Thursday, May 9, 2002


Keep Westside Rail Alive

For the tens of thousands of commuters who grimly head to and from the Westside daily, the Santa Monica Freeway is usually a sea of red taillights. Dreams of a rail line to downtown have danced at the edge of commuters' vision, recently drawing a little closer. Now, however, federal transit officials say they may give to other projects the funds earmarked for the so-called Exposition Line. They never specifically promised to fund this line, but weary road warriors will get no comfort from that logic.

As the light rail line linking Pasadena nears a 2003 completion date, and with engineering for the Eastside line well underway, the Exposition Line still exists only on the glossy color slides that transit planners and local advocates carry around to community meetings.

First conceived more than a decade ago to run from Santa Monica to downtown, the light rail line has long been held hostage by obstructionist homeowners along the proposed Exposition Boulevard route and local politicians who believe that affluent Westsiders won't use and don't deserve mass transit. Never mind that the Westside has the highest population and employment density of any Southern California area, drawing workers who commute in daily from poorer communities to the east and south. 
The political stalemate broke only last year when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority formally adopted the Exposition Line plan, largely the result of pressure from smaller cities along the route that want the project and Friends 4 Expo Transit, a group of citizen proponents. MTA approval was supposed to free up state, local and federal funds for the project, which is estimated at $429 million. Engineering and design work was to begin next year.

Now the $155-million federal share may be off the table. The news from the Federal Transit Administration came as a surprise to MTA officials, who are scrambling to line up support in Congress to make sure this money is there when they need it starting next year. That goal should be a top priority for the California delegation.

Meanwhile, the lesson for transit planners is clear: The endless equivocation of local leaders on this key rail project has already cost commuters dearly. Further delay could kill the Expo line altogether.

And anyone who simply shrugs at that prospect ought to be forced to sit behind the wheel on the Santa Monica Freeway at 5:30 every afternoon for at least the next 10 years.

Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times

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