Will the Metro Board Overload “30 in 10″ with Highway Projects

Screen_shot_2010_04_19_at_9.55.40_PM.pngPhoto of last week's Meaure R rally via the Mayor's website.  Highways weren't mentioned.

This Thursday, the Metro Board of Directors will debate and vote-on whether or not to formally support Mayor Villaraigosa's "30 in 10" program that would use federal loans to move the twelve largest transit projects contained in the 30 year Measure R sale tax program in the next decade.  "30 in 10" has proven wildly popular with transit riders and is being touted as a national model for transit agencies, yet all of the advance debate on the program from the Board can be summarized as "how can we make sure to build more wasteful and expensive highway projects quicker?" You can read the full agenda for this Thursday's meeting, here.

The Source reported last week that the Finance Committee of the Metro Board approved a motion from the personally car-free Santa Monica Council Woman Pam O'Conner and Lakewood Council Woman Diane Dubois requesting that highway projects be added to the project mix.  Following their lead, the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments started waving their arms demanding "30 in 10" money for the I-710 Tunnel Project, an option to "improve" the I-710 which isn't even the locally preferred alternative and faces fierce opposition from some local municipalities and every environmentalist in Southern California.

Meanwhile, in the Santa Clarita Signal, Supervisor Mike Antonovich makes the case that "30 in 10" doesn't work for all of L.A. County mainly because of the lack of highway projects in the transit plan.  In addition to repeating the tired arguments against Measure R, which were roundly rejected by voters in the Santa Clarita area, Antonovich makes an economics pitch for accelerated highway construction:

The county Economic Development Corp. last week released a report stating that 67 percent of the jobs, economic output and earnings generated by Measure R come from highway projects, with the remaining 33 percent from transit projects. Without incorporating highway projects, the 30/10 plan will leave behind 341,500 jobs, $46.3 billion in economic output and $15.1 billion in earnings. We cannot afford to leave the benefits of highways out of 30/10.

While it may be true that the EDC did predict more jobs to be created from the freeway projects than the transit ones; it failed to analyze all of the money that will be wasted when the highways lead to more pollution, worse air quality, higher asthma rates, and all of the other curses that have rained down on L.A. County because of our car addiction.

Via email, Alexander Friedman, a Streetsblog contributor and member of transit groups, writes

For too many years Southern California has favored the automobiles over everything else, which is pathetic. As a result, the autos ultimately destroyed Mass Transit, took away Pedestrian space and landscaping, and didn't focus much on Bicycle conditions... So, it is now time to catch up, and create a vast network of Public Transportation, thanks to Measure R, along with 30/10 plan.

At least one County Supervisor is backing the mayor  In the Los Angeles Business Journal, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas writes that it's time to re-assemble to coalition that passed Measure R.  While I appreciate his sentiment, most of that coalition is already re-assembled.

While Thursday is going to be a real test for the Metro Board, it's a real testament to the power of Southern California's car culture that this is even an issue.  Consider the rallies and coalitions that were needed to get Measure R passed.  After that, transit advocates at Move L.A. had to devise the "30 in 10" plan themselves, before Villaraigosa emerged as a champion.  Then, rallies were held by the advocates, and eventually the mayor did too.  And yet, before the Board of Directors for the local transit agency can get on board, we first have to have a debate about how much of those front loaded funds are spent on highways, and perhaps which projects have to be sacrificed to satiate our elected leaders car addiction.