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Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023

TRANSIT—Road Is Slower But Still Clear for Transit Funds

Funding promised to the San Fernando Valley for transit improvement projects is said to be secure, despite state budget threats resulting from the ongoing energy crisis and fallout from the so-called “tech wreck” of 2000. In fact, representatives from the San Fernando Valley Transportation Strike Force, formed earlier this year, and Caltrans officials insist the Valley is actually getting more money for local transit improvement projects than was initially promised. However, a large percentage of that funding has been delayed for two years. According to Caltrans spokesman Dennis Trujillo, state budget revisions, made last month by Gov. Gray Davis to offset massive expenditures for electrical power and a slowdown in tax revenue that had been an unintentional windfall from the dot-com gold rush, will not cut into the $5.2 billion Traffic Congestion Relief Program (TCRP). On the contrary, said Trujillo, the TCRP will get a $7.5 billion infusion over time through an extension of a relief program funded by gasoline sales tax revenue. But the money will trickle down to Valley transit programs later, not sooner. Initially, the TCRP was to be partially funded through sales taxes from gasoline for a period of five years, which should have begun this year. The distribution of those funds, though, has been delayed two years so that the money can be used to fund other state programs first, at least in part because so much state money has been spent on electricity purchases recently. “Essentially, what’s going on is the two years added on to the back end (of the TCRP program) will give the program more funding than we were initially going to get,” said Trujillo. Trujillo said the gasoline sales tax deferral will free up $1.06 billion in the 2001-2002 fiscal year for other state programs, and another $1.77 billion in the 2002-2003 fiscal year. The governor’s refinancing program for the DOT will also result in an additional $2.5 billion in relief from the general fund over the next four years, Trujillo said. Additional funding for transit programs is also expected to come over the next five years from local agencies, such as the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. “We originally reported that there is $500 million set aside for the Valley in the governor’s transit program, but the figure is actually closer to $750 million,” said David Grannis, with the Pasadena-based Planning Company Associates. Grannis is the chief consultant for the strike force, co-chaired by David Fleming, head of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, and former Assemblyman Richard Katz, who leads the Valley Industry and Commerce Association’s transportation committee. Transit money still available Paul Hefner, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, who had encouraged Valley business leaders to create the transit strike force, said the gasoline sales tax deferral program is a direct result of the governor’s promise to keep transit improvement projects on the table. “The governor has said that no transportation projects are going to be threatened by budget revisions,” said Hefner. “So the extension of the program essentially guarantees that the projects will be protected.” Hefner said this is a result of the strike force’s work, which is exactly what Hertzberg called for roughly a year ago when the governor’s transit package was first being put together. “Our message to the folks in the Valley has always been you are going to have to watch this stuff and make sure that things get done,” said Hefner. “The nature of these transportation projects is very complex. It’s a mammoth engineering and environmental undertaking, so you really do need some folks who can do some bird dogging, and the strike force has worked very hard to push things forward.” The extra funding, along with what appears to be more attention from Sacramento, represents a much-needed shot in the arm for the strike force. Fleming and Katz took heat from Caltrans and the Governor’s office when they formed the group in March. At the time, officials said there was no need for additional pressure, that funding for local projects was in place and that the time frames for implementing those projects would not be affected by their efforts. Now, however, Caltrans Director Jeff Morales says the persistence of the strike force has played an integral role in making it possible to push up some of the original dates for completion, proving that the squeaky wheel does indeed get the grease, despite the delay in funding. “We’ve got a tremendous opportunity to get some real things done here,” said Morales. “And what’s new here is there is a spirit of cooperation and one of partnership. And I think it’s going to be done in a very short time frame.” “It’s amazing,” said Fleming. “We’ve got three quarters of a billion dollars more for local projects, so the time to move is now. And we now have the whole-hearted support of Sacramento.” Three projects are priorities The strike force is focusing on three major projects: a Valley-wide signal synchronization program, a new east-west busway route connecting North Hollywood and Warner Center, and a north-south busway, which would intersect with the east-west system. Grannis said the $84 million needed for the signal synchronization program is fully funded, meaning Caltrans has been given approval to release the money. But the timeline for getting that project off the drawing board and completed is 10 years. “That timeline is just ridiculous,” said Grannis. “And that’s our purpose. Our focus right now is making sure that those kinds of timelines come down to a one- to two-year timeframe. There is no reason in our minds it should take that long.” Grannis said money set aside for new carpool lanes along the Golden State (5) Freeway through the Valley and the Hollywood (170) Freeway to Route 14 (Antelope Valley Freeway) has also been cleared for release and the project should go into design phase sometime this month. The credit for the attention on Valley projects, said Grannis, is not his to take. Instead, he insisted it was Fleming and Katz, along with the collaborative efforts of local agencies, who are responsible for the progress made thus far. “We have been working very closely with (Morales) and he has committed to not only working with us, but also to seeing how we can deliver the projects, not just on schedule, but maybe accelerate that schedule,” Grannis said. “But it’s the work of Mr. Fleming and Richard Katz and the others who are pushing at the local level that should be credited for getting the ball rolling.” Grannis also said that the Valley has long been dismissed by Sacramento agencies because of a common view that those leading the efforts to get lawmakers to take their projects seriously have lacked a certain degree of consistency. But the creation of the strike force, he said, has dispelled those misconceptions and placed the needs of the region front and center in Sacramento. “From a regional standpoint, the San Fernando Valley has more funded projects than any other region in the state,” said Grannis. “The rap it took in the past has been, ‘Gosh, you guys don’t have your act together.’ Well, we are proving that that simply is not true.”

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