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Subway study approved by MTA board

January 22, 2009 |  3:39 pm

Voters in November just approved a sales tax increase to build more mass transit in Los Angeles County and now officials may be talking about making some serious cuts in transit service. A $17.2-million environmental study of the subway extension to the Westside was approved this morning by the board of directors of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich delivered the only "no" vote -- citing the expense and time it would take to build the subway.

Three other board members, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, couldn't vote because of conflict-of-interest rules. In Villaraigosa's case, he accepted $2,000 in donations in 2005 from Parsons-Brinckerhoff, the engineering firm hired by the MTA to perform the draft environmental impact study of the subway extension.

I asked the mayor if it's really possible that the subway won't reach Westwood until 2032 -- as the MTA staff has proposed. After all, I told him, although we're both aging gracefully, we're nonetheless aging. Plus, I must say the prospect of writing subway construction stories for the next 23 years is a wee bit troublesome.

"If it was up to me, it would be done tomorrow," Villaraigosa said, adding that he's looking into every possible scenario to speed up construction, including federal funds and public-private partnerships. He also said he has had discussions with Obama administration officials about matching local funds for projects.

In other MTA board news...

*The board approved going forward with draft environmental impact studies on the downtown connector light rail line and an extension of the Gold Line from East Los Angeles toward Whittier.

*The final environmental report for an extension of the Orange Line busway along Canoga Avevue was approved by the board. That allows the agency to proceed with constructing the line.

*The board discussed loaning Caltrans about $17 million to allow that agency to move forward on the congestion pricing project on the 10 and 110 freeways. Caltrans has to rebuild some lanes to get $210 million from the federal government. The big concern here is whether the state -- i.e. Caltrans -- is in financial shape to pay back the MTA.

*Facing state budget cuts, declining sales tax revenues and the fare freeze mandated by Measure R, the board discussed cutting bus service to the tune of 160,000 hours this year. The agency provides about 7.5 million hours of bus service each year. The MTA is already looking at cutting 100,000 hours of service, and agency chief Roger Snoble said the board should consider 60,000 more hours.

That last one bears watching. You can see the obvious political problem here: Voters in November just approved a sales tax increase to build more mass transit in Los Angeles County, and now officials may be talking about making some serious cuts in transit service. The board ultimately decided to take up the matter at next month's meeting, but the most noise about resisting service cuts came from board member Richard Katz, who insisted that the agency work harder to find savings elsewhere. To be continued ...

--Steve Hymon

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

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