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MTA may have tough time getting federal rail money past House GOP

With House Republicans proposing spending cuts for new transit projects, Los Angeles officials will have their work cut out to secure $200 million in federal funds next year for a subway extension to Los Angeles' Westside and a downtown tunnel to link light-rail lines.

The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday proposed $1.7 billion nationwide for new transit projects, down from $1.9 billion provided this year. The Obama administration has proposed $2.5 billion.

The bill also provides no money for high-speed rail projects, a provision sought by congressional Republican critics of the California project.

The proposed spending cut comes after annual public transit ridership last year reached its highest level since 1956, according to the American Public Transportation Assn.

Raffi Hamparian, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority director of federal affairs, said county officials would work to increase the amount when the House committee acts on the bill in coming weeks or to win approval for a higher amount from the Senate, where Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) sits on the Appropriations Committee.

"It may be that the Senate is going to come in with a solid number that fully funds the program, and we don’t have a problem," Hamparian said. "But the bottom line is, a low number adds uncertainty, and we don’t like uncertainty."

MTA is seeking $100 million each for extending the subway from Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue to Wilshire and La Cienega Boulevard and building a downtown tunnel to link the Gold Line from Pasadena and East L.A. to the Blue Line from Long Beach and the Expo Line from Culver City.

Each project is to receive $65 million in federal funds this year.

"We’re determined to get these projects built, on time and on budget," Hamparian said. "Los Angeles County voters have repeatedly stepped up to fund these projects, and we look forward to Congress meeting us halfway to get these great American infrastructure projects built."

The proposed spending bill would provide no money for high-speed rail; but Dan Richard, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said the agency wasn’t expecting any federal funds this year.

"We are well aware of the current environment in Washington and at this stage, we have sufficient funds to complete the basic Central Valley segment," Richard said.

But the bill does include a provision that state officials say could cause trouble for the project.

It would prevent federal funding unless the federal Surface Transportation Board has jurisdiction over the entire project and "the permit is or was issued by the board with respect to the project in its entirety."

A similar provision was sought last year by California GOP critics of the project but never made it into the final bill.

"I have confidence this will again not find its way into the final bill," Richard said in an email.

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