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Get MTA’s Wheels Rolling

Workers on the Gold Line are in the final stages of testing the 13.6-mile link between Union Station and Pasadena. The first trains will run this summer -- if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority gets the 30 commuter cars it needs. But the agency can’t pay for those rail cars unless a state agency acts this week to release the $15.4 million it promised.

The MTA also needs $126.4 million that Sacramento committed for 178 new clean-fuel buses to run on some of the most crowded routes in Los Angeles. Without $98 million the Legislature earmarked, the 14-mile planned Chandler Boulevard busway between North Hollywood and Woodland Hills could remain grass and weeds for at least another year. If state money doesn’t come, the planned Eastside rail line, linking Union Station to East L.A. commuters dependent on public transit, could simply die.

The MTA is ready to award contracts on these projects. Some of the bids it received, including for the 178 clean-fuel buses and the San Fernando Valley busway, came in at less than agency estimates. But those bids will expire soon unless the MTA gets the state money to pay contractors. And without the $332 million in promised state money, a half-billion dollars in federal matching funds will evaporate as well, jeopardizing these worthy local projects and the 38,000 jobs they would create.

Officials with the California Transportation Commission, which allocates state transit money, say the state’s worst-ever budget shortfall, $26 billion to $35 billion through the next fiscal year, forces them to slam the brakes on Los Angeles transit projects. To keep them from doing that, the MTA has offered the state a heck of a deal: The agency would advance itself the state’s share of these projects, borrowing the money against future MTA sales tax revenues, if state transportation officials agreed to repay it starting four years from now.

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Essentially, the MTA is offering to float the state an interest-free loan to keep these transit projects on track. That indicates how important they are to L.A. County’s long-term economic growth and how much more expensive it would be to restart them later. The state transportation agency meets Thursday in Sacramento. The MTA’s offer is one that commissioners should approve.


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