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Road Sage

What a sales tax hike might solve

July 18, 2008|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

I just returned from One Gateway Plaza, where Metro Chief Executive Roger Snoble spent an hour talking with the news media about the effort to ask voters in November to raise the sales tax in Los Angeles by half a cent on the dollar to pay for more road and mass-transit projects.

If you think this is just another boring legislative effort, let me offer you this:

The sales tax revenue plan includes $1 billion for a to-be-determined mass-transit project that would follow the 405 either under or over the Sepulveda Pass. That's the good news. The bad news is that the $1 billion may not be enough, and the project is probably 20 years from getting built. But at least it's on somebody's radar.

Snoble believes that the revised spending plan for the sales tax that has been released over the last week addresses most of the concerns of elected officials across sprawling Los Angeles County.

And that could lead state legislators to pass a bill, AB 2321, that would allow the MTA board to put the sales tax on the ballot.

"We're the only ones looking at it from a regional perspective," he said. The expected sales tax revenue "really does address a lot of problems, and it does it a lot sooner than before. We can either do something for ourselves [now] or we slide down into the quagmire. . . . If we don't do it, we'll pay for it a lot more than if we do pass it."

In other words, Snoble believes that over time traffic will grow worse, and there won't be alternatives to it.

It remains to be seen whether changes in the last week satisfy the concerns of enough people to get the sales tax hike on the ballot. I've got some phone calls out to state officials.

The plan for the added revenue -- should it materialize -- spreads a lot of money to a lot of projects over the next 30 years, raising the question of whether it's enough to finish all of them and do a first-class job.

Among the projects on the list that could open in the next decade -- if the sales tax makes it to the ballot and passes -- are the light-rail Expo Line from Culver City to Santa Monica, an extension of the Gold Line from Pasadena to Azusa and possibly beyond, and a busway or light-rail line down Crenshaw Boulevard to Los Angeles International Airport.

There are also some big dollars dedicated to several long-term items on the list. That includes $4.1 billion for a subway extension from Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue to Westwood, and almost $1.3 billion for a mass-transit line from East Los Angeles to Whittier.

On the road project side, there's about $7.8 billion for a variety of road improvements (many interchange fixes) along the 5, 710, 405 and 110 freeways. There's also $780 million set aside to build a tunnel for the 710 under South Pasadena to link it to the 210 Freeway. Again, that's a fraction of the expected cost -- but it's money that wasn't in the plan until recently.

Other high-profile projects that would get some money -- but not enough to finish them -- include a Green Line extension to both LAX and to Redondo Beach.

"I think," Snoble said, "we have a fairly decent consensus at this date."

The MTA board meets July 24 and is expected to vote on the ordinance and the spending plan.

Then it will be in the hands of the Legislature, for better or worse.

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Steve Hymon writes The Times' Bottleneck blog about Southern California traffic and transportation in real time. Check it out at www.latimes.com/bottleneck.

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