LEADERS MOBILIZING TO SMOOTH OUT TRAFFIC SOLID FRONT URGED ON FUNDS.
Southern California's transportation leaders on Thursday identified the region's top 10 ``traffic busters'' - many of the same freeway and public transit goals already in line for funding - that will be the focus of this year's advocacy efforts.
The $9 billion list was unveiled as officials prepare for next week's annual Mobility 21 conference, to be held in Burbank, where leaders will try to forge a regional consensus and prevent infighting for limited transportation dollars.
``What we're trying to do is develop a common vision,'' Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Roger Snoble said in an interview. ``Mobility 21 is a venue, an organization, that can start to drive mobility through the county.''
With rush hour now lasting eight hours a day and commuters wasting the equivalent of almost five days each year stuck in traffic, getting money to build train lines, expand freeways and bolster bus service is vital for the region's quality of life and economic health.
Los Angeles County residents and businesses have historically been paying $1.4 billion annually in gas taxes at the pump, but getting back only $1.2 billion from the government as transit funds go to other states and regions.
The coalition of transportation, business and elected officials wants to persuade lawmakers and bureaucrats in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., that Los Angeles County and its 88 cities are a force that deserves its share of transportation dollars.
Too often in the past, business leaders said, local officials in the region have fought over scraps of transportation dollars, leaving the bigger prizes to regions where officials are more organized.
``Our delegation in California has not been as together as (those from) other regions. That's been a long, long story, and it hasn't gotten any better,'' said George Kieffer, chairman of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, which helped create Mobility 21 in 2002.
``The political will comes from the public's will. ... Without this, you don't have anything. You have 100 different leaders fighting.''
Key to the efforts of the 2-year-old coalition has been convincing local officials to trust that if they support a project in a far-flung part of the county, their own pet projects will eventually get the backing of the group.
``It has been a success in terms of bringing people to the table. Now whether or not there's been a cohesive consensus for a comprehensive transportation plan for the area, I don't think that's happened yet,'' said Rosa Fuquay, the transportation deputy to county Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who is also an MTA board member.
``I know everyone is familiar with their projects in their area, but I believe when it comes to that bigger picture, there's not that understanding of how one impacts the other.''
``This is a 20-year battle,'' Kieffer said. ``You're not going to have total success in the first two years.''
The coalition's top-10 list - almost the same as the coalition's first wish list two years ago - involves billion-dollar infrastructure projects.
The group counts this year's approval of $490 million in federal matching funds toward the $880 million Metro Gold Line extension in East Los Angeles - with groundbreaking this summer - as the kind of victory that comes from the greater group effort.
``Everyone finally came together on that,'' Snoble said. ``We finally made a big move.''
Despite the coalition's efforts, rivalries remain strong in the region, and there have been stumbles along the way. For example, the MTA board got into a heated exchange last winter when it reallocated money from other projects to shore up the Gold Line project.
``It hasn't stopped family feuds, but it's laid the groundwork, I think, for much more aggressive regional lobbying for state and federal funding,'' said Steve Erie, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, who will be a moderator for one of the panels at next week's conference.
``In the golden era of the 1950s, when you had a couple congressmen getting together with the L.A. chamber, there were fewer players. ... It's much more decentralized and diverse now, so the challenge is greater today,'' he said.
``For the first time, there is a forum, an organization in place.''
Lisa Mascaro, (818) 713-3761
$9 BILLION FUND: Top 10 traffic-busting priorities
SOURCE: Mobility 21