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Car culture run out on a rail in LA?

Los Angeles is making tracks.

Known as much for its film industry and beaches as its mini-malls and traffic jams, Los Angeles officials have taken a substantial leap towards rebuilding the city’s once-comprehensive railway network.

Local transportation officials unanimously approved a $5.15 billion, nine and a half mile extension of the Los Angeles Metro along busy Wilshire Boulevard, report Dan Weikel and Howard Blume of the Los Angeles Times.

Under Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles has been more focused on mass transit projects. Until recently, LA’s mass transit system was jokingly referred to as somewhere to escape from crowds.  Now, Los Angeles is slowly rebuilding a workable network that could begin offering a viable alternative to driving, at least for some destinations.

While the extension still doesn’t go to either of the most obvious destinations: the beach or the airport, it should at least bring rail service to one of the most-dense areas of this spread-out megalopolis. According to planners it will also speed commuters to their destinations in half the time of the traffic choked Santa Monica Freeway.

The announcement comes the same week that local officials secured funding for a new light rail line along Crenshaw, reported by the LA Times’ Dan Weikel.  It will link the under-construction Expo Line to the existing Green Line. When built, the Crenshaw line will be the second light rail line in Los Angeles, with a station close to, but well beyond walking distance from, Southern California’s biggest airport, LAX.

That’s not all. A third major project, the 1.9 mile downtown connector, also won approval. The project would link the newly completed Gold Line with the Blue Line and the Expo Line, shaving 20 minutes off east-west and north-south journeys by eliminating transfers (and the need to pay additional fares).

While railfans may be celebrating the resurrection a transit network unseen since Southern Pacific’s famed Red Cars ceased operation, the boom is really about money. Villaraigosa developed an innovative and complex funding plan linking funds raised by a voter approved county transportation sales tax surcharge with various federal loans, making more money available sooner, as Tim Rutten reports in the LA Times.

As innovative and ambitious as all of these plans are, it’s too bad the two most obvious destinations — the beach and LAX — are once again left in the waiting room.

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