By Gary Walker
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Westchester) has reintroduced legislation that could pave the way for additional light rail stations in Leimert Park as well as Westchester.
The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grants for Job Creation Act was announced March 13 and would provide $1 billion over a two-year period for transportation infrastructure.
“The economy is struggling to recover from the recession,” said Waters, who also represents Playa del Rey. “The unemployment rate is nearly 8 percent nationwide and is even higher in minority and disadvantaged communities.”
The congresswoman said the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure estimated that there is a $549.5 billion shortfall in investments in roads and bridges and an additional $190.1 billion shortfall in investments in transit.
In an interview with The Argonaut after her announcement, Waters talked about how the TIGER grants could be used for light rail stations on the Metro Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor, which runs through her congressional district.
“These funds can certainly help with (stations in Leimert Park and Westchester),” she said. “With these grants, cities and counties can apply for more funding for the transportation projects that they have identified.”
Currently, there is one station at the end of the light rail line in Westchester at Century and Aviation boulevards, but light rail advocates have lobbied for an additional station closer to the eastern portion of Westchester.
“Obviously a bill that will provide transportation funds for our light rail system needs to pass (Congress),” replied Westchester resident Denny Schneider, a longtime light rail proponent. “Right now, we don’t have that.”
The 8.5-mile light rail project will run between the Metro Expo Line on Exposition Boulevard and the Metro Green Line. It will serve the Crenshaw Corridor, Inglewood, Westchester, and Los Angeles International Airport area with six stations, a maintenance facility, park and ride lots, traction power substations and the acquisition of rail vehicles and maintenance equipment.
“An emergency supplemental appropriation for TIGER will allow the Secretary of Transportation to begin immediately to organize new competitions for TIGER grants and allow states, local governments, and transit agencies to prepare grant applications, thus ensuring an efficient use of funds and timely job creation,” the congresswoman explained.
Waters said another Westchester station can benefit her constituents who work and study in the community.
“Students who attend (Westchester Enriched Science Magnets) and Loyola Marymount University could certainly use a station in Westchester, as well as people who work there,” she noted.
A rail station at Leimert Park has been one of Second District Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ transportation goals over the last year. The supervisor, who represents Westchester east of Lincoln Boulevard as well as the historic African-American area of Leimert Park, submitted a motion last year to the Metro board for a station to be built there.
The original Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor map did not include a Leimert Park stop.
“Rail stops have been shown to reinvigorate the neighborhoods in which they are placed. Just think about Hollywood and Highland, which was a blighted area before redevelopment money and a subway stop transformed it,” the supervisor wrote in a Los Angeles Times editorial last May. “Leimert Park deserves that kind of boost, and if the decision isn’t made now, it will be too late.”
The Metro board agreed to consider a Leimert Park station in its construction bids that month.
Seven months later, an at-grade, or ground level station at Hindry Avenue at the Westchester/Inglewood border was environmentally approved by the Metro board in its environmental impact report. An aerial, or above grade stop at Manchester Avenue and Aviation Boulevard was also listed as an optional station until the final environmental review was approved, but was not considered at the time.
Ridley-Thomas has not advocated for an additional Westchester station as he has for Leimert Park.
Schneider, who resides in east Westchester, said the supervisor might reconsider if he visited his constituents west of La Cienega Boulevard and asked their opinions on light rail.
“I would challenge our supervisor to come to Westchester more often and he’ll hear how there is a great need for (a station at Hindry),” Schneider said. “He’s in a position to make it work for us and we need him.”
Waters said the TIGER grants could also help transportation projects on the Metro Green Line, which also has a stop in Westchester. Metro officials are calling for an extension into LAX, which the congresswoman also supports.
The congresswoman said that despite the rancorous tone in Washington among political factions, especially in the House of Representatives, she remains hopeful that her bill will be passed.
“I want to remain optimistic, and I’ve heard lately that after the elections in November (House Republicans) have been talking about change” she said. “So I’m hopeful.”
Waters’ proposed legislation come three months after the Crenshaw Line received the green light to continue its path toward construction and was allowed to receive an infusion of federal dollars.
The Federal Transit Administration issued a record of decision for the Crenshaw/LAX light rail project Dec. 30, which authorizes Metro to move ahead with project implementation, including property acquisitions, utility relocations and the purchase of any rail cars needed for the project.
Metro officials said the decision also makes the agency eligible for any federal funding requested for the project.
Waters’ office said the legislation is exempt from federal sequestration.
Ridley-Thomas could not be reached at press time for comment on the TIGER grant legislation.