Those are just some of the many Valley leaders who have pushed transportation into the spotlight.

The San Fernando Valley Council of Governments held workshops as well, and drawing upon feedback, recommended a list of projects to address critical Valley transportation needs, including improvements to the Sepulveda Pass and the Orange Line and creating a line down Van Nuys Boulevard. I applaud this effort.

Still, there are parts of the Valley that remain severely underserved. At a summit I held with the Valley Economic Alliance in October, we heard countless stories – from neighborhood councils, chambers of commerce, students and residents – about the need to increase north Valley connectivity options, particularly to Cal State Northridge and to extend the Red Line to improve transportation options along Lankershim Boulevard.

Extending the Red Line to the Burbank Bob Hope Airport would promote the same kind of connectivity that is being developed to Los Angeles International Airport. Increasing accessibility to the Burbank airport would not only help the Valley, it would benefit the entire county by bolstering an alternative to LAX. Metro has made a valiant effort to relieve traffic surrounding LAX by increasing rail access to the airport, but diverting travel to the Burbank airport could also advance that goal.

And how can a transportation solution for the Valley ignore Cal State Northridge? This is California’s second-largest university – with nearly 50,000 staff, students and faculty – and one of the Valley’s largest employers.

Its ability to grow, though, is constricted by the lack of meaningful transportation alternatives to driving to the school. Parking on campus is extremely difficult, with vehicles overflowing into surrounding neighborhoods and inconveniencing residents, and commuting to and from school is time consuming and costly. Each week, drivers make more than 100,000 single-occupant car trips to campus. According to a university survey, roughly 80 percent of its commuters would be more likely to use a transit system that better served their needs.

After county voters in 2008 passed Measure R, a half-cent sales tax to fund major transportation projects over three decades, little money flowed to the Valley. Only a few Valley projects made it on the project list determined by Metro.

In essence, Metro told the Valley to wait until later, because more pressing projects had to be tackled elsewhere. And to be sure, Metro has advanced many outstanding projects, such as extending the Expo and Crenshaw lines to provide greater connectivity throughout the system.

The fact remains, however, that the Valley has received only 5 percent of the capital improvement funds from Measure R, even though the Valley represents approximately 15 percent of the county’s population. There is greater awareness now of the importance of distributing transportation funds to regions proportionately based on population, but that alone won’t remedy the Valley’s original imbalance created by Measure R.  

“Later” is now, and it’s the Valley’s turn to receive funding for major transportation needs – Orange Line improvements, the Van Nuys Corridor and connection to Cal State Northridge are urgent local projects, with the Sepulveda Pass and connecting to the Burbank airport able to provide big benefits to the entire region.

The future of the Valley hangs in the balance. Transportation is a quality-of-life issue, it’s an environmental issue and, most of all, it’s a business issue. It’s tough to sell goods and services if people can’t get to them, and tough to hire and keep employees if they cannot get to work on time.

Metro is racing to meet the demands of the future with heavy investments in public transportation infrastructure – and the Valley needs to be part of it.

Robert M. Hertzberg represents California Senate District 18, which encompasses the eastern part of the San Fernando Valley.