Joint Authority Endorsed for 2 Transit Projects

Times Staff Writer

In a gesture that is part olive branch and part ultimatum, a frustrated Los Angeles County Transportation Commission on Wednesday endorsed the creation of a joint powers authority with the RTD to oversee the design and construction of the Metro Rail and light rail projects under way in the county.

But the step is tentative at best, because the RTD board, engaged in a long-running feud with the transit commission, failed to show up at what had been scheduled as a rare joint meeting. The Southern California Rapid Transit District board bowed out on Tuesday, saying it was unable to assemble a quorum of its members for the meeting.

Transportation commissioners, voicing exasperation, agreed on a 7-4 vote to try to schedule another joint meeting with the RTD board by Aug. 24 in the hope of establishing a joint powers agreement. "One last chance," is how Commissioner Christine Reed described the proposed meeting.

Would Share Authority

In the proposed joint powers agreement, commission officials said, authority over all transit rail design, and construction would be shared in a separate panel consisting of an equal number of directors from each agency.

But if the two agencies are unable to meet, or unable to come to terms, the Transportation Commission said it will attempt to take control on its own. The transit authority would set up a nonprofit corporation to direct rail design and construction while the RTD would retain responsibility for operating all transit systems.

Such a move is expected to be fought by the RTD board, which itself is seeking to control all rail construction. If a stalemate ensues, officials said, state legislation may be required to reorganize the divided transit authorities. Such a reorganization was vetoed last year by Gov. George Deukmejian, but local transit officials have been under pressure since to work out their differences on their own.

The RTD and the Transportation Commission have been engaged in a power struggle over the control of greater Los Angeles' transit system since Proposition A was approved in 1980. The measure authorized the county's half-cent sales tax and created the Transportation Commission to spend the money. The RTD operates the nation's largest bus system and controls construction of Metro Rail, while the Transportation Commission, which controls about $110 million a year, is building the county's light rail system and providing much of Metro Rail's financing.

The RTD, plagued in recent years by allegations of mismanagement, took another shot from the Transportation Commission on Wednesday. The Transportation Commission staff issued a report suggesting that it has proved to be a much more cost-effective manager in a comparison of light rail and Metro Rail costs. According to the report, 25.5% of the Metro Rail's costs go into administration--at the expense of construction--while only 17.9% of light rail costs go to administration.

Cut Projected Delay

Transportation Commission officials, in the meeting, also described how seven months of projected delay in the 7th and Flower streets Metro Rail station--the intersection of Metro Rail and the Long Beach-to-Los Angeles light rail projects--has been cut down by three months after commission officials interceded with construction managers. RTD officials had been unable to reduce delays, Richard Stanger, a Transportation Commission planner, said in an interview.

William Rhine, the RTD's head of Metro Rail construction, attended the meeting but did not defend the RTD before the commission. He declined to reply to a reporter's questions, saying that he had not analyzed the Transportation Commission's report.

Supervisor Pete Schabarum, chairman of the commission, led a minority that argued that the agency should move forward on the creation of a nonprofit corporation, saying that the differences between the commission and the RTD are not likely to be resolved by another meeting.

In informal discussions with RTD board members and other officials, Schabarum said, it has been clear that the RTD majority would only favor a consolidation of all Metro Rail and light rail under the RTD.

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