Without a steady source of local funding, the MTA would probably have to turn to Sacramento, as it did to help pay for a small stretch of tunnel that's part of an East Los Angeles light-rail line slated for construction next year. Getting money from Sacramento could prove more difficult than ever, considering that the state just wrestled with a difficult budget crunch and projects another one next year.
Another way around the local ban would be for the MTA to use bond funds, drawn against money from the bus system.
That method is unlikely to sit well with Donald T. Bliss, a Washington mediator overseeing a federal court order that mandates more bus service to reduce crowding.
For at least the next four years, Bliss has the power to make the MTA purchase buses, hundreds of them if he thinks they're needed to reduce overcrowding. Subway planning could be seriously compromised if Bliss were to order enough buses--say 300 more, each costing more than $200,000 a year to operate--to drain the MTA's coffers.
If the Wilshire plan passes its Washington roadblocks and makes its way around the local funding issue, there's the matter of public support, a key factor in any transit construction project in Los Angeles.
Residents and businesses all along Wilshire have for decades been divided on whether a subway makes sense. Little has changed. Proponents think the subway could boost a bustling neighborhood that has some of the city's best architecture and greatest housing density. The sprawling Park La Brea apartment complex, with 4,200 units, is an easy walk to Fairfax and Wilshire, for instance.
"I can't wait for something like this to happen," said Yeong Cheong, who runs an acupuncture business across the street from the county art museum. "A subway would bring more people, make my business better and make places like the museum more popular."
The proprietor of a business just a few feet from Cheong's reflected the other side of the equation. "It would be a disaster," said Calvin Williams, a furniture store owner.
Noting that construction on the Wilshire link to Western killed many businesses, Williams said he worried that he would suffer the same fate. "Construction is going to close down streets and make it so I can't survive. Even if the subway went in, my customers don't take the subway, they come in cars."
Also worried is a group of transit advocates who have fought hard for the MTA's planned light-rail line connecting downtown to Santa Monica via Exposition Boulevard. Right now, the MTA is seeking federal money for the first half of the Expo Line, meaning the railway would stretch only from downtown to near Culver City. With at least $200 million more needed to finish the second phase of the line, the advocates are concerned that a Wilshire extension could compete for those dollars.