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Mayor/Metro Boss Villaraigosa on Carmaheaven, Expo, 405 Subway

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Mayor Villaraigosa has long been a friend to buses, trains, and bikes--and the people on them--and starting this month, he's exerting more power over everything transit-related by once again becoming Chairman of Metro's powerful board (he replaces outgoing Board Chairman, Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe). Mr. Mayor talked to Curbed on Tuesday about the issues he hopes to take on--like getting that darn Expo Line finished and starting a bike share in the city. We also asked him about that tricky Century City subway station and whether we'll ever have a train over the Sepulveda Pass.

What are your goals for this time around?
My time as Chairman this time around comes at a pivotal point in the agency's work. We passed Measure R in 2008 in the face of great opposition and during a recession and after working very hard to get it through the legislature--we won by one vote in each house. We'll soon break ground on the first Measure R project--Expo Phase II--and we'll complete another Measure R project--the Orange Line extension. And I think we're about to get good news that the 30/10 plan/America Fast Forward initiative will have a down payment with the passage of a billion dollars in both Chairman [of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee] John Mica's bill and Barbara Boxer's bill for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, one of the innovative financing tools we need to accelerate our projects from 30 to 10 years. The main goal is to lock down federal financing for road, rail, bus, and bike projects efficiently and effectively and put many people back to work. On August 4, we'll be reviewing our green construction initiative, which will be presented at my first meeting as [chairman]; that initiative calls for the MTA and construction contractors to use cleaner and less polluting equipment--no other transit agency in the nation has adopted a policy like this. And the Expo Phase II (to Santa Monica) groundbreaking will be September 12; it's a $1.5 billion project to be completed in 2015 with 7 stations, 6 miles in length, 36,000 boardings by 2030 and with Expo Phase 1, 64,000 boardings total. In the winter, we'll review the Regional Connector final environmental report.

Everyone's very anxious for Expo Phase 1 to open. Do you think we'll see an opening to La Cienega in the fall?
I don't know if this fall, but I know we expect to open it as soon thereafter as possible.

The fears of Carmageddon didn't come to fruition. Why was it successful?
Because media got the word out and because the people of this city--as they have so many times before--rose to the occasion, they answered the call. They stayed out of their car, they didn't go into the area, and instead of Carmageddon we had Carmaheaven.

The work progressed so fast on the Mulholland Bridge project. Is there a way to put that kind of muscle behind construction of transit projects?
Absolutely. The best way is efforts to accelerate our construction programs with 30/10 and America Fast Forward. There is no more innovative way to accelerate those programs than those programs. Yet, California has one of the most rigorous [environmental] requirements in the country. And on federal projects, first you do CEQA then you do NEPA, the national [environmental requirement]--you do it consecutively. We're arguing they should be done concurrently so we can speed up construction times. As we saw with [the 405 widening] design/build process can accelerate projects--that's why I went to the legislature and got authority. [The 405 project] was the only transportation project, CALTRANS project, that authorized design/build that passed in the last few years. I was the guy who went to the legislature to do that. Additonally, incentivizing contractors the way we did here--saying, 'Look if you speed it up--safely, obviously--and maintain quality, you can get a little bump.' You have to do all those things.

Will we see any movement in this year or next on a transit option over the Sepulveda Pass? There is money set aside in Measure R for something.
As you said, a subway underneath the 405 is in Measure R. It would be one of the highest riderships after the subway [to Westwood] in the region; the second highest after the subway. I'm not aware of any plans right now other than what we've done. I do know there's a billion dollars for a subway under the 405. Remember, the demolition of the bridge wasn't about demo-ing the bridge--it was about extending a grid of HOV lanes from Orange County to the San Fernando Valley. Then we have pilot programs to look at how we can more efficiently use those HOV lanes on the 110 and the 10 and turn them into HOT lanes--the way for us to get more bang for the buck and less single passenger vehicles on our freeways, while at the same time, doubling our rail system.

Also, before we used to build a transit line--subway or light rail--and then five, 10 years later start planning around transit stations. Now we're in the process of planning around all of these stations so we're getting entitlements over time much earlier than we would have otherwise and we're going to remake the city. As people, particularly with the aging population, decide they want to live closer to the city and not in sprawling homes in the suburbs but in smaller apartment/condos near transit stations, you're going to see us remaking the city by creating transit villages. That's very important.

With all the Measure R big-ticket projects, there is opposition--the Gold Line extension is facing several lawsuits, and possibly the Crenshaw light-rail and Westside subway projects. In your work as president of the US Conference of Mayors, do you find this is indicative of all infrastructure projects or that it's exacerbated in LA?
I couldn't tell you that. I think it's always difficult to build large infrastructure projects--there's no question that it sometimes unduly slows down these projects but it is important to get community input. At the same time, we need to balance the need to move as quickly as possible to really do everything we can to invest in the infrastructure that we need.

Will we have bike sharing in the city?
No question about it. We passed a 1,600 mile bike network--in addition to the city, I got the MTA to make bike lanes, bike paths, bike routes a higher priority. We'll be announcing a bike sharing plan here in L.A. Our goal is to build four times the bike lanes, paths, and routes than we did in the past.

Are you back on your bike after your accident?
I've gotten back on the bike but not regularly, to be honest.

This is a contentious issue--do you have a stance on placement of the Century City subway station?
No, we haven't had an opportunity to review the [final environmental documents] and look at all the recommendations. We certainly want to work with the people of Beverly Hills to make sure we're doing everything possible to safely, efficiently move forward.
· Transportation Archives [Curbed LA]