By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Measure R, the tax hike approved by county voters in 2008, will over the next few decades generate $40 billion for roadway modernization, extending light rail to LAX and into some foothill areas, and increasing capacity on the I-5 and 405 freeways.
Elected officials in cities including Pomona, Glendora and Carson, and county supervisors Antonovich and Gloria Molina, were incensed when Metro's board — controlled by Villaraigosa and his allies — chose to hog a big chunk of the $40 billion for their short, Cadillac-priced subway line. Though touted as costing $4 billion in 2008 dollars to extend the Purple Line to Westwood, the subway's pricetag is expected to hit $9 billion due to Metro cost overruns.
"We wanted our sales taxes to contribute to a project in our area," recalls Glendora Mayor Pro Tem Douglas Tessitor, explaining why his city, South Pasadena, Monrovia and West Covina all opposed Measure R in 2008.
Villaraigosa promised county voters that the subway would benefit the whole county, easing horrific Westside and L.A. congestion that hundreds of thousands of non-Angelenos pass through.
Now Zane is backpedaling, saying, "My expectation has always been that not just one program will ease traffic." He theorizes that smaller Measure R projects, particularly extended rail lines, when combined with the subway, will effectively reduce L.A. congestion.
The problem with Zane's vision — though popular among L.A.'s "smart growth" transit enthusiasts — is that new rail projects don't appear to make traffic any better in other U.S. cities. But they do soak up precious transportation money.
Wendell Cox, a transportation expert and subway critic who has studied rail systems globally, says, "There's no evidence anywhere in the world that shows rail projects relieve congestion."
He calls Zane's theory — that a mix of rail projects, along with the Westside subway, will have a noticeable impact on L.A. traffic — "absolutely ludicrous."
Moore and Cox say people overwhelmingly prefer to drive unless they live and work in an unusually dense metropolitan job center — and in the U.S., Manhattan is one of the very rare examples of that.
Instead of rail, "Road capacity is always a good buy," Moore says — a claim that infuriates rail advocates who want to get Angelenos out of their cars.
Metro has poured billions into light rail and subways, letting road systems badly age. And still, only 2 percent of residents in the greater Los Angeles urban area, stretching from Orange County to Pomona to the Valley, use public transit. Cox estimates that getting a single motorist out of a car and onto the Westwood subway will cost $7,500 to $15,000.
Still, voicing support for rail is shrewd politics today.
Elected officials use the Subway to the Sea to promise construction jobs to L.A.'s politically influential labor unions and, increasingly, to promise "green" development and sustainable living to vocal transit-advocacy groups.
Says Moore, "It's sheer pandering."
But Bart Reed, executive director of The Transit Coalition, says younger people will change their behavior if the Purple Line extension is built, promising "a whole new generaton of Angelenos who can ... get out of their cars."
Today, Glendora Mayor Pro Tem Tessitor and Monrovia Mayor Lutz no longer oppose the half-cent sales-tax hike.
Again, shrewd politics is at play.
In late 2009, Metro's board promised to tap the sales tax to extend the Gold Line light rail to far-flung Monrovia and Glendora.
"Once we got our fair share of the pie," says Tessitor, "we figured we needed to build a [rail] system that's countywide."
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