Will Washington fund a Los Angeles subway expansion?
A planned Los Angeles subway expansion could cut traffic and greenhouse emissions and give jobs a boost, but Mayor Villaraigosa wants it now, instead of waiting 30 years. He is in Washington Thursday seeking funds to accelerate construction of the 'Subway to the Sea.'
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa heads to Capitol Hill Thursday in search of federal transportation funds that, some say, could profoundly change the nature of America’s most air-polluted and car-dependent city. With L.A. facing $250 million in red ink, any success could also help produce jobs to revive the local economy and, eventually, reduce greenhouse gases that will help the state cut its carbon emissions.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Voters approved Measure R here in 2008, accepting a half-cent sales tax increase for 30 years. It will generate $40 billion for 12 projects that will add rail lines north-south, east, and west, connecting neighborhoods heretofore linked only by freeways.
“The public clearly wants our transportation system fixed,” says Robert Stern, president of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies (CGS). “Surprisingly, over two thirds of L.A. voters voted to increase their sales tax to pay to end gridlock.”
Mayor Villaraigosa is now trying to accelerate the timeline for such projects from 30 years to 10 by asking the federal government for a bridge loan to get started. He's set to speak before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on Thursday. Besides accelerating the start and finish dates of several projects, the loan would save millions and create between 150,000 to 200,000 jobs, according to Richard Katz, board member of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
“This is a visionary idea that plays directly into the hands of what Congress needs right now,” says Mr. Katz. “The US can’t pull itself out of recession without California, and California can’t pull itself out without Los Angeles.” He notes that unemployment in the city is between 15 and 20 percent, and possibly much higher.
“The multiplier effect of over 150,000 men and women working on all these projects would have a major impact on L.A. County and the whole state,” he says.
Critics say Congress should be asking tough questions.
“Why should Los Angeles … get a lavish loan on a mass transit system that most Americans will never use?” asks Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. “If the government is going to be handing out loans, why not make loans to school districts so they don’t have to increase class size? Outside the L.A. metro area, are there lawmakers who have any incentive to support this plan? All over the country, states and localities are facing tight budgets and making painful cuts.”