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South Bay leaders decry Metro plan to close project funding gap

They say Metro's proposal to fund the Crenshaw-LAX light-rail line could divert nearly $100 million from their own highway and roads projects.

June 26, 2013|By Christine Mai-Duc
  • A Metro Expo Line train crosses Crenshaw Boulevard at Exposition Boulevard in the Crenshaw District of Los Angeles. A new light-rail line will run from the intersection of Crenshaw and Exposition toward LAX.
A Metro Expo Line train crosses Crenshaw Boulevard at Exposition Boulevard… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

As the Metropolitan Transportation Authority prepares to take up a long agenda Thursday that could determine how billions of dollars are spent on projects countywide, city leaders in the South Bay are focused on a proposal they say could divert nearly $100 million from their own highway and roads projects.

The plan aims to close a $160-million funding gap on Metro's Crenshaw-LAX light-rail line. But South Bay officials say it comes at the expense of millions promised to South Bay voters in 2008, when Los Angeles County voters passed Measure R, the county's half-cent sales tax.

"This is not keeping the faith of the voters," said Jacki Bacharach, executive director of the South Bay Cities Council of Governments.

Measure R outlined billions of dollars on transit spending in other parts of the county, but the South Bay lacked any big-ticket rail projects. Instead, Bacharach said, the region was promised $906 million over 30 years to pay for more basic road and highway projects.

In a report released two weeks ago, Metro staff justified siphoning some of those funds by citing a policy that says cost overruns should be shouldered by the geographic regions that stand to benefit most from a particular project.

That's when leaders discovered that Metro had shifted the traditional boundaries of the South Bay by lumping in Los Angeles International Airport, Bacharach said. The change, which she said was made "quietly and without input" in 2009, put about 59% of the Crenshaw project in the South Bay.

Metro officials declined to comment.

The attempt to divert nearly $95 million of those funds could affect basic road construction in South Bay cities, where planner have begun to budget for improvements, officials say. Hermosa Beach, for instance, is planning traffic improvements along Pacific Coast Highway to make it safer for pedestrians.

"We've been working for years to address safety issues there," City Manager Tom Bakaly said.

Hermosa Beach joined about a dozen South Bay cities Tuesday in passing a resolution opposing the Metro staff recommendation.

Sensing the building outrage, several Metro board members plan to put forth a separate proposal that would fund the Crenshaw line's shortfall through funds or bonds from Proposition C, another half-cent sales tax passed by county voters in 1990, leaving Measure R projects intact.

"We must consider all alternatives to keep projects whole as envisioned under Measure R and as approved by the voters," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, a Metro board member, whose district includes the South Bay. "Maintaining a level playing field is only fair to the South Bay and to all areas of the county."

Crenshaw Line

The Crenshaw Line project falls partially within a small part of Metro’s definition of the South Bay sub-region:

Source: Metro

Los Angeles Times

Even if Knabe's alternative addresses the immediate funding question, South Bay officials said they could still lose out on additional funds as other Metro strategies are put in place. For example, they complain that Metro's attempt to fast-track funding for projects countywide could hurt small cities that lack the staff to complete projects right away.

"It's like sitting someone down at a buffet and telling them to eat enough for the next three weeks," Redondo Beach Councilman Pat Aust said.

Local officials are also wary that the boundary changes could leave them on the hook for all cost overruns on the airport's Metro connector.

Many are concerned that efforts to deal with additional costs on the massive Crenshaw-LAX project could set a precedent for raiding other projects in the future.

"Nobody wants to delay that project," said Stephen Lantz, a transportation consultant to the South Bay Cities Council of Governments. "But when the problem is being solved on the backs of other existing projects, it's not right."

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