Spending bill to likely give L.A. $130 million for key rail projects

The Culver City station on the MTA's Expo light rail line.
The Culver City station on the MTA’s Expo light rail line.
(Patrick T. Fallon / Los Angeles Times)

WASHINGTON -- An eagerly awaited subway extension to the Westside and a downtown tunnel to link light-rail lines would be virtually certain to each receive $65 million under a spending bill coming before Congress this week.

The 1,582-page omnibus spending measure would also require the Federal Aviation Administration to step up efforts to reduce helicopter noise over the Los Angeles area.

House-Senate negotiators on Monday night released details of the trillion-dollar spending bill designed to prevent another government shutdown. It is expected to be approved this week.

The legislation as drafted would provide no federal money this year for high-speed rail projects, but it does not include a provision sought by Republican critics of the California bullet train that state officials warned could kill the $68-billion project.

Still, the state would take a bit of a hit from a reduction in funding -- $180 million nationwide, down from the $237 million provided last year -- to help states pay the cost of jailing immigrants in the country without proper documentation. The money has been a top priority for California, which receives the largest amount for such purposes.


Nevertheless, the bill is good news for Los Angeles County’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which was worried that congressional Republican efforts to reduce Washington’s red ink would leave them without federal money for two top projects: extending the subway from Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue to Wilshire and La Cienega Boulevard, and building a downtown tunnel to link the Gold Line from Pasadena and East L.A. to the Blue Line from Long Beach and the Expo Line from Culver City.

Though the projects are not mentioned by name in the bill, an MTA spokesman noted that the measure includes more than $2 billion nationwide for new transit projects, enough to provide the money for the L.A. projects. The federal funding would cover only a portion of the projected $2.8-billion first segment of the subway extension and the $1.4-billion Regional Connector project.

The measure also includes language that would direct the FAA, within a year of passage, to begin writing rules to reduce helicopter noise in the Los Angeles area unless it can show that voluntary efforts are working.

The provision was sought by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, and five Los Angeles-area Democratic House members in response to long-standing complaints about noise over residential neighborhoods.

An FAA study last year recommended a voluntary approach rather than government regulation to reduce helicopter noise, citing the complexity of the region’s airspace and its high number of aircraft. FAA officials say they are working with homeowner groups, pilots and others to try to come up with ways to reduce noise.

But lawmakers have grown impatient.

“For years, the FAA has not felt the urgency that homeowners and residents across Los Angeles County have felt -- very literally with the rattling of windows -- on the need to reduce helicopter noise,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank). “With this legislation, FAA will have one year to act on its pledge to reduce helicopter noise or it will be forced to regulate.”

Feinstein said the provision “will finally lead to concrete action” to “improve the quality of life for millions of people living in Los Angeles.”

The language would direct the secretary of Transportation to adjust helicopter routes if that would reduce noise over neighborhoods; promote “best practices for helicopter hovering and electronic news gathering [and] conduct outreach to helicopter pilots” to inform them of voluntary policies and increase their awareness of noise-sensitive areas and events; and work with local groups to develop a more comprehensive noise-complaint system.

As for the lack of money for high-speed rail projects, Dan Richard, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said in an email that "[w]e did not seek any new funds in the budget so we are not hurt by lack of appropriations in this bill.’’

He is to be in Washington on Wednesday for a House hearing on the project.


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