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House Panel Urges $62 Million for Subway

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

With the Los Angeles congressional delegation uniting behind finishing the Metro Rail subway to the San Fernando Valley, a key House panel Thursday recommended the Metropolitan Transportation Authority receive $62 million for that project next year.

In a breakthrough, the House Transportation Appropriations subcommittee also agreed to provide $31 million to replace aging buses and $8 million to study mass-transit improvements in the Eastside and Mid-City neighborhoods where subway extensions have been halted.

Although the subcommittee recommended far less than the $100 million sought by the MTA for subway construction--the region’s biggest public works project--it was significantly more than the $30 million proposed by a Senate panel last week.

The differences between the House and Senate will have to be worked out in a conference committee, probably in September. In past years, negotiators have just about split the difference.

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“We’re very pleased with this vote of confidence,” Allan Lipsky, MTA deputy chief executive officer, told an MTA panel Thursday. He said the $62 million, if approved by Congress, would keep the North Hollywood subway extension on track.

Mayor Richard Riordan, the MTA board chairman, said the agency may have to slow construction of the subway to North Hollywood and delay significant improvements to the bus system if it receives less money than the House provided.

Riordan said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the MTA would receive what the House allocated. The mayor joined in lobbying for more federal funds along with Julian Burke, MTA’s chief executive officer, who was in Washington to secure more money from the House panel and prevent further financial and political trouble at the MTA.

But the House subcommittee action came about only after a last-minute agreement between two senior members of the congressional delegation, Reps. Julian Dixon (D-Los Angeles)and Esteban Torres (D-Pico Rivera).

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A member of the transportation appropriations subcommittee, Torres called MTA funding the “most contentious local issue” in the appropriation bill.

Torres said it took some “heavy lifting, pushing and shoving” to arrive at a consensus among the Los Angeles delegation to complete the subway to North Hollywood.

The veteran Eastside lawmaker and two of his colleagues had threatened to withhold support for subway funding after the MTA board voted to halt work on a subway extension to East Los Angeles and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky launched a ballot campaign to cut off local funding for new subway projects.

But after holding a four-hour hearing in Los Angeles, Torres said the Eastside representatives are now united in favor of finishing the subway to North Hollywood.

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“It gave us some confidence the agency was willing to move ahead” with finding alternatives for the Eastside and Mid-City, Torres said. He expressed the hope that when planning, engineering and design studies are completed, there may still be a future rail link to the Eastside.

In the meantime, Torres said the House bill provides additional funding to improve bus service for areas of the county heavily dependent on mass transit.

The recommended bus funding was good news for the MTA, which is under a federal court order to relieve overcrowding on its bus system. The MTA sought $25 million for bus purchases, but the committee recommended adding another $6 million. The MTA can buy roughly three buses for every $1 million.

Dixon said in a statement that Los Angeles County should be pleased with the House panel’s recommendation: “The numbers for both rail and bus reflect a recognition of the positive direction management is taking the agency.”

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The House committee’s $62 million recommendation for the subway includes only $38 million in new funding. The MTA was already counting on the other $24 million, left over from this year’s appropriation, which had been earmarked for the now-suspended Eastside subway extension.

The federal government is paying about half of the subway project’s nearly $5 billion cost, with county and state taxpayers covering the rest. The subway extension to Hollywood is scheduled to open next May, followed a year later by the segment to North Hollywood.

Although MTA is likely to receive less money than it sought, Riordan--with the help of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)--scored an important political victory--persuading the Senate panel to strike what the mayor called “unnecessarily inflammatory and counterproductive” language in a committee report assailing the subway project. Riordan said the harsh language did a “great disservice to the significant efforts of the MTA to improve its financial management.”

The Senate committee report had said: “Over the 17-year history of federal funding, the Los Angeles Metro Rail project has been troubled by cost overruns, repeated redesigns, corruption, mismanagement, engineering failures, tunneling accidents and political infighting.” The report also said, “The committee is supportive of efforts within Congress and at the local level to minimize further loss of federal investments in this project.”

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A week later, the language now reads: “Over the 17-year history of federal funding, the Los Angeles Metro Rail project has been troubled by cost overruns, mismanagement and engineering failures. The committee is supportive of efforts within Congress and at the local level to protect federal investments in this project,” according to the MTA and an aide to Boxer.

The new language also says, “The committee also is encouraged that the new management team, experienced in cost-cutting, and the board of the MTA, led by Mayor Richard Riordan, are committed to restoring long-term financial stability to capital projects and daily operations of the MTA.”

A Bay Area Rapid Transit extension to San Francisco’s airport was the project receiving the most money in the House bill, with a $74 million appropriation.

The House committee also recommended that $4 million be allocated for a proposed Orange County urban rail system.

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The Orange County Transportation Authority board has approved only studies of the rail project, but members have been enthusiastic about the prospects of using commuter trains to serve residents and workers in the county’s growing central corridor.

Advocates for the proposed rail system spanning 28 miles from Fullerton to South County point to the success of similar systems in Portland, Ore., and San Diego, but critics say the cost--which could reach $1.8 billion--outweighs the benefits. Engineers are now plotting potential paths and stations for the system.

Times staff writer Geoff Boucher contributed to this story.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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Editing a Law

After lobbying by Mayor Richard Riordan, a U.S. Senate committee revised the language in a bill providing funds for the Los Angeles subway. Riordan called the old language “unnecessary, inflammatory and counterproductive.” Several phrases were deleted and the underlined sentence was added.

Source: Metropolitan Transportation Authority


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