Judy Chu Highlights Metro Board Meeting, Still No Answers from Metro

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Get a nice good look at that image above. Take your time. Print it. Analyze it. Maybe even write notes on it – that big green blob over New York has plenty space to write on, but not Los Angeles. See anything awfully wrong and off with that image?

The Metro Board of Directors did, and yesterday they held their monthly Board meeting – with one of its main focuses on a new federal funding agreement Metro is hoping to pursue with the U.S. Department of Transportation. Metro’s current federal funding agreement netted the agency $491 million for the construction of the Gold Line Eastside Extension (NOT Foothill Extension, just to clarify). And with the last batch of federal dollars from that agreement coming in this year, Metro has had its sights set on pursuing funds from the New Starts program for the Subway to the Sea and Regional Connector.

At yesterday’s meeting, Metro staff reported that the county faces the prospect of losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government, starting in 2011, if they do not pursue any local rail projects for the New Starts program (at this point, the Metro Board had not formally recognized the Subway and Regional Connector as their choices). The comments that followed from the Board and staff were no less grim. Chairman Ara Najarian stated, “we are terribly underfunded as a region.” Using the old use-visuals-for-greater-effect method, Metro staff presented a map (see image above) of the FY2010 projection for New Starts funding throughout the nation – which saw many other (and some less populous) cities having federal funds that dwarfed the amount for Los Angeles County. Metro staff jokingly referred to the New Starts program as the “New York” program, seeing as the east coast region is set to receive nearly half of all the federal funds from New Starts. And in facing this situation, the Board unanimously voted to direct Metro CEO Art Leahy to pursue a federal funding agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation to construct the Subway to the Sea and Regional Connector.

So now Chairman Najarian is going to send a few delegates to Washington to test the waters, and the county isn’t going to lose out on hundreds of millions of federal dollars right? This would’ve been an easy question to answer were it not for a small detail Metro staff had potentially used in error.

That error was brought to light at the meeting courtesy of a representative from Congresswoman Judy Chu’s office – who pointed out during public comment that Metro’s staff had given an unrealistic timeframe of 3 years to receive federal funding for the Subway and Regional Connector. In fact, it takes 7-10 years for rail projects from the beginning to receive federal money. Judy Chu’s office proposed Phase 2B (Azusa to Montclair) of the Foothill Extension as a project that is further ahead in the pipeline than the Subway or Regional Connector, and one that could receive federal funds in as soon as 5 years. Seeing as how the Foothill Extension has had much more Congressional work done on its behalf, this wouldn’t be surprising. Judy Chu’s office stated:

“We need a federal strategy that truly leverages the billions of dollars being raised by Measure R and gives the county the most bang for its buck. If the Gold Line Foothill and East Side extensions and Crenshaw Line are excluded from entering the federal process, myself and the rest of the local Congressional Delegation will very literally have our hands tied from helping meet our community’s transit needs.”

So our question before the meeting was: how is the Foothill Extension going to get its federal money? After the meeting, that question still stands. However, it was alluded to during the meeting that Metro would try to find other sources of federal money for the extension. We’ll see.

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