Streetsblog Talks to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa about His Goals for Metro, Constellation Avenue and “Plan B.”

Villaraigosa speaks at the signing of the L.A. City Bike Plan on March 3, 2011. Photo: LA Streetsblog/Flickr

The weekend before Carmageddon, I had a chance encounter with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa while visiting Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s house as part of an upcoming StreetsFilm that we’re working on.  Villaraigosa was pleasant, and offered to do an interview with Streetsblog sometime soon.  I decided not to bother his staff until after Carmageddon, but on Monday morning his media relations team contacted me to set up an interview with the Mayor to discuss his plans for his year as Metro Board Chair.

Yesterday Carter Rubin and I sat down for a quick phone interview that lasted for ten minutes.  Unfortunately, a police siren obscured one of his answers on the recording but the Mayor still said a lot of interesting things including a rebuttal to one of the central pieces to last week’s L.A. Weekly Article on the Westside Subway, his support for a “green construction” policy for Metro, and that if America Fast Forward doesn’t work out that there is a secret plan to accelerate transit projects anyway.

LASB: Let’s start with something broad.  You’ve just taken over as Metro Board Chair for the third time.  The last time, the signature issue was the passage of Measure R.  Is there any broad plan for the next year?

Villaraigosa: I think we’re in a pivotal time.  We passed Measure R in 2008.  If you remember, we had to go through the legislature to get Measure R on the ballot.  We needed Mike Feuer and Zev just to get it on the ballot.  It took a lot of money to get it passed, with a ⅔ and there was a great deal of opposition.  We worked hard because a lot of the people opposed were the same people opposed to the Long Range Plan which it (Measure R) was going to implement.

So this is a pivotal time.  We passed a long range plan.  We came up with a notion that really helped us get a consensus on the Board that we should really accelerate our public transit from thirty years to ten.  That county-wide consensus has led to 113 mayors getting behind America Fast Forward, which will build on the 166,000 jobs that can be created here if we accelerate and the million jobs that can be created across the country.

We’ve got our work cut out for us.  We’re going to fast track our plans to double our miles of rail, increase our car pool lanes and toll lanes and make L.A. more bike friendly.  By the end of the year we’ll break ground on Expo Phase II, we’ll complete another Measure R project, the Orange Line Extension.

I expect Congress to come back with good news on some of the innovative finance tools and expansion of TIFIA.  John Mica (Republican Chair of the House Committee dealing with transportation funding) and Barbara Boxer (his Democratic Senate counterpart) both have $1 billion for TIFIA in their (reauthorization) bills.

While you and I agree, and I would like to see, a bigger reauthorization but what’s critical is that these innovative financing tools give us and city’s like us that are putting up their own money have a chance to accelerate infrastructure projects.

The main goal is going to be to lock down federal financing like we’ve done with a $546 million dollar loan for Crenshaw.  We also got $636 million dollar loan for the subway.  We’re working to insure that we can deliver our Measure R projects efficiently and effectively.  Of course, we’re looking to put as many people back to work, as many LOCAL people back to work, and help local businesses benefit from that work.

In August we’re going to hopefully approve our green construction policy that we’ve advocated for.  It requires that constrcution contractors use cleaner equipment, including off-road construction equipment.  It will apply to all projects managed and contracted by the MTA,  No other transit agency in the country has adopted a policy like this.  It has a lot of broad support.  Manufacturers  are already retrofitting equipment.  Construction contractors and environmental non-profit organizations have all gotten behind it.
Expo Phase II is $1.5 billion, six miles, seven stations…we expect with Expo done it will generate 60,000 boardings by 2030.  We’ll approve the EIR for the Regional Connector, hopefully this winter…this is a critical project.

Also this winter, either at the end of this year or the beginning of next year, we’ll finish the Westside Subway EIR.  So we have a lot of work!

Not to mention the bike program, which as you know we’ve promised to build four times as much bike routes, paths and lanes as we used to.  We got to make the MTA make bikes a much bigger funding priority.  We’re funding bike programs in the Call for Projects, we’re looking at putting bike racks that allow three bikes on our buses, allowing bikes on rail during peak hours.

We’re working to make our streets places where we all share and enjoy them.

LASB: I had a couple questions on specific quality things that we’d like to move on to if that’s ok with you.

Villaraigosa: Quickly yes, absolutely.

LASB: August 4th, the Metro Board Meeting is scheduled to discuss a community benefits package for the area directly impacted by Crenshaw construction.  Have you had a chance to review the proposal and do you have any thoughts?

Villaraigosa: I haven’t had an opportunity to review it, but I’ve always been supportive of community benefits…

From last May's Council

LASB: Pretty much everyone locally is supportive of America Fast Forward, and it looks like we’re going to see at least part of it in the federal reauthorization bill.  But, if they don’t do that, is there a “plan B” to accelerate some of those projects.

Villaraigosa: There’s ALWAYS a “Plan B.”  If you follow at all, whether it’s education reform, public safety, transportation, the environment…there’s always a “Plan B.”

I’m not going to share it with you right now.  We always have a fall back plan….and we have one here as well.

And remember, we’ve already received some of America Fast Forward with the Crenshaw Line and a $636 million up-front loan for the subway.  We’re already seeing acceleration of some of our projects.

LASB: An L.A. Weekly article last week implied that you have a preferred station between the Santa Monica Boulevard Station and the Constellation Avenue Station.  They claim you prefer the Constellation Avenue Station over the Santa Monica one based on something you said at a meeting.  Do you want to clarify?  Do you have a preferred subway stop for that part of the city?

Villaraigosa: I…I haven’t read that article yet, but I got no fixed opinion on where that station should be.  I am waiting for the EIR and staff reccomendations and will make my decision based on that.

I have to get moving, but I wanted to let you know I appreciate your site and what you’re trying to do.

LASB: Thank you.  It was great to meet you last week at the Councilman’s house and congratulations on Carmageddon.

Villaraigosa: Thank you.  You helped get the word out and the people of this town cooperated and because of that it was a great success.