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Mayor's effort to fast-track Westside subway faces challenge

October 20, 2009 |  2:17 pm

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Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s efforts to fast-track the long-stalled Westside subway faced a challenge Tuesday when a bipartisan group of congressional representatives said the current plan is unlikely to get immediate federal funding.

Villaraigosa has been pushing to have the subway completed in 10 years, more than 15 years earlier than current estimates.

At his urging, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board agreed to submit the subway expansion, as well as a plan to build a light-rail link through downtown, as the county’s two projects to compete against a national pool of federal funding.

But the 14 members of Congress who signed a letter released today said those two programs don’t have a good shot at immediately getting federal funding. Further, they said that L.A. County risks not get anything from the federal New Starts program unless it adds other regional rail proposals, including an extension of the Gold Line in the San Gabriel Valley and a rail line down Crenshaw Boulevard in South L.A. and the South Bay.

“We are very concerned that Los Angeles County is not positioning itself well to receive its fair share of New Starts funding in the near- and long-term,” the delegation wrote. “Metro’s current plan puts the County at risk of being out of the New Starts funding queue for several years, perhaps for the entire surface transportation reauthorization bill.”

The letter was signed by Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), David Dreier (R-San Dimas), Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), Jane Harman (D-Venice) and Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles), among others. The letter underscores a regional battle underway on the MTA board over which transit projects to pursue and how best to receive federal funding for those projects.

Villaraigosa, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and others are pushing to make the Westside a top priority. Officials have been trying to build the line for decades but have faced numerous barriers, including the estimated $5-billion or more price tag.

Other officials, however, have questioned the logic of only pursuing federal funding for the Westside extension and the regional connector, and say those projects – particularly the subway – are aimed at only pleasing one region while others are made to wait or build projects that are not as favorable.

For example, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas wants the Crenshaw/South Bay Transit Corridor to be built using light rail, not bus, and said that next month the MTA board will vote on which of the two options to implement. If that project, like the Westside subway, pursues federal funding, the light rail would be more plausible and it would even be possible to build the rail underground in some parts.

 In response to the letter, Ridley-Thomas said that it means “that no one plan should dominate. No one rail line should dominate.”

-- Ari B. Bloomekatz

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