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Los Angeles transit projects pitched to new Congress by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

With the House now in Republican control, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's transit project ideas get a mixed reception.

January 21, 2011|By Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Washington — On his first visit to the U.S. Capitol since Republicans took control of the House, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sought this week to extend support for his 30/10 proposal, which would tap federal resources to speed construction of local transportation projects. But the key officials he spoke with offered a mix of views.

The so-called 30/10 plan to build a dozen projects in a decade instead of three has generated enthusiasm from the Obama administration and Sen. Barbara Boxer, a fellow California Democrat who chairs the Senate environment and public works committee. Los Angeles officials are seeking federal interest subsidies for bonds and increased funding for a transportation loan program.

On Thursday, Villaraigosa — in Washington for a gathering of the U.S. Conference of Mayors — met with Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), the new chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

"The mayor and I shook hands on pledging to move projects forward in an expedited fashion,'' Mica said. But the chairman threw cold water on one L.A. proposal — getting Washington to pay the interest on transportation bonds. "That's not going to float," Mica said.

Mica said he was open to exploring other creative ways to finance projects, including one of L.A.'s other proposals — increasing funding for a federal transportation loan program. "We will look at what works, what's the best investment for the taxpayer,'' the chairman said.

A House Transportation Committee spokesman added that Mica remains "open to considering many options" that would be fiscally responsible.

Mica said he told the mayor he wants to see a fixed transit connection to Los Angeles International Airport. "I pledged to work with him on that," Mica said. "It's so long overdue."

On Wednesday, Villaraigosa met with John J. Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.). As the new Republican chairman of the House Transportation highway and transit subcommittee, Duncan will be critical to the mayor's efforts to secure federal aid to accelerate projects, including the subway extension to the Westside.

"It was a very good meeting," Villaraigosa said afterward. He also met with Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), the House Transportation Committee's top Democrat.

"I think they see the need for innovative financing mechanisms on a national basis to invest in infrastructure," the mayor said. "They like the idea of cities like ours putting up their own money'' to leverage additional funding.

Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), chairman of the House Rules Committee, also met with Villaraigosa on Wednesday. Dreier was still mulling over the specifics of the mayor's proposals but said in a hallway interview that he has worked with Villaraigosa and would "continue to work with him to make sure we meet our transportation needs in Southern California.''

"I want to get the Gold Line done," Dreier said.

The challenge of governing with a House now in GOP control was apparent as the mayor joined other officials in calling attention to the importance of the nearly $4-billion federal Community Development Block Grant program to their communities.

The 36-year-old Department of Housing and Urban Development program, which funds neighborhood programs such as graffiti removal, anti-gang efforts and job training, is expected to be among those targeted for cuts.

richard.simon@latimes.com

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