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30/10 Faces Funding Problems After Expo Line Opens

Hannah Madans |
May 6, 2012 | 3:06 p.m. PDT

Executive Producer

courtesy Creative Commons
courtesy Creative Commons
The unfinished Phase I of an Expo Line that aims to improve transportation in Los Angeles opened last weekend. Phase I goes from downtown to Culver City and is around 8.6 miles long. The Culver City station stop, though, will not be accessible until later this summer.

Metro has estimated that the average person in LA spends 64 hours a year in traffic, making LA the most stressful commute in the nation. The Expo Line is an attempt by LA officials to improve its current public transportation structure, but many say it will do very little to help solve congestion and will face funding problems going forward.

Many in LA have complained that unlike big cities such as New York and Chicago, transportation in LA is inconvenient and insufficient. LA has a much longer commute time than these cities and more pollution because more vehicles are in use.

LA used to have more public transportation, but powerful car lobby groups decreased public transportation options and made it so more people had cars. The lobby groups, specifically General Motors, bought and dismantled streetcar lines and used political influence to build more streets for cars.

As a way of improving public transportation in LA, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa introduced the 30/10 plan. The plan aims to build 12 large-scale public transportation projects in 10 years instead of in the projected 30. The Expo Line is one of these infrastructures.

Once Phase II is completed, the line will go all the way to Santa Monica, an additional 6.6 miles.

Phase I is estimated to have cost $930 million. Phase II will cost around $1.5 billion. Phase II is expected to open in 2015.

The Expo Line is almost two years behind schedule and cost around $290 million more than initially estimated.

"Commuters to and from the western part of our County have been waiting a long time for this day, and it is finally here," said LA County Supervisor, Metro Board member and Chairman of the Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority Zev Yaroslavsky in a press release.

"The Expo Line marks the first extension of this region's public mass transit system west of Western Avenue since the dismantling of the red car system more than half a century ago,” he added. “It will incorporate Exposition Park, the Crenshaw district and Culver City into the regional transportation network, serving one of the most underserved areas of our region."

Despite the positive sentiment many have towards the Expo Line and more transportation projects to come as a result of the 30/10 plan, some are less optimistic and said funding for the plan will become a major problem.

The plan uses long-term revenue from Measure R, a sales tax. Measure R was passed by 68 percent of LA County residents in 2008. The ballot had an ordinance called “Traffic Relief and Rail Expansion Ordinance” which defined specific projects that would be funded with Measure R.

Marlon Boarnet, the Director of Graduate Programs in Urban Planning and Development at the University of Southern California, said that almost 75 percent of the money for most transportation projects comes from current local and state taxes.

Boarnet added that solely using sales tax to pay for transportation “has worked, but it’s not ideal.” The 30/10 plan is an experiment in a new way of funding transportation.

One problem with using sales tax is that because of the recession people have bought fewer goods in recent years. As a result, revenue for sales tax has decreased.

“The funding probably won’t be sufficient for the rest of the plan,” Boarnet said. He added that there will be a shortfall in revenue.

While the majority of funding for transportation projects comes from local and state governments, the federal government does offer some aid.  In the 1990s, transportation projects in LA received 50 percent of their funding from the federal government. Now, it is closer to 40 percent, according to Boarnet.

“More and more of the funding is coming from locally [sic] and less of it is coming from federal government,” he said.

Boarnet said the reason for this is “the federal government is broke.”

Federal funding for transportation, however, comes from the gasoline tax, posing another issue since unlike sales tax, the gasoline tax is not a fixed percent. The gasoline tax, instead, is 18.2 cents per gallon. Even if the cost of gasoline increases, this does not.

Now that there are more fuel-efficient cars on the road, the government earns less revenue from gasoline taxes and has less money to spend on transportation projects.

“The federal government, as long as we keep that our primary mode of funding, will be a less and less important player in transportation,” Boarnet said.

Boarnet said that in order to fund the rest of the 30/10 plan, LA will need to look for innovative funding methods, such as toll lanes.

Metro officials have predicted that by 2030 the completed line will carry 64,000 passengers every weekday. Fees from Expo Line commuters, though, will not allow the rail to pay for itself.

Until that time, the line will not help people such as USC sophomore Natusmi Ishikawa. Ishikawa said that when learned she had received a summer internship at Dick Clark Productions in Santa Monica, she was thrilled until she realized that meant spending half an hour on the bus on the way there and on the way back.

When Phase II opens, Ishikawa said the line would be able to help her, but for now it does nothing.

“It only takes me halfway,” Ishikawa said. “It might be better not to take the Expo Line because I’d have to take the Line and a bus, so it doesn’t cut down my transportation time or hassle now.”

Boarnet said that even though he is excited about the Expo Line, it is unlikely to cut anyone’s commute time.

“Some people imagine that a rail transit network will reduce transit congestion,” Boarnet said. “Except for localized impacts, that’s usually not the case.”

Boarnet said that the line will, however, give people more options to get to different locations.

Some, however, disagree and say that the Expo Line will indeed cut down the time it takes to travel around LA.

USC sophomore Katie DeYoung does not have a car at school. She is an avid runner who participates in the school’s Cross Country and Track and Field teams.

DeYoung said she enjoys running on the beach. To get to the beach on public transportation right now, though, DeYoung said it takes her one and a half hours. When the Expo Line is finished, she said, it will only take her 40 minutes.

“I’m excited about this line because I don’t have a car and it will be easier for me to get around to places in LA,” DeYoung said.

The Expo Line is expected to be of particular interest to USC students because there are three stops within walking distance of campus.

Like DeYoung, many LA residents are excited by the opening of the Expo Line. Todd Vosburg, a man in his 50s, has lived in LA his entire life. He said he frequently uses public transportation and is excited that the Expo Line will allow him a new mode of transportation.

“This should have happened many years ago,” Vosburg said.

Vosburg went to the Expo Line on its opening day where free rides were given to the 45,000 people who boarded.

“LA needs to grow,” said John Solitis, a volunteer for Metro at the opening day events. “This is a first step.”

The 30/10 plan will provide 160,000 jobs, decrease pollution by 521,000 pounds, reduce gasoline used by 10.3 million gallons and lead to 191 million fewer miles traveled, according to Metro.

Metro and public officials have said the plan is valuable to LA and will help improve transportation in the city. Neither has hinted at problems with funding.

In addition to Phase II, many other transportation projects are being worked on. The 11 other projects of the 30/10 plan include the Orange Line Extension, the Westside Subway and the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor.

District eight Councilmember Bernard Parks called the Expo Line “one of the greatest improvements in our community” during an opening day event at USC.

“It’s bringing back public transportation,” he added.



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