Editorial: Want the ‘subway to the sea’ running by the 2028 Olympics? The feds need to show us the money
2028 is not all that far away. And as the Summer Olympics that will be held in Los Angeles that year draw ever closer, the track to keep an eye on isn’t on the field. It is — or will be — underground, as engineers and construction crews hustle to finish the final and crucial leg of the Purple Line subway, connecting downtown to sporting venues across the city and to the Olympic Village at UCLA.
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority desperately hopes to complete the $9-billion subway extension in 2026, two years before the Olympics. But Metro is facing a critical funding deadline next month that could determine whether the subway is completed in time for the games. Whether the project meets its deadlines is in the hands of the Trump Administration.
Earlier this year, Metro selected a contractor to dig the tunnels for the third and final section of the subway line between Century City and West Los Angeles, near the Veterans Affairs Hospital. However, the work cannot begin until the Federal Transit Administration sends a letter verifying that if Metro spends its own $492 million to expedite the work, the federal government will reimburse the money under a future grant, which Metro is widely expected to receive.
The federal government has a shared national interest in a country that’s safe and well-connected, and where people and goods move efficiently.
But the clock is ticking. The construction bid expires Oct. 3. If Metro doesn’t get the funding commitment by then, the agency will have to rebid the contract. That could delay the project by nearly two years and increase the cost by $200 million, Metro officials say.
So far, they say the Federal Transit Administration has been helpful. With less than a month to go, L.A. leaders say they remain hopeful they’ll get through the approval process in time to avoid having to rebid the construction contract.
But it is not out of the question that the Trump administration could put the brakes on this critical piece of funding for the project, as part of a larger assault on public transit construction nationwide.
Last month, the advocacy group Transportation for America released a report showing that the Federal Transit Administration is sitting on nearly $2 billion that Congress budgeted over the last two years for public transit projects across the country. The group accuses the agency of dragging its feet on distributing the money.
It’s no secret that the Trump administration wants to slash federal funding for mass transportation and make local governments pay the bulk of the cost. The president’s budget this year proposed cutting dollars allocated for public transit and eliminating funding for new projects. Congress restored the funding.
The president’s much-hyped infrastructure plan — which has so far gone nowhere — envisions doing more with less by requiring localities to put up at least 80% of the funding for their projects. Traditionally, it was the federal government that covered 80% of major transportation projects, with locals contributing 20%. And conservative groups have lobbied heavily across the country to stymie public transit funding, often in favor of highway projects.
There’s nothing wrong with requiring localities to kick in a significant portion of the bill for regional transportation projects. In fact, Los Angeles County is already planning to pay for 52% of this project.
Furthermore, voters have repeatedly approved sales-tax hikes to pay for more transportation infrastructure. The Measure M sales-tax hike that was approved in 2016 is the reason the Purple Line could be completed in 2026 instead of 2036, as originally planned. California lawmakers, too, have voted to increase gas taxes and vehicle fees to fund highway and public transit infrastructure. (Anti-tax hawks want to roll back the new gas-tax funding with Proposition 6 on the November ballot.)
But local and state dollars cannot replace federal funding. Nor should they. The federal government has a shared national interest in a country that’s safe and well-connected, and where people and goods move efficiently. The Purple Line subway is the perfect example. It will help move people through one of the country’s most congested corridors.
If the federal funding comes through, as it should, and the project is completed on time, the subway will be an integral part of the region’s transportation system during the 2028 Olympics. This will be an opportunity to show the world that the United States is a country that works, that builds, that sees the importance of investing in its infrastructure. This is a nation that provides modern, efficient means of travel for its residents and is not a backwater still stuck in 20th century traffic.
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