Well the build up to the Metro’s board vote on the Long Range Transportation Plan – including Twitter posts from Metro staff (who we thank for the shout out on Facebook) – fizzled quickly, when Director Richard Katz suggested the vote be postponed until July 23 because the public had very little opportunity to review and comment on the 63-page staff report. Metro CEO Art Leahy apologized for the delay in releasing the report.
As we reported Wednesday, there is good news in the plan. Metro committed a stream of Measure R funds to build the Foothill Extension. The funds begin flowing in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1 – the same day Metro begins collecting the half-cent sales for transit projects. We certainly hope the delay doesn’t erode that priority, and perhaps gives the agency more time to consider expediting the opening of the Foothill Extension to Azusa. I Will Ride is requesting the board open the line in 2013.
Now on to the good stuff. There were numerous groups at the meeting – all representing different areas of Los Angeles County and their respective transportation modalities, from light rail to buses to bikes. However, the number of supporters who spoke out during public comment for the Foothill Extension pretty much outnumbered the rest (even more if you include those who supported every light rail project). The group included elected officials and a few of their representatives for those who couldn’t be there, college faculty, heads of San Gabriel Valley economic development groups, organized labor, and members from the local San Gabriel Valley business communities.
Supporters for the Foothill Extension all rallied behind the same end-result in the Long Range Transportation Plan: an operational date for the Foothill Extension to Azusa in 2013. While everyone expressed gratitude over the inclusion of a funding timetable for the Foothill Extension in the LRTP, they also pointed out that the timetable’s current operational date of 2017 was too long. Claremont City Councilmember Sam Pedroza compared the current plan to letting his kids watch TV after they do their homework, only to see that the TV doesn’t work. It makes sense.
Why wait even longer when we can create jobs now, improve the air quality, improve the local economy, and reduce traffic for the San Gabriel Valley?
A representative from Congressman Adam Schiff’s office brought up the issue of federal funding for the extension, something that we hadn’t heard in a while. For those who had followed the development of the Foothill Extension in the past, Congressman Schiff has been one of the drivers in trying to get federal funding for the extension. Schiff’s representative, Yvonne Hsu, made the case that, besides being the only ready-to-build rail project in the county, a consensus among the Board would give the extension a greater chance to receive federal funding.
While we had used the term “Brain Train” before to describe the vast number of students and faculty along the Foothill Extension corridor, University of La Verne Vice President Phil Hawkey pointed out that the San Gabriel Valley has the largest concentration of higher education students in the entire country (save for maybe Boston). That “Brain Train” name seems only more fitting after hearing that.
A group of representatives from organized labor and the local business community made a public comment together in support of all light rail projects in Measure R. Ed Rendon, Director of Public Affairs for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Joint Council 42, told the board that the coalition is especially in favor of the Foothill Extension – seeing as how its shovel-ready status presents plenty of opportunities for jobs and economic development for labor and the cities along the route. Speaking of jobs, Citrus College Board member Dr. Edward Ortell spoke out in favor of the Foothill Extension because of the opportunities for Citrus College to train (and re-train) blue- and white-collar workers.
So now we wait until July 23 for the vote on the Long Range Transportation Plan. Here’s hoping. (For a blow-by-blow of the meeting, visit our Twitter feed @iwillride)