Metro Leaders Talk Freight, Funding at Boxer Hearing on Federal Policy

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Barbara Boxer and John Kerry's Ear Rally Against Greenhouse Gas

Yesterday, Senator Barbara Boxer, Chair of the Committee charged with reauthorizing the federal transportation funding bill, held a hearing at the Metro Board Room to ask local transportation leaders how they would like to see the federal government change the way it funds projects.  It's always interesting to see what political leaders say when the activists that lobby them aren't in attendance, although there was a smattering of yellow BRU shirts in the front row, as opposed to what they say when the room is packed with people supporting a certain mode or region.

In short, they say plenty of things about freight movement, federal new starts projects, and transit projects.  At no point do they mention bicycles, pedestrians, walking or alternative transportation.  Before anyone asks, yes, the federal government does fund bicycle and pedestrian projects.

Of particular note to Angelenos would be the testimony of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, SCAG executive director Hasan Ikhrata, and Metro CEO Roger Snoble.

Arriving almost an hour late to the hearing, Villaraigosa opened his statement by jumping off script and praising the Bus Rider's Union for all of their work to make Metro an award winning agency.  Without their lawsuit that led to a consent decree that limited Metro's programming freedom, Villaraigosa argued that LA County wouldn't have the best bus system in America.

From there the Mayor made an impassioned plea for more funding for the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.  He argued that 44% of the nation's cargo moves throgh these ports and the federal government has intentionally underfunded these projects to fund other road projects in rural and suburban areas.  While I agree with Villaraigosa's main point that the federal government underfunds urban transportation projects, it was strange to hear him arguing for increased urban funding based on the nearly the same arguments that he rejected during the debates at the Metro Board of Directors over Measure R last month.

Villaraigosa was echoing the testimony of SCAG's Ikharta who also focused on funding better portways.  Instead of arguing for greater equity in funding, he focused on the devastating impact the air pollution caused by too many trucks has on the community and the ineffectiveness of local efforts to curb pollution.  Ikharta called for the creation of a federal Freight Trust Fund modeled after the Federal Highway Trust Fund.  This new pot of money should come from new fees on freight distributers that they can then pass on to whoever is selling the final product.

Metro CEO Roger Snoble also testified at the hearing, but he focused on the problems accessing federal dollars by local agencies.  For example, funds from Metro's New Starts program often add two years to the time it makes to contruct a project.  Snoble also complained about the low level of federal funding.  The entire New Starts program has one third of the funds that China's national governement is going to spend on a new rail project.

Snoble outlined three different reforms he would like to see in the next federal funding bill.  In addition to more money for New Starts and expediting the funding process, Snoble also wants the federal formula to link land use and transportation.  Such a change would steer more funds towards areas with denser developments, i.e. cities.

The local press wrote about the hearing in today's press.  If you're interested, here are some stories from the Press-Telegram, Ventura County Star and Traffic World.

Photo: National Wildlife Federation