30/10 Survives the Metro Board of Directors

4_6_10_transport.jpgThe Measure R map. For a full sized version, check out The Transport Politic

Today, the Metro Board of Directors voted to endorse the 30/10 proposal, but for a long-time it didn’t look good.  All of the signs were there for a disaster…a highway sellout of "30/10," the proposal to use federal loans to front-load construction of twelve transit projects funded in Measure R.

The forces of the status quo, AAA, a pair of CoG’s and various chambers of commerce, were speaking of the needs of including highway projects in Measure R.  Heck, even some transit advocates were willing to compromise some highway projects on the list in the name of the "greater good."  Meanwhile, the Metro Board wasn’t talking about pushing the best list of projects it could to get federal funds flowing quickly to L.A.  And while the Mayor was trying to frame 30/10 debate in environmental terms on twitter, the idea that highways cause pollution was completely absent from the debate put forth by our elected leadership.

Sure, there were plenty of pro-30/10 comments, most notably from other transit advocates and the environmental movement.  NRDC and the Clean Air Coalition published a pair of blog posts and letter to the Metro Board arguing that wasting time and focus on highways undermines the spirit of Measure R.  Even the Bus Rider’s Union spoke up against the amendments, noting that it was "unfortunate the Board was aligning with highways to build more trains."

A pair of pro-highway amendments were added to the proposal to formally endorse "30 in 10."  One by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas required Metro to also be pushing funds for "public-private partnership" projects in Washington, D.C.  Another, by Supervisors Diane DuBois and Pam O’Connor, just flatly requires that highway project acceleration be made equally important to transit project acceleration in Washington, D.C.

Finally, Director Richard Katz, holding one of the Board positions appointed by Mayor Villaraigosa and the author of the resolution calling on Metro to back 30/10 spoke.  After accepting these amendments as "friendly," he took the turn to speak about the proposal.  First, he made clear that he considered these motions to be in addition to 30/10 not part of it.  In other words, the project list being touted by the Mayor and other 30/10 supporters would remain in-tact, and not be polluted by those favored by the highway lobby.  Second, he noted that if they were to be added to 30/10 list, it would make everything much more difficult and could delay the whole thing.

You see, transit projects are funded differently than highway projects in D.C., and Katz pointed out that, "the support in Washington is clearly on transit projects."  If they change horses and add a new list, they could find themselves back at square one.

Despite the concerns by some that the highway projects would get left by the wayside, the Metro Board ultimately voted unanimously, minus the absent Don Knabe, to accept the proposal as amended.  It will be interesting to see how much energy is put into advancing the highway project timeline and how much of today’s debate was just verbiage.

There were two interesting comments from the debate that deserve a little extra attention.

First, the lobbyist for the Automobile Club of Southern California, aka AAA, actually tried to couch the inclusion of highway projects in environmental terms.  Basically, they argue that L.A. County deserves a multi-modal 30/10 not just one focused on "transit."  Of course, a plan that involves light rail, heavy rail, bus and bus rapid transit is multi-modal, but I guess when you’re the car-culture lobbyist, there are two modes: "cars" and "all that other stuff."

The second is that one of the best arguments against cluttering 30/10 with highway projects came from one of the Board Members who authored the motion to make certain they were accelerated also: Santa Monica Council Woman Pam O’Connor.  O’Connor noted that "We’re not building eight projects. We’re building a system."  Why one would want to take projects off the list that would create the system and replace them with highway projects, which is what many people including myself, AAA, and all the pro-highway forces thought her amendment would do, is beyond me.  To hazard a guess: the personally car-free O’Connor was at war with the politician who wants to do what her constituency felt they needed in the South Bay.

But at the end of the day, the Board voted with one voice.  Boar Chair Ara Najarian boasted that when the Board is unified, "when we’re going to Washington, they’re scared of us." Whether they’re scared enough to help L.A. County build the transit system it deserves remains to be seen.

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