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Los Angeles city planners have released a draft environmental impact report on Universal Studios Hollywood's ambitious expansion plans, marking the start of a key phase for the project.

The report highlights the potential traffic and noise impacts of the planned $3 billion overhaul of the production facilities and theme park. The public will now have 60 days to comment on it before it becomes final, before a series of public hearings on the project that would take place next year. These will determine whether NBC Universal can move ahead with the project as planned, or whether they will be forced to reduce the scope of the planned upgrades.

NBC Universal's Thomas Smith told the LA Times that the company hopes to begin construction work on the initial phase of the project by 2012. The entire expansion could take some 15 to 20 years to complete, with the company claiming that it will create 31,000 jobs during construction and 12,000 permanent jobs on completion.

The plans include improvement and expansion of the production facilities at Universal Studios Hollywood, as well as adding new attractions to the attached theme park and additional venues to the CityWalk entertainment district. NBC Universal also intends to construct a residential community adjacent to the studios.

However, opponents such as the Studio City Neighborhood Council claim that the development will strain local facilities to breaking point. The draft environmental impact report also highlights potential issues from noise and solid waste removal during the construction process.

For its part, NBC Universal plans to invest $100 million in transportation improvements around Universal Studios Hollywood, helping to alleviate any traffic issues. Some of the money would be invested in public transit systems, with the aim of limiting the number of extra cars attracted to the region's roads. The company claims that $200 million of state funding could also be made available to help with transport improvements.

The proposed expansion of the facilities at Universal Studios Hollywood is designed to encourage more production to remain in Los Angeles, which has been under pressure from cities such as Toronto that offer tax breaks to producers. Universal hopes that the upgrades will entrench its position as the largest production studio in the world.

The company also hopes to improve attendance at the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park, where is already due to add a major new attraction based on the Transformers movies in 2012. It plans to add 146,000 square feet of new attractions to the park, along with a new hotel and 39,000 square feet of retail and dining options at Universal CityWalk.

Full details of the plans can be found on the NBC Universal Evolution Plan website. The full environmental report can also be viewed online.


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