By PAUL LITTLE
There is no question that our transportation system needs serious attention and significant funds to relieve congestion and improve transportation countywide. Projects that are important to the entire country are currently left unconsidered in part because there simply isn't money to pay for them.
That said, Measure R, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's half-cent sales tax scheme, is exactly the wrong way to increase funding for local transportation projects. Measure R, under strict control of the MTA Board, channels cash into costly downtown Los Angeles and Westside projects and does nothing to create a comprehensive program to address traffic congestion countywide. In fact, Measure R's creators delivered a gambit that takes money from outlying areas and diverts it into costly projects that benefit downtown and the Westside.
It should come as no surprise that the project that receives the highest allocation under Measure R is the pet project of those same downtown Los Angeles interests. The ill-defined subway to the sea is fully funded under Measure R, at a cost of more than $4 billion. Of the significant projects outside downtown and the Westside earmarked for funding, none is fully funded under Measure R. Completion of the Gold Line to Claremont is less than 50 percent funded. The Long Beach (710) Freeway completion project is 25 percent funded. Completion of the Green Line to the Los Angeles International Airport is partly funded. Even freeway and safety projects that are fully funded in the city of Los Angeles receive only partial consideration elsewhere, despite the pressing need throughout the county.
Money from Measure R flows into downtown Los Angeles at the expense of the rest of the county. Taxpayers outside of downtown will see only 50 percent to 70 percent of the funds they generate return for transportation improvements that will make a difference to them. And that's only if every project listed is actually built. Whether the decades-delayed 710 project is completed during the next 40 years or not, that $780 million will surely be disbursed by the MTA Board to pay for cost overruns on the subway to the sea. MTA, after all, has yet to complete a capital rail project without significant budget increases.
In the San Gabriel Valley, as in most areas of Los Angeles County outside of downtown Los Angeles, we have experience with the MTA when it comes to funding projects of importance to our area and constituencies. The MTA's 1990 sales tax measure, the one that was supported by cities and constituencies throughout the county, committed funding for a light-rail system from downtown Los Angeles to Pasadena. Even with that requirement, the MTA Board steadfastly refused to allocate the funding for the project. It took action by the state Legislature to finally force the MTA to release those funds to an independent agency that ultimately built the project, on schedule and under budget.
It doesn't take much to understand who benefits from Measure R. Just look at how support and opposition to Measure R lines up. Those signing the argument in favor of the MTA's sales tax ploy are Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former Mayor Richard Riordan, Los Angeles County Business Federation Chief Executive Tracy Rafter, LAPD Commissioner John Mack and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky all laser focused on the interests of downtown Los Angeles. Those signing the argument against represent the broad spectrum of interests throughout the county: Supervisors Gloria Molina and Mike Antonovich, Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, Long Beach Councilman Gary DeLong and Sherman Oaks Homeowner Association. President Richard Close.
The MTA had an opportunity to win the confidence of the San Gabriel Valley by voting to support the Gold Line light-rail project to Claremont. Instead, the MTA board chose to forsake more than $350 million in federal funding for that project and refused to pass a Long Range Transportation Plan that included the Gold Line.
Also, it is important to remember that the MTA Board can amend the project list, funding allocations and details of the expenditures. That same MTA Board must vote to release any money collected under Measure R. When the subway project experiences the inevitable cost overruns, what is the MTA Board going to vote to do with the Measure R monies collected for other projects?
What Los Angeles County needs is an equitable program that adequately and fairly addresses transportation needs countywide. With Measure R, downtown's "big dogs" carefully crafted a scheme to keep the meat to themselves. While they threw a few small bones to the other pooches, a comprehensive plan to address traffic congestion and create an effective mass transit system in Los Angeles County is nowhere to be found.
Failure of Measure R just might force the MTA Board to consider an equitable plan to fund projects that address transit, transportation and congestion relief projects countywide.
Paul Little is the president and chief executive of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce. He is a former council member for Pasadena and served on the board of the Construction Authority that built the Gold Line to Pasadena.
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