In this relatively new feature for The Source, I express actual opinions while working for government. Members of the media: please take any of these ideas and run with them — we could use the coverage!
1. I think it’s good news to hear that Caltrans is beginning scoping work on how to improve the rail corridor between Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo, much of which is single track. The fact that it takes 2.5 hours to travel 95 miles by train from Union Station to Santa Barbara says a lot about — and not much good — about the state of our passenger rail system in California.
2. One of the most interesting points I’ve read in the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of President Obama’s first term was in the New York Time’s profile of new Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was previously Denver’s mayor. Hickenlooper’s main point was that Obama should have focused first on infrastructure. Excerpt:
But he did go on to question one aspect of the Obama presidency — in order, tellingly, to make clear that he values consensus over a crusade. “Rather than going to health care first, I would have gone, I think, to transportation infrastructure,” Hickenlooper said, explaining that he noticed through his work with the U.S. Conference of Mayors that the issue had moved from a Democratic preoccupation to a more bipartisan one. “Here’s something everybody cares about. Maybe we focus on that to build bridges.” Was the double entendre deliberate?
“I think the Obama administration,” he added, “saw a higher need to make history.”
3. Of course, it’s hard to say that the Obama Administration is ignoring infrastructure, although a lot of their efforts are on high-speed rail. And it’s worth noting that the Obama Administration through the Federal Transit Administration seems interested in the L.A. area’s transit infrastructure. The FTA last year approved a half-billion dollar loan to jump-start the Crenshaw/LAX light rail line and last week the FTA gave a strong indication that they’re willing to help fund the Westside Subway Extension and Regional Connector by allowing both projects to enter their engineering phase. And, to boot, the FTA is also backing Metro’s efforts to speed construction of the subway project by using other federal loans and financing that will need Congressional approval as part of the 30/10 Initiative.
4. But I still think it’s a wide open question whether Congress enshrines 30/10 as law as part of the next multiyear federal transportation bill. One big question involves whether Congress is willing to spend some money on 30/10 at the same time that botht sides of the aisle are vowing to cut federal spending. The other question is more intensely political: Republicans have the majority in the House of Representatives, California usually votes Democratic in federal elections and we’re less than two years from a presidential election. A national 30/10 program could be a victory for metro areas in red, blue and purples states — but will the House allow California a victory before 2012? Beats me.
5. And, finally, a note on a pet peeve: people driving well below the speed limit in the left lane of freeways — i.e. the passing lane. Last week I was driving on the Santa Monica Freeway and couldn’t help but notice some bloke crawling along in the left lane at 40 mph, resulting in a backup behind him and a lot of passing to the right. But then get this: A Highway Patrolman drove behind the motorist, flipped on his lights and signalled for him to vacate the lane. Simply awesome. And I’d love to see more of that because the folks sitting in the left-hand lane and barely driving are making the freeway unsafe for all users, including carpoolers and buses.