Metro Board Passes Long Range Transportation Plan

10_22_09_gold_lineA good day for the Gold Line Foothill Extension who's future Monrovia Station is depicted in this image from the Bottleneck Blog.

(editor's note: For more of a blow-by-blow from today's meeting visit the twitter feeds for LA Streetsblog, Soap Box and I Will Ride)

When the process to get from public meetings to a final vote takes over a year and a half, you can't expect the final vote to come without a fight and without some theatrics.  With people in costume actually outshining uber-gadfly John Walsh, Board-Member-for-a-Day Tom LaBonge pinch hitting for his colleague on the City Council Jose Huizar and perhaps strangest of all a short, supportive completely non-snarky comment by Stephen Box the meeting took over five hours but ended with a result most were happy with: a finalized Long Range Transportation Plan.

But the stars of today's hearing were not the people in the audience and those testifying, but a pair of County Supervisors from opposite ends of the County: Gloria Molina and Mark Ridley-Thomas.  Each found an effective way to advocate for their favored local project.  Per their styles, Molina used a "woe-is-me" strategy combined with a level of histrionics while Ridley-Thomas refused to back off his amendment to the plan which, while hardly earth shattering, could lead to accelerated time-lines for two of Metro's more controversial projects.

The key provision of the Ridley-Thomas ammendment mostly are aimed at protecting funding for buses, require staff to aggressively pursue federal funds for the Gold Line Foothill Extension and Crenshaw Corridor Project, require Metro to provide operations dollars for the Foothill Extension whenever it is completed and required quarterly updates on three highway widenings.  The aptly named The Source has the original wording of the amendment or you can find it on the Metro Board Agenda if you feel the urge to scroll through it.  However, you need to go to the Supervisor's website to get the final wording of the amendment that passed.

So what does this mean?  It means that the highway and rail projects that were approved in Measure R are now officially part of Metro's plans for the future.  A time-line was adopted, that you can read here, but as Metro earns federal funds and projects complete their environmental phases those time-lines can be amended.   You can find a quick outline of those time-lines here.  Also passed today were rules protecting the 20% of Measure R dedicated to buses and a $324 million projected budget for bicycle and pedestrian projects over the next 30 years.  And, as the Bus Riders Union tried just about every way imaginable to warn us, it means future fare hikes.

Now that the plan is approved, Metro can officially lobby the state and federal governments for the money to build the highway and transit projects within the plan.  If the plan had not been passed, supporters argued that it would be a disaster for Metro and Los Angeles County.  That bold declaration makes me wonder why they didn't pass it any other time in the past twenty months since they held public hearings.

On its twitter feed, I Will Ride announced that the Gold Line Foothill Extension and Crenshaw Corridor were placed as a priority ahead of the Westside Subway for "New Starts" funding, but given the unanimous passage of the LRTP and the Mayor's fixation on the Subway to the Sea, I'll believe that those projects get dollars ahead of the Subway when I see it.  (editor's note: In the comments section Dan Wentzel explains that Crenshaw and Foothill were moved ahead of only Phases IV and V of the Subway to the Sea.  The Subway extension from Wilshire-Western to Westwood remain ahead of Foothill and Crenshaw.)

As for Molina's part, she took the floor for the better part of a half hour with other local stakeholders concerned with the safety for the Eastside Extension, due to open in November.  In an angry rant in which she accused the Metro staff of favrotism and outright lieing to her, Molina channeled both Damien Goodmon and the Bus Rider's Union as she went on the warpath against just about everyone on the dais except Metro CEO Art Leahy who she felt was trying to help make the line safe as best he could.  The strangest part of her rant was where she said she would be at the opening, assuring her constituents the line was safe, even though she wasn't sure that it would be.

While I give Molina a hard time, her criticisms sound similar to those voiced by former Board Member and City Council Transportation Committee Member Richard Alarcon, who has also been vocal that he doesn't trust Metro staff.  That makes two prominent Latino officials who have intimate knowledge of the Board expressing district and concerns.  I can't help but wonder if maybe Metro has a Latino problem.