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The Broom Must Sweep Clean : Subway official fired; now his agency should go

October 13, 1994

The decision to fire Edward McSpedon as the head of the corporation that is building Los Angeles' subway and trolley system was not easy for either the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority or its chief executive, Franklin E. White. But it was a necessary first step toward restoring federal funding--and public credibility--to the troubled mass transit project.

Now the MTA board, a 13-member body made up of local elected officials including Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and the five Los Angeles County supervisors, must take the next step and abolish the quasi-independent subsidiary that McSpedon ran, the Rail Construction Corp. The RCC may have served a purpose when it was created in 1990--keeping the subway project from being slowed by political infighting among local transit agencies--but it has outlived its usefulness. There is only one big transit agency now, the MTA, and the RCC has become a political albatross that could slow completion of the badly needed mass transit system.

In fairness, McSpedon was not solely to blame for the construction problems that have plagued the Red Line subway--among them Downtown tunnels built with concrete thinner than specified and the recent collapse of Hollywood streets above tunnel excavations. Independent studies of the subway's engineering and construction have found sufficient blame to go around--enough for the RCC and various private contractors too.

However, though his supporters--and even White--praised much of the work he had done in overseeing the rail project during his 10 years with the MTA, it was McSpedon who rightly had to answer for the problems. That was especially so after the federal government, which is paying for most of the subway project, suspended $1.6 billion needed to extend the subway into the San Fernando Valley.

There is no guarantee that McSpedon's ouster will get federal money flowing again. In fact, Washington could decide to wait a good, long time before reopening its checkbook--say, until McSpedon's replacement is chosen and settles into the job. And that delay could go so far as to kill the project. That's why the MTA board must instead kill the RCC, as soon as possible, and put final responsibility for the project where it belongs, with White and the MTA board.

Then the federal government can be assured that if there are any more subway problems the officials responsible can be easily identified and held accountable. Surely Riordan, who got elected by promising to bring sound business practices to local government, and the supervisors, who at least give lip service to similar ideas, can see the logic in that. Now they must take the logical next step.

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