News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by

Everything you need to know about Measure M, LA's transportation funding plan

A Metro Rail light train on the Gold Line travels over the 101 Santa Ana Freeway near Union Station in Los Angeles Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
A Metro Rail light train on the Gold Line travels over the 101 Santa Ana Freeway near Union Station in Los Angeles Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Damian Dovarganes/AP

Listen to story

Download this story 9MB

Measure M calls for an extension of a half-cent sales tax, and the addition of another half-cent tax, all to fund transportation projects.

If it passes, it will raise up to $860 million dollars a year for improving freeways and expanding the public transportation network.

Whether you support or oppose Measure M, you probably agree that traffic congestion in L.A. is terrible and that something has to be done.

Most experts say the real solution is changing behavior - getting people out of their cars, and into alternate forms of transportation. So, we asked Sue Carpenter, the host of our series about modern mobility, The Ride, to embark on a little experiment.

For more on her car free experience and all things Measure M, Take Two's A Martinez spoke to Carpenter, KPCC's transportation reporter Meghan McCarty and Jason Jordon of the Washington, DC-based Center for Transportation Excellence.

Interview Highlights

What does Measure M do, if voters end up approving it?

McCarty: "It's got this long list of capital projects that will be undertaken over the next 40 years with the revenues from a sales tax increase, so it includes some pretty major rail expansions including a subway under that nightmare 405 Sepulveda pass, an extension of the Gold Line all the way to Claremont, it would accelerate construction of the Purple line subway which is now going to Westwood, that would be accelerated by 10 years and finish by 2024. It includes some kind of express transit, most likely light rail, down Van Nuys boulevard in the valley and also down Vermont Ave in central L.A. Also, some money for some big highway improvements, some of the biggest ones are expanding the 5 in Northern L.A. county, this desert corridor to the Antelope valley and another section connecting to the ports. It would fund state of good repair and operation for Metro into the future so that they could kind of keep up all this infrastructure that they're building and keep operations going."

How much will it cost and how will it get paid for?

McCarty: "This is an extension of the half-cent sales tax that we approved in 2008 with Measure R, with an additional half-cent added on to that and both of those half cents would go theoretically forever, or until voters decide to repeal them. It would also give Metro much stronger borrowing power to get loans to finish projects faster. This would raise $120 billion dollars over 40 years and in terms of what that would cost us as citizens of L.A. county, Metro estimates that each half-cent increase in the sales tax cost the average family about $25 bucks a year so the Measure R one costs voters $25 bucks a year, we're paying that right now, that would go on. And then this additional half-cent would cost voters another $25 dollars a year."

Sue, from your reporting, and your recent car-less-ness, what do you see as the critical things that have to happen to make it easier for people to get around without getting behind the wheel?

Carpenter: "Number one is innovation, which I'm sorry to say doesn't really exist in Measure M, which is calling for more of the same. So, big rail projects, better buses, improved highways, Metro says that Measure M projects are designed to make transit more convenient and affordable for three specific groups: Senior citizens, students and the disabled. It really is not about convincing people like me to give up my car though it should be, considering traffic and population projections. It's almost like Metro has given up on anyone who doesn't have to take it out of necessity and I'm just remembering that about eight years ago I interviewed Jay Leno and we were talking about this upcoming spate of electric vehicles and I asked him if he thought they were going to succeed and he said something that I think is just equally applicable to transit or how we get around which is: 'For any new technology to succeed it has to be better than what currently exists.' So, is Metro better than a personal car right now? In a lot of ways it is not...."

It's been reported that Measure M is the most expensive and ambitious of any plan on the ballot in this country. Is that, in fact, the case, and how does the L.A. plan compare with other measures in other communities?

Jordon: "It's certainly the largest, and maybe that's no surprise given the size of L.A. county and the overall ambitions of the plan you were speaking of earlier. But although it's the largest, it's not alone. There are five other measures across the country that are estimated to raise more than a billion individually new investments. Seattle for instance will be voting on a package estimated at at least $54 billion dollars. I also think it's important to remember that these are investments. There's a proven record of significant return on those investments, both in L.A. and around the country as I said, since 2000 voters have accrued these more than 70 percent of the time and that's a pretty amazing record politically when you stop to think of it. And I think one of the reasons is that people understand they're investing in specific projects and a specific plan that will benefit themselves whether they use transit or not."

To hear the full segment, click the blue play button above.