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Senate panel gives Los Angeles mayor's transit plan bipartisan boost

November 9, 2011 | 11:03 am

Photo: Looking into the southbound lanes of the 110 (Harbor Freeway) from south of Exposition Blvd. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Federal legislation that includes a measure sought by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to accelerate local transportation projects gained ground in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday.

A two-year, $109-billion transportation bill, approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee with unusual bipartisan speed, would increase funding for a federal loan program that is critical to the mayor's bid to build a dozen projects in 10 years instead of 30. Funding for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program would increase to $1 billion a year, up from the current $110 million.

The program provides loans, loan guarantees and lines of credit to large and nationally or regionally significant transportation projects. Expansion of the program is included in a section of the bill called the America Fast Forward Financing Innovation Act, a nod to the name Villaraigosa gave to his plan, previously known as 30/10, to portray it as a national initiative that could benefit other regions.

The bill’s backers, including  Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Public Works Committee,  portray it as a jobs measure.

"The bill before us is completely bipartisan, and therefore nobody will think it is perfect, but it is a very strong commitment to our transportation system and to the health of our businesses, workers, and communities who depend on it," Boxer said Wednesday. "No nation can be an economic leader if it can’t move people and goods; no nation can thrive if its people are trapped in traffic, losing 4.8 billion hours from work and paying the price for polluted air."

The legislation still has a ways to go.

The Senate Finance Committee must come up with $12 billion to maintain transportation spending at current levels because gasoline tax revenues have fallen because of increased vehicle fuel efficiency and decreased demand. It also must be approved by the full Senate and then reconciled with a yet-to-be approved House version.

But the provision sought by Villaraigosa enjoys the support of business and labor groups and members of both parties, virtually ensuring it will end up in a final bill.

RELATED:

Boxer renews commitment to 30/10 plan

Opinion column: Optimism on Villaraigosa's transit plan

Villaraigosa pleads for transportation funds on Capitol Hill

-- Richard Simon in Washington

Photo: The southbound lanes of the 110 Freeway with downtown Los Angeles in the background. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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