By ELIZABETH HSING-HUEI CHOU
City News Service
A rail project expected to link far-flung corners of Los Angeles County will get $670 million from the federal government, officials announced today.
Metro Board Chair Diane DuBois hailed the funding as a major “milestone” and a “giant step forward” that will allow the Los Angeles County regional transportation authority to begin major construction later this year on the $1.37 billion Regional Connector in downtown Los Angeles.
The 1.9-mile underground connection will give Metro riders the ability to take light-rail trips from the San Gabriel Valley and East Los Angeles to Santa Monica without transferring.
The $670 million is the first agreement with the Federal Transit Administration to be secured for the Los Angeles area in nearly two decades, officials said.
The first $65 million of that amount has been earmarked as part of the federal spending bill approved last month, with subsequent chunks of the funding requiring approval from Congress.
“On behalf of President Obama and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, we're proud to be contributing roughly half the cost to help build the Regional Connector,'' FTA Administrator Therese McMillan said during a news conference and signing ceremony at Metro's Little Tokyo/Arts District station.
She was joined by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Congressman Xavier Becerra, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, as well as by DuBois and other Metro officials.
“What begins here today in Little Tokyo will ripple far beyond” to other parts of the region, including Long Beach, Azusa, East Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Valley and Santa Monica, McMillan said.
The Regional Connector, slated to be completed by 2020, will link the Gold, Blue and Expo lines.
The Regional Connector will make Metro trips “faster and more convenient,” McMillan said, saving time for those who “lose hours every week changing from one train to another just to keep moving in the same direction.”
Two-thirds of people in Los Angeles County do not have access to cars, McMillan said.
Garcetti said the project will streamline public transportation in a city “replete with half-finished transit,” including in downtown Los Angeles, “where we've had to get up from one train and get on another train in order to go east and west or north and south.”
Feinstein, who requested the initial $65 million in federal appropriations, said Los Angeles officials must “stay on the case” to continue receiving funding.
The full-funding agreement “is the beginning, and generally outside of sequester, it would be a given, but because of sequester and because of some financial uncertainty -- as the debt is reduced on the federal government -- the money that goes to infrastructure across the country becomes more important than ever,” she said.
Feinstein also helped assisted Metro in securing a $160 million loan for the Regional Connector through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program.
In additional through federal financial assistance, the Regional Connector will receive state and local funds, including proceeds from Measure R, a half-cent sales tax hike approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008.
McMillan also indicated that a $1.25 billion full funding agreement for the Purple Line Westside Subway Extension -- often referred to as the “Subway to the Sea” -- will be finalized later this year.