Mayor prepares LA transit plan

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imageMayor Antonio Villaraigosa conceded Tuesday that the recession has overpowered Los Angeles’ best efforts to hang onto jobs. It will likely take ten years for Los Angeles to offer the same number of jobs it did before the 2008 recession. But he’s confident in the city’s ability to capitalize in the future.

The mayor sees light rail and subway development as the foundation for a robust local economy. Additionally, he visualizes public transportation as a catalyst for economic growth nationwide.

“Now, let me be clear: Transportation is the key to building our own road to recovery,” Villaraigosa told a Town Hall Los Angeles luncheon today. “We must avoid turning the wrong way down a one-way street into a double-dip recession. We’ve raised the money here in LA to build our own road to recovery – but we need the financing from Congress to break ground on that road now.”

Villaraigosa is working with California Senator Barbara Boxer to pass America Fast Forward, a Congressional bill which will increase the Department of Transportation’s Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan program to one billion dollars annually. Currently, its budget is $110 million each year.

America Fast Forward is modeled on LA’s 30/10 initiative. Undertaken in 2008, this program reduced 30 years of transit development to just ten years, funded by a half-penny sales tax increase and a federal loan. The mayor credited this program with almost 200 million fewer miles driven each year, plus 166,000 jobs over the project’s lifetime.

The rest of the nation, for whom America Fast Forward is designed, will “look to Los Angeles and Southern California, and our new subways, our railways, our roadways and our busways. It will be a catalyst not just for LA but for the nation, if we can adopt America Fast Forward,” Villaraigosa said.

Los Angeles transit is replete with success stories recently, Villaraigosa said: the city is a finalist for a $646 million TIFIA loan, which will allow it to complete the Westside subway system and regional connector lines between East Los Angeles and Long Beach. The second phase of the Orange Line, which already carries nearly five times as many passengers as the city predicted, will extend the rail line to Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley. Both developments are 30/10 projects.

Also, Los Angeles will finish synchronizing its traffic lights by 2013. Currently, about 92 percent of lights work in time with one another – “We’re the only city that can say that,” Villaraigosa said. The resultant traffic streamlining will reduce carbon emissions by an estimated metric ton each year.

Finally, the city recently reached its 2005 benchmark of gleaning 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources. Villaraigosa calls Los Angeles “The only public utility in a big city to accomplish that goal.”

Despite these victories, a jobs crisis persists nationwide. Unemployment in California still hovers around 12 percent. Villaraigosa believes public transit can help rectify that impasse and simultaneously make U.S. cities greener, friendlier and healthier.

“The millions that we invest in transit flow to businesses large and small and create hundreds of thousands of jobs. So let’s make this clear: transportation investment equals jobs,” the mayor said.

Villaraigosa, Boxer, the bipartisan Senate Committee for Public Works and Senator John Mica (R-Florida), who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, publicly support America Fast Forward. It will continue undergoing Congressional discussion.

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