TRANSPORTATION : Cities Hope to Reverse Cut in Transit Funding : Scaling back of MTA plan would leave the San Gabriel Valley less prepared to handle expected gridlock in the future.


A handful of high-profile rail and highway projects in the San Gabriel Valley are threatened by the county transit agency's plans to scale back on construction to save money.

"We've gotten so little, and there's disappointment the new plan is more of the same," said Cynthia Kurtz, Pasadena's public works director.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials earlier this month announced plans to shrink their ambitious 30-year, $183-billion anti-congestion plan into a 20-year, $72-billion scheme. The original blueprint would have translated into more than $5 billion for San Gabriel Valley projects--an amount that could now wither to about $3 billion.

The recast plan has not gone before the agency's 13-member transit board.

Depressed sales taxes, the failure of several proposed bond measures and overly optimistic planning are blamed for the scaling back.

In the San Gabriel Valley, the plan would keep the Los Angeles-Pasadena Blue Line intact, although it would be completed later than originally scheduled. The plan would also help fund the extension of the Long Beach (710) Freeway into Pasadena and the Foothill (210) Freeway into the Inland Empire. But it would kill an extension of the Pasadena Blue Line, a car-pool lane and a light rail line.

Although the cuts planned for area projects are smaller, proportionately, than those overall, local officials say they come on top of years of under-funding for transit projects. Overall, the San Gabriel Valley would get 7% to 8% of the construction money the MTA wants to spend regionwide over the next two decades. But local residents generate about 18% of the local sales taxes used by the agency to underwrite its projects, according to an analysis of the funding scheme by Sharon Neely, transportation consultant for the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, a new association of municipalities.

Making that difference even more acute is a projected growth rate in the area--186,000 people, or 10%, over the next two decades--that is one of the highest in the county. Average rush-hour freeway speeds could plummet to 10 m.p.h. by then unless action is taken, estimates show.

Foothill Transit, the area's local bus agency, would also feel the pinch if the county MTA plan is enacted, losing $43 million to underwrite coach leases for the next eight years, officials say.

"We understand we need to support the inner city (of Los Angeles) and certain regional issues, but we also need to get our fair share," said Foothill Executive Director Roger Chapin. "If you look at the issue of population versus the funding we receive, there is gross inequity."

But Steve Lantz, the MTA's area team director, said the agency can't support the grand vision outlined in the old blueprint. The new plan backs projects that put the biggest dent in regional gridlock, he said.

"This plan reflects the realities of the time," Lantz said.

Insisting it's still not too late, local leaders said last week that they intend to use the Council of Governments to lobby the MTA to rewrite its plan in a way that restores $1.63 billion worth of rail and highway projects the agency wants to scrap.


Transit Plans

The following programs would remain intact despite the Metropolitan Transportation Agency's planned cuts:

* The 13.6-mile Los Angeles-Pasadena Blue Line. The MTA is recommending the trolley be running by 2002, four years later than originally planned.

* Extension of the Long Beach (710) Freeway through El Sereno, South Pasadena and Pasadena. The MTA is to fund a minor part of the expense for the controversial extension.

* Extension of the Foothill (210) Freeway into the Inland Empire.

These programs would be dropped under the MTA proposal:

* An $890-million light rail line between El Monte and Los Angeles traversing the San Bernardino (10) and Pomona (60) freeways.

* A $220-million car-pool lane on the 10 Freeway between the San Gabriel River (605) Freeway and the San Bernardino County line or a similar lane on the 60 Freeway between the 605 and the Orange (57) freeways.

* A $70-million extension of the Pasadena Blue Line eastward into Claremont using both rail and bus service.

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