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‘America Fast Forward’ With Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

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This blog excerpt was written by Sam Schwartz, the former New York City traffic commissioner and head highway and bridge engineer who is now chief executive of Sam Schwartz Engineering in New York City. The responses, posted anonymously by ENR.com readers, have been edited for clarity and fit.

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Sam Schwartz
SCHWARTZ

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently went national with his 30/10 transportation initiative, a plan to speed up a dozen projects by using federal loans to leverage proceeds from a half-penny sales-tax increase approved by California voters. The national plan is called “America Fast Forward.” It is supported by a—gasp!—bipartisan coalition of lawmakers.

It is a template that every local and state government entity can use to finance desperately needed transit projects, create jobs and help the environment. It's one of the most innovative and promising ideas to emerge in this dismal political season for America's transportation networks.

I've previously applauded the mayor for his 30/10 plan, which would secure federal loans for transit projects to pay for 30 years' worth of construction in 10 years (hence 30/10). The first part of the plan, known as Measure R, required a public referendum in which a two-thirds majority vote was needed to levy the half-cent sales tax.

Mayor Villaraigosa launched a Herculean lobbying effort, convincing 68% of the voters to pass the tax (he needed 67%) and improve the Los Angeles transportation network.

The funding plan to extend light-rail, subway and rapid bus lines promises to change the face of his city and the rest of Los Angeles County while creating jobs and reducing harmful greenhouse gases.

Officials estimate some 166,000 jobs will be created by the projects. And by speeding up the construction schedule, officials have estimated they can cut the construction costs to $14 billion from $18 billion, and the savings could be higher. And when it comes to the environment, the initiative's benefits are dramatic.

• Once again, California flexes its bronze muscles as the world's thought leader. Is it any wonder why more Americans live in this state than any other? And yet the state still is nearly insolvent and relying on federal loans.

• Federal loans? That's why we pay federal taxes. And with the recession, most states are having a tough time balancing the budget. Before California once again leads the nation in economic growth and prosperity in the years ahead, the answer is to pay more taxes, cut the payrolls of state workers and convert freeways to toll roads to drive more revenue.

• Oh, and California pays out more in federal taxes than it takes in, so there's that.

• It seems California might be well on the way to recovery according to the news indicating tax receipts are running about $2 billion to $3 billion more than anticipated so far this year. The freeways are packed in Silicon Valley, and engineering jobs are starting to open up with several local companies hiring. The recent election saw voters willing to increase parcel taxes to fund education in several jurisdictions. Don't count California out yet. We are just getting started.

 

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