L.A.'s transport priorities

IF IT HELPS PEOPLE OR things move more quickly and efficiently, L.A. needs more of it. With more drivers and more transit needs than any other county in the state, plus the busiest port in the nation, Los Angeles will get a sizable share of the money from Proposition 1B, the bond package passed two weeks ago that provides $19.9 billion for infrastructure. Now planners just have to figure out how to spend it.

Most of the money will be allocated according to preset criteria that identify the most beneficial projects. About $11.3 billion will go to various regions for highway and road projects; locally, the top priorities include widening the Santa Ana and San Diego freeways and installing technical improvements to speed rush-hour traffic. Another $2 billion or so will go for things such as grade separations at railway crossings and a replacement for the crumbling Gerald Desmond Bridge at the Port of Long Beach.

About $1 billion for public transit is expected to go to Los Angeles County, and given that transit funds are usually matched by federal money, that means at least $2 billion worth of new projects locally. Unfortunately, those spending decisions can be the most political.

The California Transportation Commission will decide how much transit money will go to L.A., but the decisions on which projects to pursue will be made by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Board members have a history of pursuing narrow political interests over doing what’s right for the county as a whole. County Supervisor (and MTA board member) Michael Antonovich, for example, is a fierce opponent of extending the Red Line subway along Wilshire Boulevard, preferring projects of far lower public value, such as an extension of the Gold Line to the San Gabriel Valley, which would benefit his own constituents.

A Red Line extension along Wilshire from its terminus at Western Avenue to at least Fairfax Avenue should be at or near the top of the MTA’s priority list. Another priority should be a planned light-rail line along Crenshaw Boulevard to Los Angeles International Airport, directly connecting LAX to downtown by rail. A third would be the so-called downtown connector, a 1.5-mile subway line unifying the different rail lines that converge in the area, allowing, say, a rider to get from Pasadena to Staples Center without multiple train changes.

Many will argue that these projects are all downtown or Westside-centric and that they don’t take the rest of the county into account. They’re right. But these projects are also the ones that would have the highest projected ridership, in areas where needs are greatest. Those should be the decisive criteria.