Opinion: L.A. County’s transit future must be regionally balanced – San Gabriel Valley Tribune

The following Opinion appeared in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on December 20, 2013.

L.A. County’s transit future must be regionally balanced

By Congressman Adam Schiff

When Measure R was approved by voters in 2008, it allowed our region to move forward on a program of highway and transit improvements that benefited all areas of Los Angeles County, dramatically improving the transportation options and landscape for all county residents.

Over the past five years, significant progress has been made on the projects promised to voters. The Orange Line busway and the first phase of the Expo light-rail line have opened for service. The Expo Line’s extension to Santa Monica and the first half of the Gold Line Foothill Extension to Azusa are both under construction and on schedule to be completed in just a few short years. The Crenshaw light-rail line, which will provide the critical light-rail connection to LAX, has also started construction. Numerous other major capital projects are moving through the required planning processes, as they are readied for construction — and many more, smaller local projects have been funded throughout the county’s 88 cities.

All of these are Measure R success stories.

As Metro considers asking voters to support a new tax for additional transportation improvements, a continuing track record of success will be critical. Equally important, the benefits of any proposed future tax measure must again be felt throughout the county.

It would be a mistake to ask voters to approve a new tax, or extension of the existing tax, that only benefits one area of the county. The belief that the majority of the tax revenues would be spent in the city of Los Angeles, for instance, was the leading argument against Measure R in 2008 and the subsequent failed 30-year extension of the tax (Measure J) in 2012. It will take a regional grass-roots approach to get the two-thirds majority vote necessary to support a new tax. This will likely take the form of a list of stakeholder-supported projects that appeal to voters from throughout the county — from Malibu to Claremont and Santa Clarita to Long Beach.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has made extraordinary outreach to all of the communities in the county and their local elected officials in an effort to better acquaint himself with local priorities and challenges facing the region. Metro Chairperson Diane Dubois, Supervisor Michael Antonovich and others are similarly reaching out to communities throughout the county seeking to build consensus around a potential list of projects.

Completion of the Measure R program will also be critical to any future tax initiative. Although Measure R will bring in tens of billions of dollars over the 30-year life of the tax, the tax provides only enough funding to complete a portion of the larger, capital projects. Tens of billions of additional dollars are needed to complete the list of important projects to their envisioned destinations, and the Los Angeles congressional delegation must work together to leverage this local revenue into a substantial federal funding commitment to go with it.

In the coming months, the local priority lists will have to be carefully weighed and considered before a final list is created. Cities throughout the region should provide ideas for new projects that could be funded through a future tax that will add to the overall Measure R program, by building important connections and efficiencies in the overall system. Mayor Garcetti understands this process must be deliberate and measured, and will incorporate the important local feedback he has been soliciting in order to develop a list of projects that can be successful if the Metro board decides to move forward with a future tax request.

In the meantime, Metro must build on the trust developing with county taxpayers by continuing to deliver the Measure R projects currently underway on time and on budget. Together with a regionally balanced list of projects, a reliable track record of project delivery will be critical to any future vote, and to the success of our region’s transportation system.

Congressman Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, represents California’s 28th Congressional District. Schiff authored legislation while in the state Senate and led federal efforts while in Congress to create what is now known as the Gold Line.

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