Mass-Transit Initiative a Chance to Unlock L.A.’s Freeways


Another day, another Sig Alert. It seems this is the place we have come to in Los Angeles. Just look at some recent headlines: “405 Crash Shuts Down Freeway, Causing Traffic Nightmare,” “134 Closure: Overturned Gasoline Tanker Shuts Down L.A. Freeway” and my personal favorite, “Puppet Shows for L.A.’s Congested Freeways.”

What has to happen in this town before there is a groundswell of public and business community support for mass transit, and more of us give up driving alone to work at least some of the time? Well, perhaps we have arrived at that station in the form of the ambitious but possible 30/10 Initiative to build 30 years of critically needed transportation projects within a decade.

Thirty/10 will let the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority use revenue from the 2008 county voter-approved Measure R half-cent transportation sales tax as collateral for long-term bonds and a federal loan to build 12 overdue projects now instead of later. Accelerating construction of the Westside subway, the Gold Line Foothill extension, the Green Line to the Los Angeles International Airport, a north-south San Fernando Valley line, the downtown L.A. regional connector and several other key projects will mean substantial construction and financing savings, and give commuters a fast, low-cost alternative to the freeway. For the first time, a true mass-transit system of which the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce can be proud will be within reach. And in addition to the transit it will provide, 30/10 will create more than 165,000 jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a region that still has a long way to go both in terms of employment and air quality.

Now all we need to do is convince the federal government to step up and loan us the money to start building.

A better way

On those rare occasions when there’s no one else on the road, I like taking the curves along Mulholland Drive a little too fast as much as the next guy. But I also recognize there has to be a better way, aside from retirement, than driving alone to work. We have a traffic problem in this town and building more lanes on the freeways is simply not the solution. If it was, then all of the earlier freeway-widening projects would have solved things. Thirty/10 brings a real mass-transit system to the town that Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick famously called “a great big freeway.”

What if we don’t land 30/10 and build the needed projects? Nothing. As in, nothing will change on our gridlocked freeways and nothing will staunch the bleeding from L.A.’s slowly dying economy. How do I know this? Simple. I live and commute here and have witnessed the flight of businesses scared away by our real estate prices, traffic and fear that their products might take too long to get from the shop floor to market. Perception is reality and we are not well-perceived when it comes to our freeways, mass transit and time to market.

I also live and breathe this stuff professionally as a Huffington Post blogger on transportation and infrastructure, and as a consultant to Move LA, the lean non-profit that convened the business, civic, environmental and labor coalition behind Measure R and helped birth the 30/10 Initiative. As Move LA Executive Director Denny Zane says frequently to business leaders, “It’s time to get on board the 30/10 Love Train.” And, thankfully, more leaders like 30/10 champion Gary Toebben of the L.A. area chamber are doing so.

Even though you may never ride Metro, so many Angelenos do so by choice or necessity that mass transit is already essential to the economic viability of the region. But in order to be the national economic engine Los Angeles needs to be, we need to tackle the traffic gridlock that keeps many workers from getting to work on time. Without an expanded mass-transit system, Los Angeles, which is already coughing, will literally choke on its own congestion.

Together with City Hall and Metro, the Move LA business-plus coalition backed by the philanthropic community, labor and companies such as Aecom have made the 30/10 Initiative a front-burner issue in Washington, and across a city that has been painfully slow to build subways, light rail and bus rapid transit.

With business people far apart on the other choices in November, let’s put aside our partisan differences long enough to work for a transportation infrastructure building program that will benefit Angelenos without regard to class, geography or politics. We all share the roads, and if we don’t take steps to find an alternative to the car all of the time, we will all continue to suffer. There is an alternative. But it will mean more of us joining the businesses and others already on board in advocating for 30/10 and for a true mass-transit system for Los Angeles.

Joel Epstein is a blogger for the Huffington Post and a consultant to Move LA.

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