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Villaraigosa seeks innovative ways to finance mass transit

February 23, 2011 |  1:24 pm

Promoting a signature initiative on his home turf, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa urged Congress on Wednesday to adopt innovative new ways to help finance mass transit projects nationwide.

“This is America’s fast-forward,” Villaraigosa said after outlining his proposal before a joint House-Senate hearing in Westwood. "Creating jobs and building transportation infrastructure can and should be a bipartisan issue."

Villaraigosa dismissed concerns that the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives might be cool to his ambitious mass-transit agenda, which includes his own plan to complete 30 years of planned L.A. projects in a decade.

His proposal would expand and enhance an existing federal program, known as the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. Under Villaraigosa’s blueprint, local governments could leverage additional federal monies through loans, subsidies and other financing.

Local lawmakers and labor leaders nationwide have endorsed the notion of expanded mass-transit projects as a means for both transit improvements and job growth, especially in the recession-battered construction industry.

Both Democratic and Republican members seemed receptive Wednesday to the mayor’s ideas, though no firm commitments were made during the session, one of an ongoing series of field hearings.

Several lawmakers could not resist alluding to L.A.’s legendary traffic congestion, which costs billions of dollars in delays, wasted fuel and truck congestion, according to Villaraigosa.

“Anyone who comes to Los Angeles and thinks we do not need improvements in transportation must be living on another planet,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who bemoaned the nation’s “crumbling” transport infrastructure.

Mica also discussed with Villaraigosa the need for a mass-transit connection to LAX. Mica and his colleagues expressed frustration that transportation projects often dragged on for years and said they were keen to speed the process.

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-- Patrick McDonnell in Westwood

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