Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will launch his new role as MTA board chairman today with a plan to add at least five more bus-only lanes along major Los Angeles County streets.
The agency’s first bus-only lane project along a chronically congested stretch of Wilshire Boulevard from downtown to the Westside was approved in June at a cost of $31.5 million, using mostly federal funds.
The Wilshire proposal ran into stiff opposition from neighborhood groups and some businesses along the route, which worried that the bus-only lane would worsen traffic congestion and hamper customers’ access to stores.
But the mayor argues that the lane, and several more like it, would help give Los Angeles a “world-class transportation system.” Funding for the new bus lanes has to be secured, but the mayor is citing the success of such projects in cities in Peru, Spain and South Africa.
Chairing the regional transportation board is important to the mayor, who is seeking to make transit a legacy of his administration. He plans to use the position to bolster lobbying on behalf of Metro in Washington and Sacramento, and to push America Fast Forward, his initiative to accelerate locally funded transportation projects using federal financing.
The mayor has not yet targeted corridors that would receive the bus lanes, but said he wants a list of recommendations by October. A motion he plans to introduce today calls for the Metro staff to explore possible routes based on ridership demand and the potential for congestion relief, among other factors.
Villaraigosa has held the one-year board chairmanship twice before, and while he has some measure of control over votes on the board — three other board members are his appointments — being chairman gives him more sway over meeting agendas and committee assignments.
L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said he expects the mayor to use his new position to sharpen the agency’s focus on seeking more state and federal funding.
“He will be pushing very hard to get a regional transportation system going as his ideas get traction in Washington,” Yaroslavsky said.
But Villaraigosa could face significant obstacles. It is unclear whether the state will be able to sell transportation bonds in the fall, which could affect Metro’s ability to fund certain projects. And America Fast Forward, which has early bipartisan support, could become bogged down in transportation funding battles in Congress. Furthermore, Villaraigosa has clashed with some board members, including county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas over funding for a Leimert Park station on the Crenshaw Line.
Improving planning for retail and housing development around new rail and bus stations is needed, Villaraigosa said in an interview in which he discussed his agenda. He said he had directed his staff to help create a framework to integrate development around transit projects from when they are conceived.
Other priorities include breaking ground on a much-anticipated downtown rail link known as the Regional Connector, as well as the Westside subway extension. He said the region should develop a network of toll lanes that would help reduce freeway congestion.
Overall, Villaraigosa, who has two years left in office, said he hoped to move Los Angeles away from being “addicted to the single-passenger automobile — the quintessential city of sprawl.”
Villaraigosa is taking the MTA helm at a critical juncture, said Metro Chief Executive Art Leahy. “We’re trying to accelerate a spate of transit and highway projects at a time when state and federal governments are grappling with deepening deficits.”