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Villaraigosa Backs Rail Line in Break With Bus Riders

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, a longtime supporter of the Bus Riders Union, said Friday that he is breaking with the group and will back construction of a light rail line between downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena.

Villaraigosa told a downtown meeting of business and government officials that Los Angeles needs “a first-class bus system with a first-class rail system to feed it.”

Although he has been an advocate of better bus service for years, Villaraigosa said the Pasadena rail line is a worthwhile investment that promises good ridership and an alternative to the congested Pasadena Freeway. “That’s a corridor that is just looking for some relief,” he said. “I think the Blue Line will be great in terms of that. I do support it.”

The Los Angeles Democrat and potential mayoral candidate supported legislation to create the Pasadena Metro Blue Line Construction Authority to build the 13.7-mile rail line rather than the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “I wasn’t confident the MTA was going to spend the money wisely. So, we said let’s create an authority that will.”

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The Pasadena agency last week approved a precariously balanced $683.7-million budget to complete construction from Union Station through Chinatown, Lincoln Heights, Highland Park, South Pasadena and Pasadena.

But the Bus Riders Union has vowed to stop the transfer of $280 million in state transportation funds and $89 million from the MTA to the project. The California Transportation Commission will be presented with the Pasadena line’s financial plan at a meeting March 29 in Sacramento.

“I don’t believe that the vast majority of that money, if any of it, is money that could otherwise go to buses,” Villaraigosa said. “But I am very committed to putting some buses on the street.”

Leaders of the Bus Riders Union argue that improvements to the MTA’s bus system must come before any new rail lines are built, particularly after a recent ruling that the transit agency failed to comply with court-ordered reductions in overcrowding on its buses. “We contend that Pasadena cannot go forward,” said Martin Hernandez, an organizer for the Bus Riders Union. “We have a court order that just came down that buses need to be funded first.”

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Donald T. Bliss, a court-appointed special master, recently ordered the MTA to buy 532 new clean-fueled buses and hire more drivers and mechanics. The buses are in addition to 2,095 new vehicles MTA has pledged to buy over the next five years.

Villaraigosa said he is working with state and federal authorities to assist MTA in meeting requirements of a consent decree the agency signed with bus rider advocates.


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