Hd — Not Rail But What?

The pipe dream is finally over. After relentlessly and often ruthlessly trying to jam a subway system down the throats of Southern Californians virtually at any cost the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority essentially raised its hands and said, “We give up.”

Of course, it’s not being presented quite that way. Officially, all that really happened last week is that the MTA board, under intense pressure from the feds to get its financial house in order, voted to suspend for at least six months all work on the Eastside, Mid-City and Pasadena rail lines. Work on the North Hollywood extension will continue.

We would like to say congratulations. We would like to think that the board has regained its senses, thanks largely to the efforts of interim chief executive Julian Burke. But L.A.’s rail experience has been so catastrophic on so many levels for so many years that it’s hard to be very enthused about a coerced six-month suspension.

From our perch, the decision to pull the plug should have been made several hundred million dollars ago, when it became obvious that cost overruns, corrupt contractors and misguided planners were all conspiring to make the project a civic embarrassment. Imagine how much money and time could have been saved if the $300-million-per-mile project were suspended a year ago, two years ago even six months ago.

Even now, it’s likely that the subway proponents will be mounting a counter-attack, even though sentiment not to mention federal dollars clearly have turned away from further construction.

That’s because parochialism long has ruled the MTA roost, whether it involves cutting questionable deals for an Eastside rail line or constructing a Green Line that approaches, but doesn’t quite reach, LAX.

When outlining all that has gone wrong with the MTA, we don’t know whether to laugh or cry. What we do know is that regional transportation networks can’t function very well if they are dominated by parochial interests. That the MTA board finally pulled the plug was more a reflection of its inability to get more federal money than a collective epiphany. Indeed, the six-month moratorium on further construction was on the short end of what Burke had proposed.

And now comes the hard part: figuring out what will replace the subway and then coming up with a way to pay for it. As numerous transportation experts keep telling us, the solution lies not in one huge system, but a network of transportation alternatives, including buses, diamond lanes and light rail. It also includes incentives for car pooling and running businesses on staggered shifts. And further down the road, it includes new technologies that can move traffic along in a more efficient manner.

Setting up such a conglomeration requires the kind of regional cooperation that, frankly, does not exist today. It requires an attitude of “We’re all in this together,” instead of “What’s in it for me?” In an area as large and disparate as Southern California, this is a very tall order one that we would normally view as unlikely. Except for one thing: Everyone is affected by congestion and most everyone agrees that something needs to be done.

Such a broad consensus is a rare feat in L.A. and should be an impetus for the MTA to get its act together.

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