Los Angeles City officials hailed the repeal by the House of Representatives of a federal ban on funding for the proposed Westside “Subway to the Sea.”

The House of Representatives approved the Fiscal Year 2008 Omnibus Appropriations bill Wednesday, December 19th, which included a provision authored by Congressman Henry Waxman to lift the prohibition against federal involvement in the construction of the “Subway to the Sea.”

City officials said the vote was the result of more than two years of aggressive lobbying by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and extensive collaboration with the congressional delegation in Los Angeles.

The proposed Subway to the Sea project involves extending the Metro Purple (formerly Red) Line subway from Western Avenue along Wilshire Boulevard to connect areas such as Santa Monica, Westwood, Century City, Beverly Hills and Mid-Wilshire to downtown Los Angeles. The completed subway would have one of the highest ridership rates of any subway line in the country, city officials project.

“Twenty-one years ago, Washington derailed the hopes for a Westside subway, and today, we’re back on track,” said Villaraigosa, referring to the repeal vote by the House of Representatives.

“After more than two decades of waiting and planning, it’s now time to take definitive action to ease traffic congestion on the Westside and improve the quality of life for commuters throughout L.A. County. “A ‘Subway to the Sea’ would be the safest, quietest, fastest, most reliable and most environmentally-friendly way to reduce traffic congestion where we need it most.”

In October 2005, Villaraigosa initiated an independent peer review conducted by the American Public Transportation Association, which concluded that the “Subway to the Sea” could be built and operated safely and without risk to surrounding communities, a spokesman for the mayor said.

“In 1985, a consensus over safety concerns led Congress to impose limited restrictions on tunneling,” Waxman said. “I’m glad that new technological developments have led to a new consensus that tunneling can be done safely.

“I’m grateful that Congress has just approved my bill to repeal the 1985 restrictions and to allow Los Angeles to explore new options in meeting our city’s traffic problems.”

The 1985 restrictions arose over fear of tunneling through methane gas fields, after a gas explosion in the basement of a clothing store at Third Street and Fairfax Avenue, near Wilshire Boulevard.

Upon completion, the Wilshire subway is expected to ease congestion and serve thousands of commuters along one of the densest and most heavily traveled corridors in Los Angeles, city officials said. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro or MTA) estimates that approximately 80,000 cars travel along Wilshire Boulevard on a daily basis.

Since taking office, Villaraigosa has led the effort to extend the subway from its current terminus at Wilshire and Western to the Pacific Ocean. The mayor has worked with Waxman and Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to push Congress to lift the ban on federal support for the project.

The MTA board of directors is expected to choose a “locally preferred alternative” in July that will define the preferred route, technology and construction profile for the subway extension, the mayor’s spokesman said.

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