YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

MTA Plans Reorganization to Win Back Federal Funds


Seeking to resume subway tunneling in Hollywood in early December, transit officials on Wednesday approved a plan designed to strengthen management of the troubled project and win back federal funding.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board also voted to abolish the Rail Construction Corp., a subsidiary of the MTA that has overseen subway construction. The MTA board deferred action on a last-minute proposal by Mayor Richard Riordan to hire a consulting firm that he wants to shape the reorganization.

Transit authority Chief Executive Officer Franklin E. White expressed confidence that the reorganization plan will receive federal approval.

But several board members, saying they were stunned by a Times report that engineers working on the project were not licensed in California, questioned whether the plan would prevent a repeat of the problems that have plagued the most expensive subway construction, per mile, in U.S. history.

"I am troubled that the biggest issue before this board is which way the San Fernando Valley line is going instead of how to be fixing a tunnel that is falling apart every single day," said county Supervisor Gloria Molina, an MTA board member.

In only the second such action, the Federal Transit Administration announced Oct. 5 that it would not provide $1.6 billion to extend the subway to East Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley until the MTA shows it can competently manage the project. Tunneling in Hollywood has been shut down since Aug. 18 after ground sinkages of up to nine inches were detected.

White, who met with Federal Transit Administrator Gordon J. Linton earlier this week, told board members: "We believe that the final plans which we submitted to the FTA earlier today will enable the lifting of the funding prohibition and allow the MTA to continue the tunneling in Hollywood."

In a letter to Linton, White said, "We expect to complete the remediation of the existing tunnels and be prepared to resume tunneling in early December."

Nick Patsaouras, an MTA board member, complained that the plan "does not go far enough" and called the proposed changes "cosmetic."

Riordan proposed to hire the Big 6 accounting firm of Arthur Andersen to advise the MTA on the subway project, citing the firm's "pivotal role in getting the Eurotunnel back on track." But the board decided to let other companies compete for the work and leave the selection of a consultant to a committee of the transit authority board.

Riordan's proposal was his first public comment on the subway project since federal funds were cut off. The mayor said in an interview that he does not want to "micromanage" MTA operations and has not tried to influence the agency's posture toward the contractors involved in the disputed subway construction.

The mayor said he also has avoided involvement because of his friendship with the family of John F. Shea, the top executive of Shea-Kiewit-Kenny, the tunnel contractor at work along Hollywood Boulevard.

"I suppose in the back of my mind, that's had a slight effect," said Riordan, who with Shea has raised money and made contributions to Catholic and public schools in Los Angeles County.

Riordan said the reorganization plan approved Wednesday sends a "powerful and determined message that the MTA is ready to take the necessary actions to ensure that the Metro Rail Red Line continues to move forward in a safe and efficient manner."

But Molina said, "I am distressed . . . about engineers not appropriately licensed in this state."

The approval by two transit engineering officials to substitute wooden wedges, instead of steel struts, for bracing in 12 miles of tunnels under construction drew wide criticism.

The licensing status of those engineering officials--and the fact that eight out of 10 "resident engineers" on the subway also do not hold California licenses, was reported Wednesday by The Times.

One MTA official, Patsaouras, said that the prominence of unlicensed engineers on the subway project is an example of a "major flaw" not addressed by White's management reorganization proposal.

Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar) also was critical.

"I don't think there is any excuse or reason or rationale for using unlicensed personnel," said Katz, who attended Wednesday's meeting.

White said in an interview that he has asked MTA lawyers to review the matter.

"It's obviously a matter that we'll be dealing with," he said, adding that the substitution was one of "a whole series of legal issues" related to the ground sinkage in Hollywood and the failure there of the wood wedges.

White's reorganization plan--which, as amended Wednesday, will dissolve the Rail Construction Corp. as of Nov. 1--won passage by a unanimous vote., The RCC's oversight of construction will be assumed by a committee of five MTA board members who will be advised by three non-voting people with expertise in construction. White ousted the RCC president earlier this month.

Los Angeles Times Articles