When voters approved Measure R in 2008, they were voting for a plan that proposed to raise sales taxes in Los Angeles County by a half-cent for 30 years. In return, voters would get about $40 billion in transit, road and other transportation improvements.
But not $40 billion of fixes all at once. Sales tax revenues flow into county coffers over those 30 years. That’s the reason that the transit and road projects are scheduled to be built over 30 years. The money isn’t there to build them all at once.
However, Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Board Member Antonio Villaraigosa has proposed to speed up the Measure R effort. His 30/10 plan seeks to build a dozen transit projects in the next decade by supplementing the Measure R money with a federal loan guarantee or other finance mechanism. A loan would be paid back with Measure R revenues. This is similar to what the Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority is trying to accomplish — in their case, they’re hoping to borrow the money from the contractor who builds the line.
Click here to see a two-page fact sheet that Villaraigosa’s office has been distributing on the 30/10 initiative (that’s page two above). Under his plan, three projects that would not be complete until the 2030s — the second phase of the Eastside Extension Gold Line, a yet-to-be defined transit project over the Sepulveda Pass and a Green Line extension deeper into the South Bay — would be constructed by 2020. Another big project — the Westside Extension Subway — would run to Westwood by 2017 instead of 2036.
“Is it doable? Well, the mayor and his staff certainly think so, although the acceleration plan has not yet been approved by his fellow directors on the Metro Board. However, every project in 30/10 was approved by voters in Measure R and unanimously approved by the Board in the Long Range Transportation Plan in October. The mayor says that it’s not an issue about if the projects will be built, but when.
The key will be finding a way to get a federal commitment of that size. It’s unprecedented and Congressional approval is likely needed — never an easy thing. On the other hand, there are some intriguing ideas bouncing around out there.
One area of discussion has been whether Build America bonds can be used to help build Measure R projects. The bonds allow local governments to borrow the money with the federal government picking up 35% of the cost of the interest. That’s a huge incentive because paying off interest on bonds can greatly run up the total cost of a project.
Villaraigosa, in fact, is in Washington today to testify before the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works. The panel is holding a hearing on the “Federal, State and Local Partnerships to Accelerate Transportation Benefits.” Senator Barbara Boxer invited Villaraigosa to talk about 30/10 and some of its benefits. Attentive readers will recall that Villaraigosa gave a brief presentation on “30/10” last month when Boxer and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood held a town hall meeting on transportation funding at Metro headquarters.