Metro Approves South L.A. Rail Line, Still Directs Disproportionate Funds to Highways

Last Thursday, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) approved a new light rail line in a move that could strengthen the transit network of a region that has historically under-invested in public transportation.

The Crenshaw/LAX Line would start at the Crenshaw Station on the Exposition Line and then head south on Crenshaw Boulevard -- past the predominantly African American neighborhoods of Baldwin Hills, Leimert Park, and Hyde Park -- and continue south to a stop about a mile from Los Angeles International Airport. 

“This project is long overdue and will provide congestion relief, improve air quality and serve as an economic catalyst,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said after the vote.

Building the line should cost between $1.3 and $1.7 billion and be paid for using revenues from Measure R, the half-cent countywide sales tax increase passed in 2008 to pay for transportation projects.  Metro expects to have the line in operation sometime between 2016 and 2018.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who is also a member of Metro’s Board of Directors, has been among the most visible supporters of the project, which would pass through his district.  Since the county first began discussing a transit project in the corridor, he has pushed for a light rail line rather than a rapid bus lane, and on Thursday he convinced the Metro board to consider adding further safety measures.

Light rail critics say these projects siphon money from cheaper bus operations that serve more riders.  But NRDC applauds investments in both bus and light rail, which are considerable improvements over costly and unsustainable highway projects, and we commend Supervisor Ridley-Thomas for his leadership in expanding public transit options for this historically underserved region of the city.

Although Metro operates a vast transit system, with 191 bus routes spread across a service area of 1,433 square miles and with more than 90 miles of light rail running from Pasadena to Long Beach, this system pales in comparison to the vast highway network.  Five hundred and twenty-seven miles of freeway crisscross Los Angeles County, and officials have invested handsomely in them.  Merely widening the 405 Freeway from the 10 to the 101 -- a distance of less than ten miles -- will carry a $1 billion budget.  All told, almost $8 billion worth of highway projects are planned for Los Angeles County in the next six years.

The focus on highways comes from the traditional priorities of local officials and also from the decisions of state and federal leaders.  Now, at a time when more commuters have turned to public transportation nationally, California has eliminated its public transportation funding and forced local agencies to cut services and increase fares.

With Measure R expected to generate $40 billion in the next 30 years, NRDC will be working hard to ensure that the revenue is spent responsibly, on transit improvements that will reduce auto use and encourage sustainable development.

For a look at the proposed Crenshaw/LAX line, click here.