Assembly Bill (AB) 889, which would establish a joint powers construction authority for a highly anticipated extension of the Metro Green Line light rail to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), has been put on hold for the rest of the year.

The State Assembly Appropriations Committee decided to table the proposed legislation Thursday, May 31st, effectively ending its chances of reaching the Assembly floor for a vote this year.

“It’s very disappointing,” said David Ford, deputy for Torrance Assemblyman Ted Lieu, AB 889’s sponsor. “With LAX moving forward with its modernization plans, the assemblyman really believes that this was an opportunity to be a large part of that, an extension of the Green Line into LAX.”

Lieu’s legislation would create a joint powers authority (JPA) that would be in charge of construction, hiring contractors and overseeing the proposed light rail extension, similar to the authority that was formed for the Expo Line, which is currently under construction in downtown Los Angeles. The Westside light rail project is expected to reach Culver City in 2010.

This is the second setback in as many weeks to the light rail’s proposed extension to the airport, which is backed by many area politicians, including Lieu, Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, State Senator Jenny Oropeza of Long Beach and Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe. Along with Congresswoman Jane Harman of Venice, they have formed the Green Line Coalition, a group of local, county, state and national legislators who advocate the light rail extension to the airport.

Last week, the chief financial officer of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA or Metro), Terry Matsumoto, told The Argonaut that because of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to take away $1.3 billion that was previously earmarked for state transportation needs, many capital works projects could be postponed.

“Those were funds that we expected to come in because of the (upswing) in the state’s economy,” said Matsumoto. “Now, because we don’t plan on having them, it’s safe to say that there will be delays (in capital rail projects).”

An underground rail line from the Red Line to the beach, called the Purple Line, the second phase of the Mid-Cities Light Rail Exposition Line, more commonly known as the Expo Line, to Santa Monica and an extension to LAX from Crenshaw Boulevard — the Crenshaw Corridor — are the primary capital rail projects that Metro will be examining in the near future, says Matsumoto.

Regarding the Green Line extension, “It’s not even on our radar screen right now,” he confirmed last week.

Ford said he believes that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) was “working against” the bill, and that its lobbying efforts were a primary reason that the Appropriations Committee decided to shelve it until next year.

Ken Alpern, co-chair of the Friends of the Green Line, expressed similar sentiments.

“As the expression goes, ‘You win a few and you lose a few,'” Alpern said.

“Some interesting behind-the-scenes efforts probably caused this bill to suddenly stop its previous momentum in the Appropriations Committee; most likely the Metro staff and/or board members who had opposed the Green Line Construction Authority played a role in this sudden reversal of fortunes,” he speculated.

AB 889 appeared to be on a fast track through the various important Assembly and Los Angeles City Council committees before last month’s Assembly vote, when it gained unanimous approval in April from the California State Assembly Local Government Committee and the L.A. City Council’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee.

Ford stated that the allocation of funds for transportation projjects in Los Angeles County might have played a role in the committee’s final decision.

“I think that there was some concern that transit dollars (in Southern California) are getting squeezed,” Ford surmised. “Maybe they were reluctant to choose (AB 889) without knowing whether it can be funded.”

MTA officials point out that, unlike the Green Line extension, the funding was already in place for the first stage of the Expo Line and for its joint powers agreement.

Rosendahl blasted the committee’s decision to put the Green Line joint powers agreement on hold.

“I am very disappointed that the Appropriations Committee voted against this much-needed rail extension,” the councilman said in a statement. “The Westside is paralyzed by constant traffic gridlock. This extension is a common-sense approach, a ‘no-brainer’ to relieving traffic congestion in our neighborhoods and communities.”

“This vote will in no way, shape or form slow down the aggressive and cooperative efforts of Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), Metro and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) planners to work on a Green Line extension to LAX in the Green Line Interagency Task Force,” Alpern asserted. “Those who favor the Green Line Construction Authority are at all levels of government and exist throughout the region, and they’re not going to end this fight.”

“Despite the lack of support from this committee, I remain hopeful and optimistic about our efforts to extend the Green Line into LAX,” Rosendahl added. “I do not consider this vote to be a roadblock in our journey to mass transit, just a bump in the road — a minor challenge that we will certainly overcome.”

“This issue is not going to go away,” Ford vowed.

Santa Monica City Councilwoman Pam O’Connor, an MTA board member who is also part of the Expo Joint Powers Agreement, did not return phone calls and e-mails for this story.

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