By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
When USC professor and transportation expert James Moore heard the findings several days ago that the $9 billion Subway to the Sea won't relieve congestion on the Westside, as vowed by Antonio Villaraigosa, Moore was among a number of transportation insiders who wasn't stunned.
"I didn't need an Environmental Impact Report to know that," says Moore, iconoclastic director of transportation engineering at USC, referring to an environmental study by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Moore says the truth about how Metro plans to use up to $9 billion in sales taxes being paid by 8 million consumers in Los Angeles County is: "We're not building [a subway] to ease congestion. We're doing it for political reasons."
The draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is making waves in political, fiscal and transportation circles here and in Washington, D.C.
The study directly contradicts Metro board members, Villaraigosa, former Santa Monica Mayor Denny Zane and others who promised that the crammed corridor between the region's key job centers — downtown L.A. and Santa Monica — would see congestion relief by extending the Purple Line to Westwood.
Opponents called the subway a foolish waste, saying Villaraigosa, Zane and others were peddling a giant public works project to please unions and special interests, and that the $9 billion — reaped from a half-cent county sales-tax hike approved by voters in 2008 — should go to county road-capacity projects put off for decades, extensive bus lines to bring the region into the 21st century, and scores of less glitzy projects.
The EIR makes plain that Villaraigosa's Subway to the Sea — praised by no less than President Barack Obama — will deliver none of his promised congestion relief.
Now, cities whose residents are paying taxes into the L.A. subway's cost — but are getting little or none of their money back for their own aging roads, new buses or better transit — are asking how Villaraigosa can justify a subway that's more PR icon than traffic relief project.
Carson Mayor Jim Dear wants a complete rethinking, saying, "The plans should be revamped so some of that $9 billion goes to other traffic projects that will show a true benefit."
Marsha McLean, mayor pro tem of Santa Clarita, supports mass transit but says her feeling now about the Westside subway is, "If you're going to have a pot of money, you need to hand it out to all areas who need it — not just one." Tony Bell, spokesman for Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, calls it a "collosal construction project that does nothing" for those paying the taxes.
Metro's Sept. 3 EIR found that in 2035, the subway extension from Western Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard to Westwood/UCLA will create a virtually unnoticeable, less-than 1 percent reduction in cars, as measured in "vehicle miles traveled" and that crammed freeways and arteries — the San Diego Freeway, Santa Monica Freeway, Wilshire Boulevard and others — will remain badly congested as more people move in. "Study Area vehicle miles traveled would be reduced by 0.57% compared to No Build," the EIR tersely states.
The embarrassing data left top backers grasping to explain how Metro's board and L.A. leaders got so far into a $9 billion project without solid facts.
At a surreal meeting Monday night, 200 mostly Wilshire-area residents crammed together to discuss the possible route where the subway tunnel will be laid, but Metro officials failed to correct residents' widespread misimpression that the subway would dramatically cut congestion.
The troubling EIR findings, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, haven't filtered out to average Angelenos — and Metro's David Mieger, a project manager, did nothing to set things straight. "We're choked. We're choked with gridlock," said Ron Fields, a writer who indicated he believes the subway is the answer. Steve Twining, an elderly Westsider, said his neighborhood is "drowning in traffic," adding, "We badly need the subway."
Zane, who, with top labor leaders dreamed up the half-cent tax in part to create a source of union jobs and power, tells the Weekly: "Environmental Impact Reports generally understate the positivity of a project."
John Walsh, a Metro watchdog and Hollywood activist since the 1980s, says both of these civic leaders are "full of shit."
"It's the opposite," he says of Zane's criticism of the EIR as underselling the future subway ridership. "The MTA writes the EIR. They always oversell it," typically boasting too-high ridership numbers, Walsh notes.
In fact, environmentalists in Southern California regularly file lawsuits because Metro and other agencies routinely use EIRs to understate a project's negative impacts — not its positive ones, as Zane now claims.
Marcia Hanscom, a leading L.A. wetlands environmentalist, sees Zane's pooh-poohing of the EIR as "puzzling." She says that while she embraces the desire for better transit, her bigger worry is uncontrolled growth — specifically, the poorly conceived Westside subway.
"Why would people want to put such a massively expensive construction project underground in earthquake country, while methane underground still exists on the Westside?" Hanscom asks. "The only thing that changed is the politics — not the geological facts."