The heart of Los Angeles is a square bounded by freeways–the 101 to the North, the 110 to the East, the 10 to the South, and the 405 to the West. I live right in the middle of that square. And I envision a day where I can get to Sacramento, San Francisco, or San Diego not by driving 20 minutes to the appropriate freeway and then several more hours on that freeway, but rather by stepping outside my front door, walking to the nearest subway station, and taking it to Union Station where I connect with the HSR line right downtown to my destination.
And while the high-speed rail authority is trying to make sure that the long half of the project gets completed while I’m still alive, the City of Los Angeles has been waiting for someone to show that type of initiative. In November 2008, voters in Los Angeles County overwhelmingly passed Measure R, an additional half-cent sales tax levy to fund a wide variety of transportation projects, but especially a subway to the sea that will serve the Wilshire Corridor commuter lane for all those that live in the East and work in the West.
So what’s the problem? It’s supposed to take 30 years. According to the current schedule, I’ll be approaching my 60s by the time I would finally get a chance to hop on a subway here in midtown. Who knows–maybe they’ll have invented personal teleportation technology by then.
Fortunately, Mayor Villaraigosa doesn’t think that’s acceptable:
The mayor today will unveil an ambitious but politically risky transportation plan that fast-tracks several high-profile rail projects to be completed within the next decade. That’s a big speed-up, because officials have generally been talking about completing them within 30 years.
Villaraigosa has made building more rail a priority of his administration, though he’s the first to admit it’s going to take more than speeches and good intentions to get it done.
“Yes, this is a stretch goal. Yes, this is going to be tough, but I think by now folks shouldn’t count me out,” Villaraigosa said in an interview. “The fact is that this is the most important thing that we can do to alleviate congestion and gridlock, to improve the quality of our air and to really vindicate the people’s will for the need to address transportation.”
Accelerating light rail projects in the City would be one of the best things we could do. It would create jobs more quickly, it would alleviate traffic, and it would mitigate air pollution. The problem? We would need about $10 billion. But I’ll tell you this much: if there’s a second round of stimulus coming, I can’t think of better ways to spend it than development of light rail in Los Angeles. The timing is also good because construction costs are lower in bad economic times–if we wait until the economy improves, construction will become concomitantly more expensive.
Of course, I may be just a little biased.