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Transit Bill Offers $249 Million for State

Congress: The House OKs measure that includes $6.6 million for light rail and other transportation projects in Orange County.

May 20, 2000|RICHARD SIMON and PETER M. WARREN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — When the good times roll, they really roll.

A $55-billion transportation spending bill approved by the House on Friday would fund a wide range of California projects, including $6.6 million for public transit works in Orange County, about half of that for the CenterLine light-rail system.

Fueled by a surge in gas tax revenues, the bill would provide $1.9 billion more than was available for the current year for highway projects, $2.5 billion more for aviation programs and $486 million more for public transit.

The measure was approved 395 to 13, a margin demonstrating the eagerness of lawmakers to tout local projects to voters back home. The measure still must go to the Senate for consideration.

A Senate committee is due early next month to take up a measure calling for spending about $1.5 billion less than the House version.

Clinton administration officials objected that the bill again contains a provision to prohibit federal regulators from considering tougher fuel-economy standards for sport utility vehicles. A White House statement called the provision, which Republicans have added to the measure since taking control of Congress in 1995, a "misguided prohibition" that would increase fuel consumption.

Auto industry officials contend that tougher standards would increase vehicle costs and limit consumer choices.

But Rep. Pete Stark (D-Hayward) blasted Republicans for persisting in pushing the provision. He said it represents "a step backward in combating the threat of global warming."

Stark cast one of the 13 votes against the overall bill.

Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) was the only other California House member to vote against the bill. Bryan Wilkes, a spokesman for Royce, said the lawmaker objected that California sends more gas tax money to Washington than it gets back in direct transportation benefits.

The House bill contains $3 million for preliminary engineering for the CenterLine light-rail line, which is proposed to run 29 miles from Fullerton to Irvine. It has been criticized by Anaheim, Orange and Santa Ana. Currently, plans call for an initial 12.6-mile section from Costa Mesa to Irvine, with a stop at John Wayne Airport and a spur to UC Irvine.

Orange County Transportation Authority spokesman Dave Simpson applauded the vote. "We are encouraged by continued federal support for CenterLine. We will work with Senate when they take this up, most likely in June."

Simpson said no decision has been made on whether the engineering work would be done along the entire route or just the southern section.

Critics have found fault with environmental planning and mitigation efforts, as well as the light-rail concept.

Wayne King, of Drivers for Highway Safety, called "rail a bad idea anywhere in the country. It doesn't haul enough people to make a difference and the money it is soaking up would make a difference" in reducing traffic on the roads.

The House also approved $3 million for the second phase of a traffic monitoring and road surveillance system for Beach Boulevard and Edinger Avenue south of the San Diego Freeway in Huntington Beach, Westminster, Seal Beach and Fountain Valley. The project uses cameras and road sensors to monitor traffic, making the information available to drivers through reader boards along the streets and at terminals in key buildings such as City Hall and libraries. Within two to five years that information would also be available on the Internet, said Huntington Beach Mayor Dave Garofalo.

The bill also would provide $500,000 for a bus and tram project serving the resort complexes in Anaheim and $150,000 for a bus improvements in Brea.

The House bill also would increase money for programs to reduce accidents at railroad crossings. Included is $250,000 to eliminate railroad crossing hazards in the east San Fernando Valley.

The bill also provides funds for a "covert operation" to crack down on unsafe truckers.

Throughout California, the bill includes about $249 million for public transit projects, including $50 million to help pay for completion of the Hollywood-to-North Hollywood subway extension that opens June 24 and $80 million for extending the Bay Area Rapid Transit system to San Francisco International Airport.

The bill would spend $9 million to help relieve crowding on Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses. Although the amount for MTA bus purchases was far less than the $50 million recommended by Clinton, local transit officials noted that the $9 million would be triple the sum allocated this year.

For the second consecutive year, the bill includes an amendment by Rep. James Rogan (R-Glendale) to bar federal spending in fiscal 2001 for the long-stalled extension of the Long Beach Freeway.

The measure also calls for $3 million for safety and station improvements on the Los Angeles-to-San Diego rail corridor, which is used by Amtrak and Metrolink, and $10 million for the Oceanside-Escondido light-rail project.

The bill also would provide $2 million to help Metrolink improve its San Bernardino-to-Los Angeles commuter rail line and $5.4 million to turn an old railroad depot into a visitor center for Mojave National Preserve.

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