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Federal loan to speed work on Crenshaw light-rail line

It is the first federal commitment to Villaraigosa's so-called 30/10 initiative, which seeks to dramatically accelerate a dozen MTA transit projects.

October 16, 2010|By Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles won a major federal loan Friday that will speed construction — perhaps by as much as 10 years — of a light-rail transit line from the Crenshaw district to a station near Los Angeles International Airport.

Work is expected to begin late next year and finish no later than 2018, about a decade ahead of schedule, said Art Leahy, chief executive of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The $546-million loan is the first federal commitment to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's so-called 30/10 initiative, which seeks to speed completion of a dozen transit projects proposed by the MTA, including the Westside subway extension.

"This is a substantial down payment," said Villaraigosa, who recently was in Washington, D.C., to lobby for federal assistance. "The money alone will help create about 5,000 jobs, free up funds for other projects and allow us to move ahead with 30/10 at an accelerated rate."

The loan will cover more than a third of the planning and construction costs of the Crenshaw light-rail project, which is now estimated to cost $1.4 billion. The proposed line would run about 81/2 miles from Exposition and Crenshaw boulevards to the Green Line station at Aviation Boulevard near LAX.

The 30/10 plan is designed to obtain federal funding from grants to low-interest loans made available by the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, which is being used to fund the Crenshaw line.

MTA officials hope the effort will pare up to 20 years off the completion dates of 12 transit proposals funded by Measure R, the county's half-cent sales tax for transportation projects. They say the tax revenue can be used to cover the debt payments on the federal loans, which can quickly provide large sources of capital.

The 30/10 initiative has gained support in the Obama administration and among the state's congressional delegation, including U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

Boxer, who is locked in a tough Senate race with former Hewlett-Packard Co. Chief Executive Carly Fiorina, announced the loan during a news conference attended by Villaraigosa and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes the Crenshaw project.

"This is the first confidence-building measure to make 30/10 a reality," Boxer said. "It means jobs and real improvements. The leveraging of local funds is the way we can move forward."

The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. estimates that the Crenshaw line will generate about 15,100 jobs directly related to the project and those created by the MTA and project workers spending money in the local economy.

"This corridor will be the way we move people from one region to the next. It will connect to LAX. This is just smart business," said Ridley-Thomas, who is also an MTA board member. "We have done what we said we would do."

dan.weikel@latimes.com

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