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L.A.'s Transit Funding Remains Imperiled

Paresh Dave |
April 7, 2011 | 9:07 p.m. PDT

Deputy Editor

(Creative Commons)
(Creative Commons)

One of five L.A. transit projects in construction or on the cusp of construction could be temporarily derailed if the state can't quickly put together a budget.

State treasure Bill Lockyer has held back on a spring bond sale because budget uncertainty has left investors wary of California. Projects such as the Gold Line Foothill Extension, the Expo Line extension, the Purple Line extension, the Orange Line extension and the Downtown Regional Connector are all somewhat reliant on state bonds authorized by Prop 1B in 2006. One of the projects “would be threatened if the bottom fell out of Prop 1B,” said Metro regional programming director David Yale at a public forum held Thursday by BreatheLA.

In a political and economic climate not ripe for new wide-scale taxes, LA.'s transit and environmental advocates are searching for ways to open new lines of funding to operate and expands the country's transportation network.

Many recognize that if California were a country, it would be the world's eighth largest by the size of its economy. Few note that if L.A. were a state, it would be the country's ninth largest just behind Michigan. But the county of nearly 10 million people has struggled to build a seamless network of freeways, rail, buses, bikes and walkways.

Using public transit to get 11 miles from East L.A. to West L.A. can take up to 75 minutes. An 11-mile car ride from West L.A. to South L.A. lasts almost 45 minutes during peak hours.

At the federal level, a six-month window remains to pass a year overdue surface transportation funding bill, according to Ryan Wiggins, the Southern California organizer for Transportation for America.

“After six months, the presidential election campaigns are likely to swallow up any chance of passage,” Wiggins said Thursday.

The L.A. Bus Riders Union and a coalition of about 20 similar organizations across the nation want to see 50 percent of the surface transit funding to go toward operations—unlike anything ever been done before. Wiggins wants to see more performance metrics put in place to force transit agencies to live up to stated goals.

In Sacramento, the Legislature is scheduled to hear several bills in the coming months to rework financing.

Cities, school districts and counties are hoping the threshold required for voters to approve of tax increases is lowered from from two-thirds to 55 percent. They also want more autonomy in putting those tax measures on their local ballot.

“Transit agencies need to be relieved of having to keep going back to the state,” said Denny Zane, the head of local transit advocacy group MoveLA.

Another proposal would ask the Department of Motor Vehicles to start gathering odometer readings from cars registered in California. The data would allow the state to see how much money could be made from a tax on vehicle miles traveled.

One bill would allow developer mitigation fees to pay for bikeways and walkways in addition to roads and bridges.

Zane floated some other ideas as well. He said reducing the required amount of parking spaces at developments would result in a $40,000 savings per spot for real estate developers. If the savings were paid into a special transit fund, the money could be handed back in the form of free transit passes to people working or living in the new development.

“L.A. for one has got a long way to go before you can get developers to do that,” shopping mall developer Rick Caruso said in a separate interview.

Metro's Yale said the three biggest challenges his group faces are: finding money to repair roads while the value of gas tax revenues is declining because the tax has not changed for decades, providing paratransit services to ballooning disabled population and uncertainty at the state level.

With Metro barely able to cover present operating costs, how will they handle the costs of operating at least half a dozen new transit lines? Zane said the answer could be Measure R part two sometime after the economy recovers.

To reach reporter Paresh Dave, click here.

Find him on Twitter: @peard33.



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