The following op-ed was written by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who also serves as the Vice chair of the Metro Board of Directors:
The Urban Transit Revolution Depends on Federal Dollars
By: Eric Garcetti
Too often, the story of Los Angeles is written by pundits who are focused on talking about this city as the car capital of the world; there are a few storytellers, however, that have begun to tell a different story. Last month, the L.A. Times featured a story on a new L.A., a city with a new identity and with an evolving network of transportation options creating the so-called “urban reawakening.”
In my first six months of office, I laid the foundation for an agenda that is focused on a “back to basics” approach. It prioritizes the basic delivery of those city services and policies that improve our neighborhoods – including the creation of more sustainable, walkable, and transit-connected communities.
In the U.S., 81 percent of our people now live in urban areas — a number that has grown in recent times. In California, 95 percent of us live in cities. Mobility is the lifeblood of cities. The ability to move people and goods allows us to compete for jobs with cities across the global economy.
On my first trip to Washington D.C. as Mayor, I met with President Barack Obama and with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx to advocate for nearly $2 billion of transit funds from a federal program called New Starts. These funds would help pay for the construction of the Regional downtown Connector and the first phase of the Purple Line projects. They will transform Metro’s growing transit system, making it easier for riders to reach jobs and popular destinations along Wilshire Boulevard, to and from downtown and across Los Angeles — the underground Connector will tie together the Blue, Expo, and Gold lines for a one-seat ride connection.
Still, nationwide, New Starts was scheduled to invest about $2.1 billion this fiscal year to 27 transit projects. It’s not enough. The money is spread too thin. Congress must do more.
That begins with finally passing a multi-year transportation bill to replace the current two-year version that expires this year. The new bill should dramatically increase funding for New Starts so that there is money available to build the kind of first-class transit systems first-class cities need. And fortunately for Los Angeles and California, Senator Barbara Boxer will play a key role in helping to shape the federal transportation bill.
That same bill also must provide local areas with other tools to build transportation and infrastructure. That includes federally-backed loans and bonds that are the centerpiece of the America Fast Forward program. Metro and I continue to urge Congress to pass that legislation.
There’s nothing partisan about this. Business groups across the nation — from Los Angeles to New York to Atlanta — back America Fast Forward. And elected officials of all political stripes have historically sought to upgrade and reinvent our infrastructure. And in Los Angeles County’s case, we do not go to Washington D.C. with empty pockets. Thanks to the passage of Measure R – a half-cent transportation sales tax approved by 68 percent of voters in 2008 – we walk to Washington with skin in the game.
But we can’t look at our watch and hold our breath for the future. The bottom line is: We need the deep pockets of the federal government now to continue America’s grand tradition of investing in itself, especially so we can reshape and redo major urban metropolises.