As mid morning traffic on I-405 built up, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa stood amid the construction work on the Mulholland Bridge Thursday and celebrated his biggest accomplishment: congressional approval of the America Fast Forward program, which will create hundreds of thousands of jobs in a weak economy by speeding up transit and highway projects. At his side was Sen. Barbara Boxer, largely responsible for getting the measure through a Congress stalemated on most everything else.
Although most of the news media and the local political community have treated this effort with great indifference, approval of America Fast Forward is one of the most important transportation developments in recent local history. It is a huge triumph for a mayor dogged by bad press, some of it his own making, some of it by media fixation on a phony narrative of a failing Villaraigosa administration.
America Fast Forward, part of the transportation bill just passed by Congress, permits Metro, the regional transportation agency, to use revenue from the Measure R sales tax as collateral for long-term bonds and federal loans. This will allow Metro to build 12 major mass transit projects in 10 years, rather than 30. Accelerating construction would put people to work with comparative speed, get traffic-easing projects going faster and save construction costs. It means, Villaraigosa said, $546 million for the Crenshaw rail line and $600 million for the Wilshire subway.
Job creation in this area alone would be substantial, according to Richard Katz, a Metro board member who helped write the plan and lobby for it. Katz cited figures from the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. which estimated the number of jobs directly created from the projects themselves and indirectly from money flowing to suppliers, subcontractors, and businesses patronized by workers. Total local employment gains, direct and indirect, would be 177,700 from highway projects and 83,280 from transit projects. Some examples of such job creation:
Westside subway, 30,000; Eastside transit corridor, 15,400; Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor, 14,000; Alameda Corridor Grade Separation, 12,800; I-5 High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes, 30,240.
“A game changer,” Villaraigosa said of the transportation bill. He called it “the most important job creating bill Congress has passed to date.” Boxer, noting the heavy odds against passage in this Congress, said it required “very heavy lifting up to the last moment.”
There was also heavy lifting in getting the news media to give the effort much coverage. The Los Angeles Times had a complete story on the passage of the transportation bill but played it inside LA Extra. There wasn’t enough on the measure’s tortuous path through Congress, Boxer’s crucial role or the lobbying effort of the mayor and other local officials. The only Times journalist writing about it in depth from the start was Tim Rutten, the former op-ed columnist.
Villaraigosa, of course, makes things hard for himself because his personal story steps on his work-related story. As his America Fast Forward was passing, his lover of three years, television reporter Lu Parker, broke up with him. Two girl friends and a broken marriage catch public attention.
His legacy, however, will be the construction projects—and jobs in a region hard hit by the recession. These will be feeding the economy and easing traffic long after he leaves office.
Photo: Gary Leonard