July 30, 2005

Massive transportation bill funds South Bay projects

BY Toby Eckert
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- Before leaving town for its summer recess, Congress opened its wallet wide Friday for millions of dollars in road and transit projects around the Port of Los Angeles and the South Bay.

The funding is part of a massive $286.5 billion transportation bill that lawmakers spent nearly two years negotiating.

"Hallelujah! Finally we have a transportation bill," Rep. Juanita
Millender-McDonald, D-Carson, proclaimed just before the House approved the package on a 412-8 vote. "It will provide mobility for millions of people, create jobs, reduce congestion and improve the movement of our nation's goods."

Millender-McDonald, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, helped negotiate the package.

It was too much for a handful of lawmakers.

"This is busting the budget," Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., complained, pointing to the more than 5,000 local projects designated by lawmakers.

Those projects total more than $400 million for the South Bay over the four-year life of the bill. Many of the big-ticket items are focused on relieving congestion around the region's transportation hubs - the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and Los Angeles International Airport.

About $10 million would go toward creating an expressway along State Route 47 between the ports. That includes the replacement of Schuyler Heim lift bridge with a fixed-span bridge.

Another $100 million was included for rebuilding the Gerald Desmond Bridge, which connects the ports to I-710. The Vincent Thomas Bridge, which links San Pedro to Terminal Island, will be the subject of a $1.6 million study to assess its ability to meet future cargo and passenger traffic.

The Alameda Corridor-East project, designed to connect the ports to the transcontinental rail network, will get a $125 million infusion.

The ports were also included in a $5 million pilot program designed to relieve congestion and improve the flow of cargo at ports nationwide. The amount of cargo arriving at the Los Angeles-Long Beach complex is expected to double by

The legislation includes more than $3.8 million for projects to relieve congestion around LAX, including the construction of a rail and bus facility as part of an Intermodal Transportation Center at the airport.

In a written statement, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the region "is making many important gains in the transportation bill," noting that it also included another of his priorities - a car pool lane for northbound I-405 through Sepulveda Pass.

The legislation also includes dozens of smaller projects, such as a $1.6 million reconstruction of The Strand in Manhattan Beach to improve beach access and pedestrian traffic, and $800,000 for improvements at the Redondo Beach Esplanade.

Statewide, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said the legislation would create more than 800,000 jobs.

She estimated that California would get $21.6 billion in funding, an increase of nearly $1.2 billion a year over the last highway bill. That is largely because of a funding formula change that will boost California's return on federal gas taxes to 92 percent from 90 percent.

Other South Bay projects in the package include:

- $3.2 million for Douglas Street improvements in El Segundo;

- $2 million to relieve congestion at Aviation Boulevard and Rosecrans Avenue
in El Segundo;

- $4 million to widen Wilmington Avenue from 223rd Street in Carson,
including ramp modifications;

- $4.8 million to modify the Avalon Boulevard/I-405 interchange in Carson;

- $4 million in interchange improvements at the Harbor (110) Freeway, State
Route 47 and Harbor Boulevard in San Pedro;

- $3 million for programs to reduce diesel exhaust emissions;

- $800,000 to improve Crenshaw Boulevard from Maricopa Street to Sepulveda Boulevard in Torrance.