Wed, Aug

MetroRail: The Potential and the Heartbreak of Our Recession

MOVING LA - As transportation (and other) budgets get slashed at the local, state and federal levels, it’s pretty obvious where the negatives lie in our current economic doldrums.  On the other hand, while it’s not so obvious, there are potential silver linings in this huge cloud that can be exploited if we have the foresight and political will to do so.

Whether it’s high-speed rail, MetroRail, Metrolink, local bus service or anything else in the transportation world, it’s a bumpy financial ride we’ve got to look forward to.  It’s nice to know that gas prices aren’t exploding as once they were, but they’re still pretty high…and as the electric/hybrid car subsidies and incentives disappear, it appears that all motorists will share in the financial pain as well.

Plans will get scaled back, delayed or cut altogether, and the debate will inevitably rage as to who’s to blame and what will be the price to pay for not proceeding with our nation’s transportation/infrastructure.

Do we blame the eeeeevil Republicans for cutting back on necessary transportation/infrastructure budgetary priority, or do we blame the stuuuuupid Democrats for not coming up with an overdue long-term 5-7 transportation budget (TEA-21, for you policy wonks) when they dominated both houses of Congress?

Do we castigate the GOP for failing to do its share in job creation, or do we castigate the Democrats for failing to spend public money well and fail in its own efforts for job creation?  And which job creation are we talking about—job creation in the public sector, or job creation in the private sector?

Are we spending our stimulus dollars well, or are we spending enough on stimulus dollars?  Is the majority of our transportation money going into projects that the transportation engineers and urban planners want?  Or is it just another Solyndra-like porkfest?

But there is something to be said when we’re forced to stay within the Measure R-allotted budgets for each transportation project, because it prevents one project from cannibalizing the others.

There is also something to be said when abusive developers, and the elected who enable them, go broke when their bank accounts and venture capital sources dry up.  For example, the Casden and Bundy Village projects are now out of money and pretty much dead or dying (there are others aplenty in both Los Angeles and Santa Monica who are suffering a similar fate).

We now have the opportunity to either the City or County of Los Angeles purchase that vital land parcel next to the Exposition/Sepulveda station (also next to Pico Blvd. and the 405 Freeway) and either unilaterally or with a public/private partnership create a long-overdue Westside Regional Transportation Center to accommodate the transportation needs of car, rail and bus commuters, as well as the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists.

Ditto to the land adjacent to the Olympic/Bundy station.  We can actually create development that is both transit-oriented as well as within the scope and size to fit into a neighborhood, not destroy or transform it for the worse.

So the fear of overdevelopment as a reason to equally fear mass transit appears to be on the wane, albeit not gone altogether.  The ability to be proactive, and not reactive, with respect to urban planning and transportation planning, is again within our grasp after several decades of runaway spending and building (but not thinking).

It remains to be seen, however, whether our budgetary and construction decisions will be political or technical in nature and whether we spend the Measure R money well (so far we’re off to a fairly good start, but we’ve just started this process).

It also remains to be seen whether there will be other budgetary priorities that are held to higher standards in order to redirect taxpayer dollars into transportation.

The potential of re-creating a Los Angeles for a vibrant 21st Century does exist, just as it did when we built our Interstate Highway System in the City and County of Los Angeles.  Believe it or not, tourism and international trade has had 1-2 fairly good years, and the promise of widened freeways, the Expo Line and the Crenshaw Line bodes well for our future.

But the opportunity to build (not just spend, but build) a lot of freeway and road and rail projects throughout the state and nation appears to have faded into a new vision of short-sighted budget-cutting at any long-term cost.  And that’s a gigantic heartbreak.

Yet the questions of how we got to spending so much on priorities other than roads and transportation and infrastructure are now being asked, so the potential of fixing our longstanding dysfunctional ways of doing business can possibly be realized going into our future.

And if anyone ever despairs over the opportunities lost as our economy and political discourse change to a more defensive and less adventurous mode, let them focus on the heartbreaks as a way to find the political will to finally change what should have been changed (relating to planning, construction and operations of transportation systems) decades ago.

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Vice Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  [email protected] . The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) –cw

Tags: Metro, high-speed rail, MetroRail, Metrolink, GOP, Democrats, Republicans, Westside, Measure R, Los Angeles, City, County

Vol 9 Issue 76
Pub: Sept 23, 2011