MTA Balks at Hub's Cost

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is the crossroads of southeast Los Angeles County's public transportation network. Crisscrossed by a dozen bus lines, Huntington Park's downtown serves as a hub for thousands of daily bus riders.

They crowd bus stops and jostle with pedestrians on narrow sidewalks. Traffic snarls are common as buses idle on car-jammed streets.

Aiming to ease congestion and boost the downtown shopping district, Huntington Park officials this year unveiled a plan for a project that would be unique in Southern California: a five-level complex combining the transportation center with a shopping mall and entertainment complex.

Though the MTA has ranked the $44-million project low on its preliminary list of funding priorities, city officials stepped up their efforts, questioning the agency's complex funding formula that left the project with a low ranking.

The bottom line, officials say, is that the project would benefit Huntington Park and the entire southeast region. They are expected to press their case at an MTA hearing today. A final decision is expected next month.

"It's a winner," said Henry Gray, L.A.'s assistant director of community development. "It will serve one of the largest and most transit-dependent populations in the county."

But MTA officials balk at the project's cost: The agency would have to provide $22 million for the effort, nearly half the countywide budget devoted to such projects.

"It's a very large project, and a very costly project," said Brad McAllester, MTA director of regional planning. "It probably equals the cost of the first 12 projects that we want to fund."

With its shopping and entertainment opportunities, the proposed Huntington Park transportation center would be the first of its kind in Los Angeles County.

It would be on a parcel of city-owned land currently used for parking. A concourse on Pacific Avenue would funnel riders from downtown to the terminal. Above the terminal would be a movie theater, restaurants and stores.

About 11,000 riders daily use the 12 bus lines that run through the area. Huntington Park's downtown itself is a draw, and many people use the buses to commute to downtown Los Angeles and Long Beach.

City officials are surprised that MTA staff has not backed the project, especially because the idea came from an agency study. Agency officials say the center ranked high for its impact on the region and benefits to riders, but other projects were more cost-effective.

Other proposals favored by staff include bus stop improvements in Long Beach, a shuttle service in Los Angeles and a commuter-train maintenance facility in San Bernardino County.

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