Could LA's Plan to Build 30 Years of Transit Projects in Just 10 Work for the US?


Photo: Groume via Flickr/CC BY-SA

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has thrown all of his weight behind his city's so-called 30/10 plan -- a blueprint to build 30 years' worth of transit projects in just 10, by making a half percent increase on sales tax and leveraging federal funding. Los Angeles voters overwhelmingly approved the measure last year, and the project is now on track. Now, Villaraigosa is aiming to take the idea to the national stage, where, as he argues, benefits would be reaped across the spectrum: better mass transit, more good jobs, and less congestion. Streetsblog reports:

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was on Capitol Hill this week promoting his city's "30/10″ plan as a model for boosting transit expansion around the country. The "30/10″ plan would deliver 30 years of transit projects in 10 years by leveraging revenue from a local sales tax measure with federal financing. Villaraigosa and labor and business leaders say the same model could be applied nationwide -- an initiative they're calling "America Fast Forward."

Jarrett Walker of Human Transit weighs in on the implications: "Because it relies on Federal financing rather than spending, and because the funding sources are local tax streams that are relatively stable, it's an approach that could potentially succeed even in lean times. It could well usher in a new era of these measures, in which most voters could vote up or down on a set of plans knowing that if passed, all of them would be built and running in just ten years, soon enough to affect most voters' lives."

There's no doubt that cities across the nation are in dire need of better transit and infrastructure investment. Our cities are choked with congestion, and the few well-running mass transit systems dotting the nation are seeing budget shortfalls and other problems. And sprawling cities like LA could benefit immensely from good mass transit that could draw it closer together in the long run.

So, the 'America Fast Forward' program would try to do these sorts of things on a large scale -- it would secure federal funding for transit projects, provided that they were matched by local tax revenues. Then, cities would be able to direct the funding to the projects of its choice, which seem to mostly be things like BRT and rail. All in all, it seems like a good idea, and it may yet gain traction -- none other than the president of the Chamber of Commerce supports the idea, one of the few instances in which that man, environmental groups, and labor agree on anything.

I'm not thrilled that the program is essentially built around an increase in sales tax -- I'd rather see funding come from a bump in marginal tax rates (the rich benefit, too! Cleaner air, less congestion for them to drive their fancy cars around in, etc), or some other non-regressive tax, but hey, the people have spoken. If LA's 30/10 plan can cut it in DC, and get anywhere near to fulfilling its projections, it may be the best thing to happen to transit in the US since New York's subway system.

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