Monday, March 29, 2010

LA’s Ambitious 30-in-10 Plan

For at least the past two decades, no public official has been more up front with his agenda for transit-starved Los Angeles than that city’s Mayor Antonio Villaraigrosa. Largely through his unrelenting vision of how his city could benefit from tens of billions of dollars in mass transit investment, combined with his considerable political clout at the national level, Villaraigrosa has been a front-and-center advocate for heavy and light rail “dream projects” including the Subway to the Sea, Regional Connector, Crenshaw Corridor and service to Los Angeles International Airport, as well as busway extensions. Once in place, this network expansion would largely fill out the bare-bones high-capacity transit system currently making do in this megalopolis.

And in today’s environment, bringing dollars to the table may be just the ticket to make this dream into a reality. By borrowing federal stimulus money against proceeds from a 30-year local sales tax dedicated to transit and now in place, Villaraigrosa has convinced California lawmakers, federal officials and even mayors of other major cities that not only can Los Angeles deliver 30 years’ worth of major transit investments within 10 years, but also could jump-start an economic recovery by putting thousands to work designing and building the system.

We’ve discussed in a recent blog posting our view that stimulus spending might as well go into concrete-and-steel projects that will leave a legacy of lasting value. We acknowledge that our economy is in a dire predicament, the solution to which has befuddled even top government officials. While not perfect, Villaraigrosa’s out-of-the-box thinking is in our view exactly what is needed to get worthwhile projects built, put people to work, and rebuild a sense of national and civic self-esteem that has all but evaporated in the current financial crisis. Imagine a Los Angeles woven together by a series of high-capacity rail and bus guideways separated from the hellish traffic, dotted with high-density, mixed use centers of activity that complement the surrounding communities while maintaining lower densities where appropriate.

As far as projects, we’d like to offer one not on the table so far: an upgrade of key Metrolink commuter rail lines to more frequent mid-day and reverse-commute service, and better integration of that service with MTA at key stations. New diesel-multiple unit rail vehicles could be purchased and operated over Metrolink tracks in shorter consists and with smaller crew sizes than current push-pull equipment, to more cost-effectively accommodate mid-day service. This regime of service would be targeted to corridor segments with the greatest off-peak ridership potential. Metrolink already operates over a staggering 500+ route miles of rail corridors in the LA region, and the introduction of such service over current routes would almost guarantee increased development potential in nodes currently served by Metrolink.

We strongly support the LA mayor’s proposed solution and encourage other metropolitan areas to follow suit. Obviously not all regions with substantial transit needs have a dedicated funding source to borrow against, and in these cases even more out-of-the-box thinking is needed to create a national model for transit investment. And of course, we welcome your ideas and suggestions.


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