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LA gets the bragging rights on snagging federal transportation dollars

LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Arthur Leahy does not apologize for going after federal transportation dollars.
LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Arthur Leahy does not apologize for going after federal transportation dollars.
Kitty Felde/KPCC

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Last year’s multi-year transportation bill includes a billion dollars a year in new loans. Today, transportation officials from around the country asked Congress: Where’s the money? But Southern California need not worry: transit projects here are sitting pretty.

Texas officials complained to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that the Department of Transportation is taking too long to hand out the money, applications are overly complicated, and the new lower matching fund level set by Congress isn’t being used.

James Bass, the top money man at the Texas Department of  Transportation, told the committee chair, California Democrat Barbara Boxer, that federal transportation officials demand a “compelling argument” to alter the previous two-thirds matching funds requirement. Boxer replied: "A good compelling argument is what we said."

Boxer didn’t get any complaints from L.A’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Metro CEO Arthur Leahy said L.A. County voters already approved a half-cent sales tax for transit, which lets Metro propose projects with two-thirds funding secured. That local sales tax adds up to $1.5 billion a year for transportation.

Metro received a $546 million loan for the Crenshaw/LAX transit project and an invitation to apply for a billion dollars more to extend the Purple Line and downtown Regional Connector project. Metro says it plans to apply for $2.5 billion for transit projects and another $1 billion for highway projects to "manage Los Angeles County's infamous freeway congestion." 

Leahy said there may be transit envy from other regions, but he compared Metro to the new owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers: "They are acting like they represent the second biggest city in the country. And they should." No apologies. "We’re going to come back here and get as much money as we can."

L.A. has another advantage when it comes to transportation funding: a delegation led by former  Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa came up with the idea a few years back for super-sizing loans through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA). L.A. officials lobbied for several years to have it included in the multi-year transportation bill. So local transit leaders were  ready to apply for TIFIA loans before many regions understood how to fill out the paperwork. It doesn't hurt when the head of the Senate Committee that oversees transportation projects comes from California.

Newly-confirmed Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told Boxer’s committee that the transportation department also loaned $421 million this month for the 91 freeway corridor project. Foxx said he’s adding staff to process a traffic jam of applications.