Retention of Local Government Planning and Implementation Authority

Last: Strategic Commitment of Public Funding Resources

Local government planners and decision makers need not compromise any of their community planning, environmental or building standards in implementing monorail system developments. The bureaucratic regimes, priorities and impacts commonly imposed on local communities by regional, state and federal transportation authorities may be limited or avoided altogether. Monorail system developments organized and implemented through cooperative joint ventures between local governments and private monorail system builders and operators need not fall under the complete control of public transportation agencies or regional transportation authorities, so long as they do not compete for the same funds, or operate under the same mandates or regimes of public transportation authorities or agencies. State laws that tend to grant near-monopoly control of public transportation planning and development to regional transportation agencies and authorities will require modification to support local government planning, initiatives and priorities; so that city councils, county boards of supervisors and other local governing bodies can represent the best interests of their constituencies and communities. Realignment and reestablishment of local government planning authority should return transportation planning and development to the broader and more comprehensive context and decision-making processes of regional, city and community planning.

Financing of public transportation projects has historically followed established federal government-centered funding regimes, which typically provide 85% or more of funds for planning, design, right of way, construction and rolling stock of new mass transportation systems. Local and regional transportation authorities and planners tend to develop plan proposals that are most likely to be approved and funded by federal agencies, based on the federal agencies’ perspective and criteria, although recent schemes to significantly expand local and regional transportation budgets through new local and state taxes are shifting the financial burdens of transit system development more heavily onto local taxpayers and economies. This over-emphasis and focus on securing funding for local transportation projects tends to produce formulaic consideration of alternatives, and development of plans that sacrifice innovation and community priorities to assure federal agency approval of funding. Dependent on 85-90% federal funding, development of Los Angeles’ first subway conformed to the design of historic subway systems that had successfully garnered major funding support from federal government sources. As the costs of LA subway tunnel building have reached $540,000,000 per mile, little has changed the design, or consideration of alternatives, in the thirty years since the Los Angeles Red Line Subway broke ground.

Any independence or self determination that the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) may have achieved by substantially increasing the local share of transportation financing and securing the adoption of a ½ cent County sales tax to support transportation system development may be compromised by seeking an $8.8 billion federal loan advance against future tax revenues under their “30/10” proposal; thereby completing the inversion of the historic funding contribution split from 85% federal-15% local, to the LACMTA’s planned 20% federal- 80% local taxpayer funding obligations. Escalating costs of rail transportation system development threaten to render such locally funded transportation programs financially unsustainable. The LACMTA’s simultaneous expanding commitments to numerous rail projects have already eroded funding of MTA bus services, resulting in a planned 12% reduction in bus services, and a 17% reduction of its bus fleet.

Further displacing local control over transportation planning and implementation, federal funding concentrated on the construction phases of system development often leaves funding of long term service operation to local and state governments, and their local tax-based budgets. Commitment of their respective local shares of funding to the development of overly expensive transportation development projects often exhausts local sources of funding, leaving local authorities unable to subsidize or support transportation services that fail to produce revenues sufficient to support their operation and maintenance. As a consequence of focusing planning and performance criteria on the initial and construction phases of system development, regional transportation authorities often fail to anticipate and provide for financial support of transportation services that do not meet projected ridership levels. Having committed all of their transportation budgets to new and existing projects and services, local governments are forced to shift budgets or secure new sources of revenue to cover budget shortfalls; or, as is most often the case, reduce transportation services.

The distinct joint venture and public-private cooperative potentials presented by monorails’ unique construction and operational characteristics offer local governments and transportation authorities equally unique opportunities to initiate and implement transportation improvements, as well as, support their long-term operational viability as integral components of local economic systems and conditions.

Next: Monorail System Development Under Joint Venture Agreements

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