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Westside, Transit Officials Roll Out Big Plans, Seek Votes

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

September 13 -- Squinting into the audience at the packed Kirk Douglas Theater Tuesday morning, transit leaders and politicians joked about how long it took them get to Culver City for a conference on Westside transportation.

But securing critical funds this November to unclog one of the most traffic-congested areas in the nation is no laughing matter, they said.

“It took me 30 minutes to get here from my house, and I live only five miles away,” State Senator Kevin Murry told the nearly 300 officials who attended a meeting of area stakeholders known as Mobility 21.

“Luckily it gave me time to look over my talking points,” the senator, who is finishing his term, told the crowd.

One of his top talking points -- echoed by city council members from Santa Monica, Culver City and Beverly Hills, as well as Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials, among others -- was a very serious issue: campaigning heavily for Propositions 1A and 1B on November’s State ballot.

Proponents have raised $4 million of the $13 million in campaign funds they will likely need to pass the two propositions, Murry said.

Combined, the measures may bring between $5 and $6 billion to the Westside, including projects directly connected to Santa Monica, such as the unfunded phase II of the Exposition light rail project, set to begin in 2010 and end in 2015.

That money, Murry and others said, will be critical to decongest Westside streets in an area that is the second largest job magnet in Los Angeles County.

“As you all know, we are choking in traffic,” said MTA vice-chair and Council member Pam O’Connor, who is seeking her fourth term on the Santa Monica City Council.

Residents on the Westside, O’Connor said, have no alternatives, and “that’s why the Exposition Line and Subway should run all the way to Santa Monica,” she said.

Phase II of the light rail to Santa Monica, set to begin undergoing an environmental review, will cost $750 million -- roughly $100 million more than the 8.6 mile phase I stretch from Downtown Los Angeles to Culver City.

Transit officials on September 29 will break ground on the Culver City leg, which includes ten stations parked along the above-ground route, dramatically greening the center of the street and increasing bike and pedestrian paths, according to presentations at the meeting.

If plans to extend the subway, increase rapid bus services, add car-pool lanes and tweak the freeway interchange are to become a reality, officials will need to convince voters to back the propositions.

“This is funding the backlog (of projects) just to get to par,” Murry said.

While Prop 1B will provide the needed funding, Prop 1A will close loopholes that allow the State to borrow transportation funds, he said.

“We are finding a way for us politicians to quit ripping off transportation funding,” Murry said to laughter from the crowd.

Less funny is that Los Angeles County is expected to grow by 30 percent in the next few decades and that 43 percent of all containers shipped and transported in the U.S. come through the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, adding to an already critical problem, officials said.

Come November, transit official will know if they can count on funding for a partial solution to the problem, officials said.

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