Los Angeles County voters agreed in 2008 to raise sales taxes to fund massive upgrades in transportation. The benefit of that ballot initiative – dubbed Measure R – was clear: Construction jobs would multiply and businesses would flourish along new rail lines as well as highways and Los Angeles County would see $40 billion in transportation projects across the region over a 30-year period.

Measure R’s overwhelming passage was a public vote of confidence in transportation investments. Now it’s time to give the public a quicker and more potent return on its investment. We have an opportunity to embrace the 30/10 Infrastructure Sustainability Initiative introduced and championed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and his team.

The 30/10 proposal is a way to achieve 30 years of transportation improvements in 10 years. Rather than waiting a generation for economic and quality-of-life gains to materialize, 30/10 would allow us to reap benefits in a decade.

By borrowing money to accelerate transportation projects, 30/10 could provide an extra 20 years of reduced car traffic and emissions, while jump-starting the economy in a time of great need.

The federal government would support financing the cost of Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s long-range transportation projects. Projects could be finished in 10 years, while the loans are repaid over 30 years. The financing plan’s risk would be negligible, since the sales tax increase to pay for Measure R has already been approved. In fact, that steady tax stream would ensure loan payments are made on schedule.

The 30/10 proposal is already under discussion in Washington and will come to the full Metro board this week. Under this proposal, Metro will be able to move forward immediately with final approvals, design and construction of long-anticipated projects, generating more than 100,000 jobs.

These projects include the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor, providing service to the corner of Century and Aviation boulevards at Los Angeles International Airport, and the Purple Line train from Union Station to Westwood. Another top priority would be the highly efficient Regional Connector in downtown Los Angeles, which would link currently disconnected rail lines.

Economic boost

These projects, up to 12 in all, would pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy. They would create jobs in the neighborhoods they serve through a carefully targeted local-hiring policy. Even more timely, a local and small business hiring policy would create contracting opportunities and significant economic development stimulus for transit-oriented districts around station sites.

Clearly, there are important issues to be addressed before this initiative ultimately moves forward

• First, the federal government must join us in creating a lending mechanism, with terms, conditions and pricing that meet Metro’s needs. Fortunately, we do not go to the Obama administration empty-handed, after all we have Measure R.

• Second, the program must respect the concept of “regional equity,” which ensures Measure R funds are distributed fairly to all regions in Los Angeles County, from Malibu and the Westside to the San Gabriel Valley, from the South Bay and South Los Angeles to the Antelope and San Fernando valleys.

• Third, Metro needs to examine its budgets and internal controls to ensure that it has the capacity to build these very ambitious and large-scale projects simultaneously, and to operate them successfully when they are completed. Special arrangements must be made with local suppliers of materials and labor organizations to ensure the availability and affordability of construction resources and the training of operating personnel.

• Fourth, careful partnerships must be forged between community groups, environmental leaders, labor organizations, the business community and the public sector, including not just transportation planners, but land-use regulators, work force development teams and community outreach staff. This is some heavy lifting, but it is worth it. Thirty-Ten can be a win-win proposition for all. Not only would it create high-paying jobs, it would elevate the quality of communities by making parks, schools, workplaces –and other modes of transport such as LAX – more accessible.

Cost savings from 30/10 might also enable further transportation improvements, such as the undergrounding of substantial sections of the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Corridor, protecting the integrity of the historic communities on its path to LAX. It can also provide a means for extending the currently funded Gold Line-Foothill Extension beyond its anticipated terminus in Azusa, and on to Claremont and the San Bernardino County Line.

Thirty-Ten has attracted national attention and support from California’s congressional leaders as well as prominent transportation committee legislators from other jurisdictions. The simplicity and speed of this program can do more than any other notion under consideration to enhance our mobility, prosperity and sustainability.

The public deserves to have confidence in its investment by seeing real results in real time. It’s time to reassemble the coalition that produced Measure R to deliver 30/10.

Mark Ridley-Thomas represents the Second District on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and is a director of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

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