Boxer, Villaraigosa, Talk to Mobility 21 About Local Infrastructure Crisis

On Friday, transportation professionals, elected officials, and businesses gathered in Anaheim for the Mobility 21 Summit to discuss strategies to improve transportation and mobility in Southern California.

One of the main themes of the event was the region’s failing transportation infrastructure, and fittingly, it took place on the eve of Carmageddon. The full weekend closure of the 1-405 through the Sepulveda Pass was part of an over-billion-dollar transportation infrastructure project that seeks to add a 10-mile high-occupancy vehicle lane to the freeway and improve supporting infrastructure like ramps, bridges, and sound walls.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said through all of its transportation infrastructure improvements, L.A. is working on creating what he calls a “Carmaheaven.”

“People are tired of being stuck in traffic and want to get out of their cars,” he said, having arrived late to the conference due to traffic on the 1-5 South. “We’re going to work on getting that fixed too.”

Until Carmaheaven arrives, California Senator Barbara Boxer, recipient of the Mobility 21 “Transportation Vanguard Award,” quoted American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) transportation infrastructure “report card” for the country.

“It gives bridges a “C,” roads a “D-” and transit a “D,” she reported. “If our kids came home with these grades. We wouldn’t be very happy.”

Villaraigosa, recipient of the Transportation Visionary Award, quoted another ASCE number—that there is a $2.2 trillion transportation infrastructure need over 5 years in the U.S. for roads, bridges, transit, and other transportation needs.

This, in the face of the Highway Trust Fund slowly becoming insolvent, city transportation agencies that lack funds to do the work themselves. The Surface Transportation Act required nine extensions before Congress agreed on a new version, “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century,” this summer. “MAP 21” officially went into effect on Monday.

One reason Villaraigosa won the Transportation Visionary Award was because of his work getting Measure R—the half-cent sales tax measure supporting transportation projects—passed in 2008. After that, he helped launch the 30/10 Initiative in L.A. and the nation-wide “America Fast Forward” campaign, which secures the funding for completing transportation projects in a shorter timeframe. This year, Measure J is on the ballot in L.A., which would extend the half-cent sales tax another 30 years until 2069. According to the mayor, it will enable “a doubling of L.A.’s transportation infrastructure over the next 10 years.”

Another transportation infrastructure funding mechanism discussed at the conference was the public-private partnership, where a private company contributes funding to a public transportation infrastructure project for mutual benefit.One keynote speaker, Lowes Hotels Chairman John Tisch, proposed that hotels contribute to local transportation because of the role transportation plays in supporting the industry.

“The future of the travel industry depends on transportation infrastructure,” Tisch said. Travel is already difficult—people won’t want to travel anymore if transportation becomes more of a nightmare than it already is.

Aside from funding, speakers also talked about transportation infrastructure projects currently in plans or in the works. These include a keynote presentation about the future of California high-speed rail by board member Tom Umberg. More locally, a representative from Downtown L.A. Streetcar talked about how the organization has been drumming up support among downtown businesses. Bike Nation was also on hand with a replica of its bike-share kiosk and bikes that will eventually appear on street corners in Long Beach and several L.A. neighborhoods.

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