Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently lead a press conference at the historic Union Station downtown flanked by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood as well as the heads of statewide, regional and county transportation systems to champion high-speed rail in California.
The media event underscored Villaraigosa's influence on transportation issues in the Los Angeles region and serves as an example of the transportation leadership role the next mayor of Los Angeles will inherit.
LaHood, who said 200 mph-plus trains are coming, cited Villaraigosa's leadership for helping to secure $3.5 billion in federal government investment in high-speed rail in California. Dan Richard, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, also gave a nod to Villaraigosa for having a transportation vision that has made him a leader on transportation issues among U.S. mayors.
Art Leahy, the CEO of the county's Metro system, said the mayor wields his influence in multiple ways.
First, the mayor sits on the Metro board and appoints three additional members, accounting for four members on the 13-member board.
"He works with other members of the board to assemble working coalitions to come up with projects," Leahy said. "That's important because it effects the daily operations of MTA buses and trains and it effects our priorites for investments on freeeways good movement and rail programs.
He also said the mayor plays a "significant" leadership role in Sacramento and Washington with the ability to access the president, senators and governor "to carry the story of Los Angeles and the requirements and needs of Los Angeles to those folks to work for their support."
"That cannot be over estimated," Leahy said. "When I say L.A, by the way, I'm not really referring to the city of L.A., but the county. The mayor is a leader in Southern California."
The mayor also has two appointments on the five-county Metrolink board in addition to the city's Department of Transportation.
Hilary Norton, executive director of Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic (FAST), endorses a report from the Santa Monica-based think-tank Rand Corp. for a comprehensive three- to five-year traffic reduction plan.
"Transportation is going to be one of the primary opportunities to create new jobs in the region and not solving our traffic is a $12 billion hit to our economy," Norton said. "Being able to address transportation systematically and efficiently and on an environmentally innovative basis could make Los Angeles known not only for the film industry but transportation innovation as well. It's one of the thorniest issues we have."
She sayd the next mayor also could use the Department of Transportation to apply for state and federal grants to set new standards for developers with existing and planned transportation plans in mind.
"I just think that the more that mayoral candidates see that adding new modes of transportation isn't just good for our citizens, but it will increase our tourism and the number of people who see Los Angeles as a destination because they can get around ...," Norton said. "Traffic has really prevented people from experiencing all of our incredible assets. This is a place that needs to been seen and appreciated and toured and if we can solve our traffic, people can go to more places and be more adventurous as to what Los Angeles has to offer."