Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Phillip Washington talks to the media about an expenditure plan for a possible November ballot measure Friday during a press conference at Metro headquarters in Los Angeles. HANS GUTKNECHT — STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Orange Line riders wait at the Van Nuys station as a bus approaches, Tuesday, May 20, 2014. The Metro board will vote on a fare hike on Thursday to help cut deficits. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker/Los Angeles Daily News)
State. Sen. President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon will convene a legislative hearing in Los Angeles on June 24 to analyze Metro’s schedule of $120 billion future highway and rail and projects for “fairness and equity.”
Lawmakers at the hearing will try to determine if Metro, which wants to move forward with several Los Angeles and Westside projects that have upcoming start dates, unfairly moved projects in minority communities to the back of the line.
Some of these communities in the southeastern and eastern parts of the county will have to wait decades for the projects they prefer.
De Leon, D-Los Angeles, along with Sen. Jim Beall, D-Campbell, have set a hearing to “allow time to reflect on whether or not the expenditure plan is meeting the transportation needs of the residents throughout the county,” de Leon wrote in a letter dated June 16 to Mark Ridley-Thomas, chair of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), and CEO Phil Washington.
The two lawmakers want Metro to postpone Thursday’s board vote on the project plan and attached a ballot measure that will raise capital via a permanent, half-cent sales tax. The measure, nicknamed Measure R-2, is a follow-up to 2008’s Measure R, which will raise $40 billion and pay for the Gold Line Foothill Extension and the Expo Line Phase II to Santa Monica.
Measure R-2 would be placed before county voters in November upon approval of Metro and the county Board of Supervisors. It requires a two-thirds vote to pass.
“Our board chair, Mark Ridley-Thomas, is taking it into consideration now,” said Pauletta Tonilas, chief communication officer for Metro. “There is no change in our plan at this point.”
Local mayors and community groups have sent letters to Beall, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, and de Leon arguing that projects closer to L.A. have been given priority over the rest of the county. Some of these projects have start dates 18 to 25 years after work is started on projects in the L.A. area.
For example, the light-rail/people mover connector to LAX and the third-phase extension of the Purple Line subway, which will run under Wilshire Boulevard to Westwood, will get their start in 2018. Improvements to the Orange Line dedicated busway in the San Fernando Valley would break ground in 2019, and the tunnel under the Sepulveda Pass for a roadway or light-rail project would start in 2024.
The next phase of the 5 Freeway widening from the 605 Freeway to the 710 Freeway would not start under the revised plan until 2036, a full 16 years after the $2 billion widening underway since 2010 from the Orange County line to Valley View Avenue is completed.
“The northern segment should be built in a reasonable time frame. It is a highway of national significance,” said Yvette Kirrin, executive director of the I-5 Consortium Cities Joint Powers Authority that includes the cities of Commerce, Downey, La Mirada, Santa Fe Springs and Norwalk.
The authority voted 4-0 Thursday to oppose the future county measure unless it is amended to reflect the importance of the 5 Freeway widening project.
Originally billed as one project, it was split in two, Kirrin said, exacerbating the delays. Having one completed segment with 10 lanes in each direction slamming against the unimproved, 6-mile portion of the old freeway will create more problems. “You will have a bottleneck that starts immediately north; all you’ve done is create a $2 billion parking lot,” she said.
She said meetings with Metro CEO Washington on the need for finishing the freeway’s widening from eight to 10 lanes — five lanes in each direction — through Commerce to the 710 Freeway juncture were fruitless.
“There’s not an understanding of the significance of this freeway, of goods movement and that it is in a hotbed of disadvantaged communities that need jobs,” she said. Kirrin implied that because Washington is from Colorado, he didn’t understand the needs of these communities.
Under the first traffic improvement plan, Metro listed the northerly segment of the 5 Freeway widening as beginning in 2041. The revised plan released last week shaves five years off the startup date, Tonilas confirmed.
“Again, everything can’t be done in the first 15 years,” she said.
The scheduling of projects is based on the progress of environmental approvals, the expense, when the money becomes available and on equity, she said.
“Some folks are more happy about this plan than they thought they’d be. When we hear there’s a little bit of grumbling, that is equity,” she said.