by Rene Villaroman/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES — Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced on Thursday that the project to extend the Metrorail Red Line from Wilshire Boulevard at Western all the way to the City of Santa Monica is back on track again after the United States Congress lifted the prohibition against federal involvement in the construction of the so-called “Subway to the Sea.”
Then provision was authored by Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and was included in the Fiscal Year 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Bill that was passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, December 19.
“Twenty-one years ago, Washington derailed the hopes for a Westside subway. Today, we’re back on track,” the mayor declared at a press conference held at the Union Station on December 20. “After more than two decades of waiting and planning, it’s now time to take definitive action to ease traffic congestion on the Westside and improve the quality of the life for commuters throughout Los Angeles County.”
“A ‘Subway to the Sea’ would be the safest, quietest, fastest, most reliable and most environmentally-friendly way to reduce traffic congestion where we need it most,” Villaraigosa added. “Let’s celebrate a small step from Washington DC, but a big step for Los Angeles communities.”
The mayor said that connecting downtown LA with the Westside would be a boon to hundreds of thousands of people who commute to job centers in Century City, West Los Angeles and Santa Monica. The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has estimated that 80,000 cars travel the Wilshire corridor on a daily basis. Extending the Metrorail subway Red Line from Western Avenue in the mid-Wilshire area all the way to Santa Monica will have the highest ridership of any project in the country.
Although the ban has been lifted by Washington, the bill did not include a funding component. Proponents are now looking for creative ways to pay for the project which Villaraigosa estimated would cost in the vicinity of $4.9 billion and would begin construction in 2011.
“I think it’s time for Los Angeles to face the fact that, when we actually build this subway, government will not be able to fund it,” said Council Member Jack Weiss.
“If we want to build this subway, we are going to need a public-private partnership, a partnership between government and private financial interests to build this subway,” Weiss added. “If you want to see a subway in your lifetime, it’s time for Los Angeles to be innovative and creative, like Denver (Colorado) and Houston (Texas), and begin a public-private financing venture to make this subway happen.”
“My plan is to be alive when the subway finally happens,” quipped Congressman Bill Rosendahl of Congressional District 11. “I will have my coffee, read my newspaper and ride the subway to my home in downtown LA,” Rosendahl said.
“This is my proudest moment as an elected official,” said Council Member Tom LeBonge. “In 1973, when Tom Bradley first ran as Mayor, he promised us a subway transit system in 18 months. It took 18 years to get that subway going.”
“Look, if this was so easy, somebody would have done this a long time ago. It took 18 years for Tom Bradley to have the subway going, and yet we all know him as the father of the subway,” added Villaraigosa.
In 1985, a consensus over safety concerns led Congress to impose limited restrictions on tunneling, according to Congressman Waxman. “I’m glad that new technological developments have led to a new consensus that tunneling can be done safely,” Waxman said in a statement.
Since taking office, Villaraigosa has led the effort to extend the subway from its current terminus at Wilshire/Western to the Pacific Ocean. Working with Congressman Waxman and Senators Barbara Boxer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the mayor pushed Congress to lift the ban on federal support for the project. The MTA has ranked this proposal as one of the best transit projects in LA County.
Los Angeles ranks first in the country in travel delay with the average driver losing 72 hours annually sitting in traffic. That’s a total of 491 million hours annually. Traffic gridlock also costs the Greater Los Angeles economy to the tune of $9.3 billion per year.