Bill Boyarsky
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Carmageddon creates jobs

While Angelenos fretted about Carmageddon, some 200 construction workers labored through the weekend tearing down the Mulholland Drive bridge, just a small part of the roughly 18,000 employed on the entire 405 widening project.

This large number of jobs in the midst of a deep recession and high unemployment is one of the generally unnoticed benefits of a project that has drawn many complaints from motorists furious at any interruption of their driving.

“This is very important in creating jobs,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told me Saturday morning. The 405 project, he noted, would complete the high occupancy vehicle lane system around the metropolitan area.

I talked to the mayor on the phone as he was headed south on the Harbor Freeway to the funeral of Ramona Hahn, widow of County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn. Traffic was pretty clear, he said, although he expected it to get worse later in the day as crowds arrive for the big soccer game at the Coliseum. By that time, he’ll be at the city’s emergency operation center.

I live in the heart of Carmageddon country, near Olympic Boulevard and Veteran Avenue, one of the designated detour routes. I rose at 6 a.m., went outside to pick up the newspapers and looked at an empty Olympic Boulevard. Around 7:30 a.m., my wife Nancy and I walked south on Veteran to Pico Boulevard to have breakfast at the Colony. There were hardly any cars on Veteran. Most of the houses we passed had cars parked in driveways and it was unusually quiet. That was because, we realized, there was no sound from the nearby 405, whose constant hum is a presence in our lives. The only noise came from news copters circling above.

Pico was quiet, too. After breakfast, we walked east to Prosser Avenue, noticing several motorcycle cops and police cars. We headed back home, stopping to show two non-English speaking tourists how to get to Macy’s.

Villaraigosa returned my phone call late in the morning. We discussed how Carmageddon related to the big transportation picture in Los Angeles County, which involves construction of two more light rail lines, the Westside subway and the high occupancy freeway lanes.

Construction of all these projects will be speeded up, he said, if Congress passes and President Barack Obama signs the America Fast Forward legislation, which would provide immediate loans to local governments for transportation projects, as well as give them power to issue bonds with a federal tax break. These would be repaid with local revenue. In Los Angeles, the money to speed up transportation projects would be repaid by revenue from a one half-cent sales tax approved by the voters in 2008.
Villaraigosa proposed this a while back to finance completion of the projects in 10 years rather than the 30 that had been originally plan. It’s called the 30-10 plan. “It will create 106,000 jobs in 10 years,” said Villaraigosa, who is going to Washington again to lobby for the plan.

I asked him how it could pass a House of Representatives run by conservative Republicans who hate government spending. He said since the program consists of loans, it actually doesn’t increase spending. More important it’s backed by the Republican chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, John Mica.

Without much media emphasis on the job aspect, these projects are already putting people to work in a county where unemployment is almost 12 per cent. While construction crews worked on the 405, many miles away, workers had started on the Gold Line light rail extension through the San Gabriel Valley, which business interests there said will create 2,630 construction jobs plus 4,270 more in businesses related to the project.

I looked out the door. At noon, Olympic Boulevard was still quiet. The news copters had gone away. It may get much worse during the weekend but I’ll let others report the bad news.

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