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RTD 'Intentionally Misled' Council on Metro Rail Costs--Yaroslavsky

February 21, 1987|RICH CONNELL | Times Staff Writer

City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky charged Friday that the RTD has "intentionally misled" city officials on the costs of the Los Angeles Metro Rail project, which could increase by $1 billion according to some new estimates.

The Westside councilman, a Metro Rail supporter whose district could include sections of the commuter line, told reporters that the Southern California Rapid Transit District may have committed a "breach of contract" with the City Council by not providing more timely and accurate updates on the likely total cost of the project. The city is a funding partner in the project.

RTD officials denied the charge, saying uncertainties about funding and routing in recent years made it impossible to make accurate adjustments in cost estimates. And City Council President Pat Russell, a leading Metro Rail advocate, said she was not surprised by the new higher estimates. "I feel as though I have been informed," she said.

The debate over how forthcoming the RTD has been on Metro Rail cost estimates follows the release of new figures showing that the final cost of a completed system--linking downtown, the Westside and the Valley--could be $3.7 billion to $4.5 billion. The RTD's last estimate for the entire project, made in 1983, was $3.3 billion, and the transit district has indicated that local funding agencies may have to make up the difference in funds.

Yaroslavsky, chairman of the council's Finance and Revenue Committee, said he will ask City Council next week to order a complete review by its analysts of the RTD's history of estimates on Metro Rail. He also wants projections of how much local tax money may be required to build the system.

He was sharply critical of RTD officials, saying "they never suggested" publicly that the $3.3 billion estimate was off the mark. "The issue is truth in advertising. . . . They keep telling us everything will be fine," he said. "I'm not going to be part of a decision-making process that misleads or misrepresents."

Rerouting Killed Estimate

RTD officials now acknowledge that the $3.3-billion cost estimate for the total project has been off since at least 1985. Planner Gary Spivak said it was clear then that the RTD's federal funding projections were not being met and that the project could not be completed by 1991. The estimate was entirely "dead," he said, when Congress ordered the subway rerouted to avoid methane gas areas in the Fairfax district.

Spivak insisted that the RTD had only recently narrowed the possible new routes enough to justify a new set of estimates.

But one reason the greater efforts to provide updated estimates were not made, several officials said, was that Metro Rail supporters did not want to weaken their case in Washington as they argued for federal funds.

"When you are fighting for federal funds, you talk to everyone about the original package," Deputy Mayor Tom Houston said. "You hold to that. . . . There's less confusion."

Rick Richmond, executive director of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, said he suggested to the RTD long ago that it should update Metro Rail cost estimates, after his staff's analysis showed that they were based on unrealistic assumptions of federal funding and construction time. But he said the commission, while a major funding partner, was not the sponsor of the project and "I don't know it was our job" to demand that the estimates be changed.

Yaroslavsky said the RTD at a minimum should have provided an updated range of cost estimates for the entire project when funding agreements were negotiated earlier this year for the first segment. "I don't think we should be playing a cat-and-mouse game," he said.

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