Why Mayor Emanuel Looks to Los Angeles for Inspiration

Did you catch Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on NPR’s Marketplace last week? Jeremy Hobson had questions about the mayor’s proposed Infrastructure Trust, how it would work and what kind of projects it would fund. It’s a quick read or listen here. (The audio begins at the 10:15 mark.) You can also catch tonight’s segment on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight, where some aldermen will weigh in on the mayor’s infrastructure trust.

About halfway through the interview, Hobson asked kind of an offbeat question about where Mayor Emanuel gets his inspiration. The mayor cited Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles but didn’t say exactly why.

Chicago or L.A.?

Chicago or L.A.? Photo credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

I think what Mayor Emanuel was referring to was Villaraigosa’s very innovative plan to build out his city’s public transportation system much faster than what’s typical for infrastructure projects of that scale. The plan is certainly inspiring and something we here in Chicago should be discussing as a model for funding our own transit needs. Here’s the back story:

It all started with Move LA, a project of community partners that set a goal and vision for expanding transit options for Angelenos. After a year of building support, Move LA got a measure on the ballot in 2008 to create a dedicated funding stream for new transit projects. With 68 percent of the vote, Angelenos approved Measure R, a half cent sales tax increase that went into effect in 2009 to raise $40 billion over 30 years to revamp the transit system and double the amount of existing rail in the city.

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Mayor Villaraigosa took the plan to another level. Instead of accepting the anticipated 30 years it would take to fix LA’s transit system, he pushed to shorten construction time to 10 years by using the future Measure R sales tax revenue as collateral to get more money through a low-interest federal loan and long-term bonds.

Currently the Crenshaw Line, which would connect the Metro Green Line and Expo Line, has been authorized by the Federal Transportation Administration to proceed with project implementation. When all is said and done, Los Angeles will have a Westside subway extension, a regional connector to link downtown rail lines, a light rail extension to LAX airport, and bus-only lanes along some corridors. These projects will add 78 miles to the current transit system. On top of that, it is estimated that 160,000 jobs will be created, annual vehicle miles traveled will drop by at least 191 million miles, annual gasoline usage will decrease for 10.3 million people, and annual mobile source pollution emissions will decrease by 521,000 pounds.

Guess how much it’ll cost each LA resident? $25 a year. Would Chicagoans be willing to invest $25 per year for similar benefits? It’s something to think about as you wait for the next bus to show up or fill up your car with gas.

One Response to “Why Mayor Emanuel Looks to Los Angeles for Inspiration”

  1. Infrastructure trust and Red Line extension - Newstips by Curtis Black Says:

    [...] discusses the ambitious expansion of mass transit now underway in Los Angeles, cited by Emanuel as an [...]