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MTA Spends Big for Studies

Times Staff Writer

Over the objection of their newly elected leader, members of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority went on a spending spree Thursday, approving $10 million for 21 studies to examine a wish list of possible transit projects.

The vote came one week after Supervisor Gloria Molina, who assumes the MTA chairmanship Saturday, rejected a much smaller and less costly package of proposed studies.

At that time, Molina accused Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the board’s outgoing chairman, of pushing his pet projects -- such as the 14-mile extension of the Red Line to the Westside -- without input from other board members.

The mayor countered that the studies were essential to prepare projects for possible new state bond money. He praised the board’s action as “an important milestone in our effort to expand rail transit in Los Angeles.”

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Molina cast the sole vote against the studies. County Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Don Knabe did not vote.

“I wasn’t in the backroom when this list was divided up, so I’m going to add to the list,” Molina warned last week.

On Thursday, she said that she had added $200,000 to study the extension of the Gold Line to the south San Gabriel Valley in an effort “to mock this process.” Last week’s package was less than a quarter of the cost and contained half as many projects as the package approved Thursday.

“I’m disappointed on how this proceeded,” Molina told her colleagues. She compared their action to “pork-barrel” legislation that rewards lawmakers with spending in their districts in return for support for the overall package.

Molina noted that the board ignored staff recommendations to limit spending to top-priority projects.

Even if voters approve the proposed state transportation bond, “we couldn’t fund all of the projects that are being studied here,” she said.

California voters will decide in November whether to approve a $20-billion bond issue for public transportation. If they do, the MTA can expect at least $1 billion from it.

MTA Chief Executive Roger Snoble said the studies package took an “unusual” route to the board. It was never vetted by any board committee or during public budget hearings.

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In response to Molina’s criticism, Villaraigosa last week defended the proposed studies as having “been discussed, debated many, many times.” He said they were needed if the agency hoped to compete aggressively for federal grants and state bond money.

When you go to them to lobby for money, the mayor said, federal and state officials “want to know what you intend to do” to mitigate traffic congestion and air pollution.

Last week’s heated exchange between Molina and Villaraigosa, who began his political career as Molina’s appointee to the regional transit board, ended with the mayor advocating a one-week delay “in the interest of the unity and harmony” of the transportation board.

On Thursday, when the board reconvened, members voted to dedicate $9.8 million to hire 10 planners and conduct the long list of transit studies. They include looking at the feasibility of popular ideas, such as adding bus lanes on Wilshire Boulevard between Doheny Drive and Fairfax Avenue and building a light rail through downtown connecting the Gold Line to the Blue and Exposition lines.

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The money is dedicated solely to planning; it cannot be used to operate the agency’s bus and rail system.

Nearly $4.7 million of the planning money will come from dedicated sales-tax revenue. Another $4.7 million will come from state and federal money dedicated to studying countywide rideshare programs. The remaining $432,000 will come from state transportation funds.


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