Eastside son Antonio Villaraigosa beamed Saturday as he helped to dedicate the Metro Gold Line extension train that runs from downtown to East Los Angeles. Free rides are being offered Sunday to celebrate the opening and to lure the bus-riding masses. And while a vast majority of county transit users are bus riders, the mayor couldn't pass up a chance to plug his vanity project -- a "subway to the sea" -- in coded language.
" ... This is not the end of the ride," he stated. "Thanks to the passage of Measure R, there will be local funding for half a dozen new rail projects in the next decade, which will give Angelenos even greater transit access to jobs and other opportunities throughout the county."
Of course, Mayor V.'s favorite new rail project is a line that would extend from the end-of-the-line subway station at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue to Westwood and eventually Santa Monica. Villaraigosa is pushing for the 30-year project to be fast-tracked to a 10-year timetable. And some say he's favored it at the expense of more-pressing public-transportation needs, particularly bus service.
The Measure R Villaraigosa was referring to was the 2008 law passed by county voters that increases sales tax by a half-cent and will pour $40 billion dollars into MTA coffers in the decades to come. Of course, it's just pocket change when it comes to the mayor's vision of bringing light rail to the Westside. Despite promises that the measure would be a panacea for transit needs and traffic congestion, hundreds of billions of dollars, much of it from the federal government, would be needed to complete Mayor V.'s vision of a rail-gilded region.
The mayor's goal of tunneling below the Westside, including a leg through the methane- and tar-plagued Miracle Mile, and then completing his subway to the sea in 10 years would be nearly unprecedented.
As U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard noted at Saturday's dedication, her father, longtime Congressman Edward R. Roybal, had hoped for decades to cut the ribbon on an Eastside line but never lived to see the day. (The leg was officially dedicated in the late congressman's name as the Edward R. Roybal Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension).
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Aside from the physical construction, the loopholes, bureaucracy and political maneuvering required to get a multi-billion-dollar project off the ground is daunting.
"As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 30 years, he was a staunch supporter of efforts to bring rail to the Eastside and he worked long and hard towards that end," Roybal-Allard said, referring to her father. "It has been my pleasure to continue that fight and today his dream of affordable, clean and efficient transportation is becoming a reality."
It's interesting how the Gold Line Eastside Extension is couched as a battle won for the transit-dependent Eastside -- a tale of government-done-good for hard-working taxpayers. "This caps a 20-year battle to bring rail back to East L.A. -- one of the most transit dependent communities in Los Angeles," said Villaraigosa.
The "subway to the sea," on the other hand, has seen little battle. While Westside Rep. Henry Waxman once opposed the proposed line, he's gotten out of the way, and now there's nothing to stop the Eastside native Villaraigosa's dream of light rail for the transit-needy shoppers of Rodeo Drive.