RTD, County Panel Back Merger for Rail Projects

Times Staff Writer

In a first step toward streamlining their operations, RTD and Los Angeles County Transportation Commission officials Monday endorsed a plan to consolidate now divided responsibilities for building Metro Rail and other commuter train projects under a major new subsidiary agency.

And, responding to charges that voters do not know whom to hold accountable for county transportation problems, the officials also agreed to explore having Mayor Tom Bradley, the five Los Angeles County supervisors and other local elected officials participate personally in major transportation decisions.

The action came at a rare combined meeting of the boards of the often warring transportation agencies and was an effort to preempt renewed efforts by Sacramento lawmakers to impose a transit reorganization plan on Los Angeles. Concerned over reports of RTD mismanagement and waste, the Legislature this year approved a controversial bill to abolish both the RTD and the commission and replace them with a new "super agency" to oversee all transportation planning and services. Gov. George Deukmejian vetoed the measure, but many local officials expect a similar bill to be pushed next year.

Special Meeting Called

Monday's meeting was called by Bradley and other officials to see what could be done locally to improve operations and quiet legislators' demands for reform.

After two hours of debate, nearly 20 members of the RTD board and the commission agreed to take the easiest step first--one that would leave both of their agencies largely intact. They voted to form a committee to explore creation of a third, jointly controlled transit agency that would take over construction of the RTD's Metro Rail subway as well as the Transportation Commission's light rail lines.

The assumption is that having a single agency plan the county's interlocking mass transit system would be more efficient. Officials said the change should also free RTD managers to focus their efforts on improving bus service, which has been the source of most of the transit district's highly publicized problems in the last two years.

The officials also agreed to study having prominent elected officials--rather than little-known political appointees--personally serve on the Transportation Commission. The theory is that the commission would then be able to exercise more of its long-term planning and watchdog powers. Those changes all could occur in a matter of months, without special state legislation.

"I think this is a historic event for us," Bradley said after the meeting. Others were more cautious in their assessments, although most saw it as a promising first step.

A number of politically sensitive details--such as who would sit on the governing board of the new rail construction agency that would control billions of dollars on contracts--remain to be resolved before any consolidation takes place.

And longstanding rivalries between local elected officials could overtake the spirit of cooperation exhibited Monday.

The three Republican conservatives who form a majority on the Board of Supervisors--Mike Antonovich, Pete Schabarum and Deane Dana--have given a chilly reception to the recent reorganization talks spearheaded by Democrat Bradley. Except for a brief visit by the supervisors' chairman, Antonovich, none of the conservatives participated in Monday's meeting, even though the meeting was held in their downtown office building.

Tom Silver, a spokesman for Antonovich, criticized the course taken Monday, saying creating a third agency with its own board would be a "a reactionary step, away from accountability." He warned that the majority of the supervisors are "not willing to go very far along the lines" of such a consolidation.

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