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Subway to Sea or Gold Line? MTA decides

October 22, 2009 12:46:08 AM PDT
Despite pressure from a congressional delegation and state legislators, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board of directors voted unanimously Thursday to prioritize the Westside subway extension and a light-rail link through downtown Los Angeles in the agency's bid for federal funding. The board rejected the lawmakers' calls to also include the Gold Line Foothill extension from Pasadena to Claremont; another stretch of the Gold Line from East Los Angeles to Whittier; and a new light rail line along Crenshaw Boulevard in South Los Angeles in Metro's proposal for "New Starts" federal funding.

However, the board amended Metro's long-range transportation plan, agreeing to seek other types of federal funding for those projects.

The board also agreed to provide operational funding for the first phase of the Gold Line Foothill Extension -- only as far as the Azusa/Glendora border, not as far as Claremont -- upon completion, instead of waiting until 2017.

After that agreement was reached, Metro board director and Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian urged his colleges to "send a message to (other cities vying for federal funding) that we're players, we're coming, and watch out, we're here."

They responded with a unanimous vote.

The long-range transportation plan establishes MTA's priorities for projects and programs estimated to cost about $298 billion over the next 30 years.

Earlier this week, 14 members of Congress, five state senators, three Assemblymen and the entire Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors urged the MTA board to put five projects -- as opposed to just two -- on its list of priorities in seeking federal "New Starts" money.

They argued that Metro's request for federal funds should be "geographically representative of the entire region."

But Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the main backer of the proposed Westside subway extension -- which he hopes will eventually reach Santa Monica -- urged his colleagues on the board to "stop looking at our neighborhood concerns, our city concerns, and look at the region: that's what this is about."

The Westside subway extension and the light-rail link through downtown Los Angeles are in the densest part of county, and would be used by far more people than the other three projects, he argued.

After a roughly two-and-a-half-hour debate, the board decided to stick to its original plan of prioritizing only the $6.1 billion Westside subway extension from the Wilshire district to Westwood, and a $1.3 billion "regional connector" that would link the Metro Blue Line to the Metro Gold Line in downtown Los Angeles, for "New Starts" funding.

Half of the cost of both projects will be funded with Measure R, a half- cent sales tax for Los Angeles County. The board hopes federal dollars will cover the rest of the amount.

The board did grant a concession to lawmakers concerned about their projects being excluded. Its members agreed to adopt an amendment proposed by Los Angeles County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Mike Antonovich and Duarte Mayor John Fasana that directed the MTA "to pursue other potential funding sources, excluding New Starts, to be programmed to close the funding gaps on the Gold Line Foothill Extension and Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor."

They proposed using other federal stimulus money, federal climate change transit funds, public/private partnerships and parking revenues, among others.

At their request, the board also agreed to provide operational funding for the Gold Line Foothill Extension as soon as it was completed. MTA previously did not intend to release that money until 2017, but the construction authority tasked to build the project has said it plans to finish the first phase of the line -- up to the Azusa/Glendora border -- by 2013.

The second phase -- still unfunded -- would extend the line to Claremont. The line now stops in Pasadena.


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