Transportation: Where Do We Go From Here?

For the last year, I have had the honor of serving as the Chair of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. I came into this role focused on safety and customer service, and the pursuit of a balanced transportation plan for the entire Los Angeles County region.

The last year has been a time of firsts and lasts for Metro. We retired our last diesel bus, becoming the world’s first major transit agency to operate only clean fuel buses. Through our commitment to alternative energies, we set an example for other transit agencies that it is possible to operate with clean burning fuels.

Metro welcomed our one billionth passenger and celebrated our 20th anniversary of the Blue Line, recognizing just how far we have come – zero miles to nearly 80 miles of track. We also moved forward on the Wilshire Bus Only Lane project, which will shave over 11 minutes off commute times in one of the most heavily traveled corridors in the region.

We paid tribute to our past by purchasing Southern California’s largest transportation hub, Union Station, which will enable us to accommodate greater increases in transit ridership. I’m proud that we are retaining the historic nature of Union Station, while preparing the region for a vibrant transit future.

With a focus on quality service, on-time performance and most importantly, safety, we remained true to our core values. I have been pleased to see on-time performance improving and complaints going down.

While effectively managing today’s system, we turned an eye to the future and how Southern California’s transit system will evolve in the decades to come. The underlying fact remains constant: this region’s traffic is legendary and unsustainable if we are to attract new jobs and expand our economic influence.

To their credit, our residents aren’t just complaining about it, they’re stepping up to participate in solutions. I have been amazed that three times in the last three decades they have taxed themselves, desperate for congestion relief. In the toughest economic times, they have begged for help. And they have been heard!

The most recent approved tax led to Measure R, which will deliver a dozen new transit projects and 15 highway projects, making it one of the largest public works programs in the nation’s history. These transit projects would change the urban landscape of the Los Angeles region, fostering development in transit corridors, while jump starting our weak economy.

Measure R illustrates that transit is not all about trains and not all about people. While subways generate significant attention and media coverage, they are by no means a panacea for the congestion issues we must address. Cars will remain a symbol of LA culture and we need to aggressively invest in finding solutions to the daily gridlock on our freeways.

Improved roads and infrastructure will play a huge role in improving our personal mobility. Moreover, highway projects will also ensure that goods can move freely from our twin ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach to the manufacturing centers in the eastern parts of LA County and beyond.

While our ports handle over 2½ times the volume of containerized shipments of their closest rival, New York/New Jersey, we are nowhere near tapping their full potential. We have distinct strategic and commercial attributes that we are not exploiting. Nowhere in the US does international trade have a more significant impact than in LA County. And nowhere is better positioned to take advantage of the dramatic increase in globalization that has been developing over the last decade.

With an extensive network of infrastructure in place to move goods across the Western US, LA County provides businesses with the resources needed to grow and expand into international markets. Only one percent of U.S. companies currently export. Yet with more than 1 billion new middle class consumers expected over the next 15 years, U.S. businesses will have global market opportunities never seen before. We must support their growth with our own expanded infrastructure and protect the advantages that we have in attracting the increased cargo business of the future.

Over the last year, the Metro Board has been aggressive in developing solutions to today’s transit problems, while putting plans in place to capture tomorrow’s opportunities. We told our story in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., asking for their support in accelerating our projects and, in doing so, becoming a model for transit development in other states and municipalities.

Through our 30/10 initiative, or America Fast Forward, we are looking at ways to leverage the support of the Federal government with alternative project delivery and financing methods, including progressive partnerships with the private sector. The revenue we receive from Measure R can be used as collateral for long-term bonds and loans, allowing us to build 12 key mass transit projects in 10 years, rather than 30, while receiving a substantial cost savings and the benefits of hundreds of thousands of jobs now. The 30/10 Initiative is both an unprecedented step forward for LA County and a model of progress for the entire nation.

This is an exciting time for transportation in Los Angeles County and an opportunity for us to lead by expanding our infrastructure through greener technologies, innovative funding approaches and public/private partnerships. With a focus on the future, we must remain diligent today – prioritizing long-term projects and operating within our means. Whether our residents walk, cycle, drive or ride across this great County, no matter where our companies do business, our transportation system will be paramount to their success and quality-of-life, now and in the decades to come.