Competing Maps for L.A. Transit

Times Staff Writer

More than a year after Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa rode to power in part by promising to build a subway to the sea, the city’s well-traveled chief executive found himself tiptoeing around the competing transit dreams of the region’s congressional members Tuesday.

During a visit to Capitol Hill -- a frequent Villaraigosa stop since he took office -- the mayor was lobbying for additional federal dollars for expanding public transportation in Los Angeles.

But in an indication of the challenge such efforts face, he had to mollify one ally who wants to extend the Green Line while he pushes his own dream of extending the Red Line west to the Pacific Ocean.


Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) is trying to bring the Green Line through her district to connect Los Angeles International Airport to the region’s light-rail system.

At the same time, Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), who chairs the House Rules Committee, continues to push for his favored project: an expansion of the northern end of the Gold Line farther into the San Gabriel Valley.

Disagreements over which rail lines get built are nothing new among Los Angeles-area officials. For decades, local politicians across the vast region have tried to bring projects to their cities and districts.

Currently, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is in the midst of deciding which light-rail projects will have priority over the next quarter century. And the contentious process unfolding in Los Angeles is reverberating in Washington, where the region’s congressional representatives are jockeying for their own priorities in the scramble for federal dollars.

For years, Dreier has tussled with champions of the Expo Line, slated to stretch from Exposition Park west through Culver City to Santa Monica. Among its congressional backers is Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), whose district includes parts of West Los Angeles.

Villaraigosa stepped into the middle of the fray as he came to Washington to win support from lawmakers for some of his transit priorities. He is working to secure more federal money for an extension of the southern end of the Gold Line from Union Station into Los Angeles’ Eastside. That project is already underway.

He also is trying to persuade members of Congress to lift a ban on federal funding for the tunneling necessary to extend the Red Line.

The ban was written by Waxman after subterranean methane caused an explosion in the city’s Fairfax neighborhood in the 1980s.

Waxman now supports the Red Line extension.

But Harman wanted to talk about the Green Line. After a meeting with Villaraigosa -- during which the two also discussed pending port security legislation -- the veteran congresswoman reiterated her desire to see the extension of the light-rail line move up the priority list.

“I know that the communities around the airport and ... the convenience of the traveling public would be served by doing this,” Harman said. “I’m sure we’ll partner on this issue.”

Villaraigosa was left to smile politely, call Harman a “great congresswoman” and carefully note: “We share a mutual agreement that the Green Line is so important to finally connect the airport with public transportation.”

Later, the mayor reiterated that the Red Line will always be his top priority. “That’s not going to change,” he said.

Villaraigosa’s appointed airport agency director, Lydia Kennard, recently said that a Green Line extension would do little to ease access to LAX because so many transfers would be necessary between downtown and the airport.

Also in the Capitol on Tuesday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca told a Senate panel about the county’s efforts to improve security since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.