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Transit Planners to Seek Funds as Team

Focus is on tapping federal funding for projects. But few elected officials attend.

November 19, 2002|Kurt Streeter | Times Staff Writer

It was a message that could have come straight out of the playbook of the world champion Anaheim Angels: Teamwork wins.

Only this time the message came from a Los Angeles hotel convention center instead of Edison Field, and the competition is for federal dollars to fund rail, bus and road projects.

Regional transportation planners Monday repeatedly spoke of the need for greater teamwork at the Mobility 21 Summit, a daylong meeting at the Wilshire Grand Hotel that brought together about 400 business and transit leaders, and, notably, just a smattering of elected officials.

Put on by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the summit was a first-of-its-kind effort to prepare top officials for a full-throttle fight for federal dollars in Washington.

In years past, MTA officials said, leaders in Los Angeles County have been far from unified, pleading to Congress for pet projects at the expense of a wider vision for the county. Balkanized by petty disputes, the region has suffered through years of anemic funding, MTA officials contend.

The meeting's focus was next year's federal transportation spending plan, which will probably release about $180 billion to local transit agencies for use over five to seven years. The authorization is vitally important to Los Angeles County, which is struggling with the nation's most congested traffic and continued population growth.

Local officials are counting on Congress to help fund a long list of projects, including expansion of Los Angeles International Airport, light-rail lines in East and West Los Angeles, and carpool lanes on the San Diego Freeway.

The teamwork message, which was promoted in speeches and small-group discussions throughout the day, was well received by attendees. "In the past we have not been able to speak with one voice, partly because we've never come together like this," said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles). "This is going to be a big surprise to my colleagues in Washington. They are used to seeing Los Angeles divided. That's no longer the case."

Despite Roybal-Allard's confidence, it was hard to miss the fact that many top officials did not attend.

Invited but absent were U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and all but three members of the Los Angeles area's congressional delegation. Los Angeles City Council members at the summit were Ed Reyes, Tom LaBonge and Hal Bernson, chairman of the MTA board. Absent was Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, who has been criticized in transit circles for a perceived lack of interest in transportation issues.

Hahn representatives said the summit's date had been changed in July and conflicted with his 10-day trade mission to Asia, which began Saturday. Nonetheless, MTA officials in recent days have expressed unhappiness with Hahn's decision not to attend.

"It's a real disappointment," Roger Snoble, head of the MTA, said recently.

Despite Hahn's absence, the summit was called a success by Snoble, who has been emphasizing the need to change the way Los Angeles goes after federal dollars since he arrived from Dallas one year ago.

Snoble likes to tick off facts that he says show that the Los Angeles area is shortchanged. The region contributes $1.2 billion in gasoline taxes and gets back $1 billion for transportation. The county got $20 million for new rail construction in 2002, compared with New Jersey's $140 million and San Francisco's $75 million.

Many at the summit acknowledged that boosting local funding will be difficult in a Washington dominated by Republicans, both in the White House and in Congress.

"I have my fingers crossed that Mr. Mineta will come through for us," said Roybal-Allard, speaking of Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta, a California Democrat.

Mineta is seen by local officials as one of the few people in the Bush White House likely to push for Los Angeles County transit projects.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Top Transit Priorities

The MTA has identified these transportation projects as its priorities, listed in alphabetical order with price tags:

* Alameda Corridor East: Construction improvements, traffic light synchronization and upgrade -- $1 billion

* Los Angeles Eastside light-rail transit project -- $888 million

* Mid-City/Exposition Boulevard light-rail project from downtown L.A. to Venice/Robertson -- $632 million

* MTA bus and rail capital improvements -- $2.7 billion

* Increased funding to smaller municipal bus agencies -- $1.1 billion

* I-5 carpool improvements from the 170 Freeway to the 134 Freeway -- $183 million

* I-5: Add one mixed flow and one carpool lane from Rosemead (605 Freeway) to Orange County -- $356 million

* San Diego Freeway carpool lanes from the 10 Freeway to the 101 Freeway -- $1.6 billion

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