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This One Stayed on the Rails

April 12, 2002

The Alameda Corridor, a 20-mile-long rail expressway designed to speed cargo from the ports at Long Beach and San Pedro to the transcontinental rail yards south of downtown Los Angeles, opens today to fanfare from politicians--and a big shrug from most Southern Californians. The government agency that built the thing should take that shrug as a compliment.

The projects that the public tends to know best are those that are synonymous with trouble. After streets collapsed, deadlines slipped and budgets soared during construction of Los Angeles' Metro Red Line, fed-up voters passed an initiative that effectively bans any more subways.

The Alameda Corridor, named for the street it parallels, was not problem-free. Machines the size of dinosaurs dug a trench 30 feet deep so that the railway could run below ground level along half its route. Nearby residents and businesses had to endure noise, dust, congestion and, in some cases, lost customers. But the authority established by the ports and the cities to build the railway still managed to bring in this $2.4-billion project on time and under budget. Repaved streets and newly planted trees helped ease the pain of disruption, as did training local residents for construction jobs. As for future payoff, the 30 bridges that span the trench eliminate long waits at train crossings. The new high-speed railway will largely replace the slow-moving freight trains that snarled streets on four routes.

The payoff for the region overall is even greater. The Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, the nation's two busiest, handled $200 billion in cargo in 2001.

It's easy to take the smooth delivery of everything from shoes to computers for granted, as well as the one in 15 jobs in the five-county region that is directly connected to international trade. But there are good reasons not to.

The Alameda Corridor is a reminder that we need to look at the movement of freight as well as people if we want to solve our notorious traffic congestion--and to look at ways other than freeways to move both.

It is also an example of what can be accomplished when a government creates an agency to carry out a single mission, without distractions or conflicts. The Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority is a model that could apply to any major project, be it building a subway or 85 desperately needed new schools.

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