Villaraigosa Lofts a Hail Mary at Transit Projects

Villaraigosa Lofts a Hail Mary at Transit Projects

Perhaps to remind us that he can attract media attention simply by suggesting pie-in-the-sky ideas, Mayor Villaraigosa yesterday and today made headlines by declaring that he will do in 10 years what everyone says will take 30. That is, he vowed to fast-track several rail projects throughout L.A. County, including his grand Westside subway extension plan, so that they can be completed within the next decade -- even though he has no concrete plans for how to raise the necessary $10 billion.

"I recognize that it's a daunting task, but I love the challenge and I'm up for it," Villaraigosa told the L.A. Times, whose online article yesterday called the mayor's plan "bullish."

Bullish? Move the "i" over and add a "t" at the end, and you'll get a more accurate description of Villaraigosa's proposal.

When will the mayor's boyish delight at announcing big ideas without substantive backing lose its charm?

If anyone's wondering whether Villaraigosa can actually pull off this feat of transit construction, consider the daunting details... 

First, there's the money. Where will it come from? Villaraigosa raised the possibility of a public-private partnership to build transit six months ago and called for the MTA to investigate its options. We haven't heard anything since.

More than likely, fast-tracking the L.A. transit projects in the pipeline -- which include a rail line along Crenshaw Boulevard and a rail extension to LAX -- would require major financial help from the White House. Which Villaraigosa says is part of his plan.

But with everyone asking Uncle Obama for money to build things, it's hard to imagine a lofty idea like this one passing muster.

Second, why is Villaraigosa suddenly changing his tune on his transit priorities? Just a few days ago, he successfully lobbied the MTA to seek federal funding for only two projects -- the Westside subway, which has become a sort of personal mission for the mayor, and a light rail downtown. He did this despite an outcry from Congress members who said that excluding other transit projects would severely hurt Los Angeles' chances at getting federal funds.

Now, Villaraigosa is hoping for -- you got it -- federal funds to streamline the very same projects he excluded from L.A.'s bid. Shouldn't he have solidified his fast-track plan last week when the MTA was deciding what projects it would seek federal help to fund?

If Villaraigosa can find the money to build all these rail lines by 2020, it'll be a great day in L.A. And the mayor will have plenty of fun with big scissors. But right now, it's hard to imagine further funding will come from anywhere other than taxpayers' pockets.


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