L.A. receives $150 million to synchronize traffic lights

State bond money will fund an effort to cut drive times

News The Los Angeles Times October 17, 2007
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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced Oct. 16 that the city will receive $150 million to synchronize their 4,385 intersections with signals in an attempt to reduce congestion. The plan will reduce drive times up to 16%, or shave about 5 minutes from a 30-minute drive.

Not everyone is pleased with the announcement. Officials within the city’s Department of Transportation said that the plan will have only a minimal effect on the most bottlenecked intersections, including the junctions of Highland and Franklin avenues in Hollywood, and Ventura and Sepulveda boulevards in Sherman Oaks.

Although Schwarzenegger and Villaraigosa announced the synchronization money Oct. 16 during an appearance with other officials in the city's traffic control center beneath City Hall, the $150 million was actually approved Aug. 24, when Schwarzenegger signed a bill that earmarked the money for Los Angeles about the same time that state leaders seized $1.3 billion of gasoline tax revenues from transportation agencies to help balance the budget.

Local transportation officials accused state lawmakers at the time of using the state bond money to backfill cuts faced by transit agencies.

As a result of the state action, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority will lose $336 million this fiscal year, reducing money for bus and rail operations. That cut threatens to delay several major transit and highway projects.

"We're behind the eight ball on maintenance for our streets and highways, let alone building new highways and transit projects," MTA spokesman Marc Littman said.

Transit experts say the city's traffic synchronization plan is a good idea but will do little by itself to fix congestion.

"Obviously it can help. Is it adequate? No," said Randall Crane, associate director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA. "We're going to have traffic congestion under any scenario."

"Even though we may not be able to bring smooth flow to an over-saturated intersection, at least we are managing, measuring and monitoring it so we can advise people not to take that route,” said John Fisher, assistant general manager of the transportation department.

Schwarzenegger and Villaraigosa claimed that the money would make a difference not only in congestion but also to the environment.

Reducing the amount of time cars idle, they said, would decrease carbon emissions, the primary component of greenhouse gases.

The governor called the synchronization effort, scheduled to be completed in June 2011, a "major part of the solution to get rid of the traffic jams here in Los Angeles. This means, of course, a smoother and faster and safer commute here in this city."

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