A political squabble between a Los Angeles-area congressman and the Schwarzenegger administration over possible funding for a $500-million northbound carpool lane on the 405 Freeway eased Wednesday.
Rep. Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood) earlier this week had complained that the governor was not giving strong support to a proposed carpool lane on a 10-mile stretch between the Santa Monica Freeway and the 101 Freeway.
Congressional Democrats, Berman said, would push to appropriate $400 million for the project in a five-year plan for federal transportation spending -- but only if the state committed to providing the remaining $100 million and also agreed to begin construction within the next five years.
On Wednesday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sent Berman a letter supporting the congressman's effort to win federal funding for the 405. If Congress provides its share of the funding, the governor wrote, his administration will work with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the California Transportation Commission "to identify the appropriate matching funds."
The governor noted that he recently proposed restoring $1.3 billion in transportation spending that he previously had wanted to borrow for other purposes.
Berman, in a telephone interview, said the governor's letter was a positive step, even if it wasn't as forceful an endorsement as he wanted. "It still isn't quite what I asked for, but at least shows a kind of interest and desire to make this happen that I haven't seen before," he said.
The state and the MTA, which prioritizes local freeway construction jobs, have wanted for years to complete carpool lanes on Southern California freeways. But money has been so scarce that local officials have not scheduled the northbound 405 project for possible completion until 2018.
The administration and the MTA say that it would be impossible to get much of the planning and construction work ready within five years without express permission from the Legislature to change the bidding process for contractors. On Tuesday, the MTA sent Berman a letter promising to use its own money to speed up the process as much as possible, and agreeing to foot part of the bill for the matching funds.
And on Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa pledged to work to secure full funding for the project. "I intend to work with both the congressional delegation and the governor to ensure that we do get that money," he said.
Times staff writer Alicia Wittmeyer contributed to this report.