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Los Angeles Eyes $750M to Fix Streets

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has floated a plan to issue $750 million of bonds backed by the city’s share of money from a countywide transportation sales tax to repair a quarter of the city’s streets in two years.

The plan would use up Los Angeles’ share of the a half-cent Los Angles County sales tax approved by voters in 2008 as Measure R. A portion is set aside for street repairs in each of the county’s 88 cities.

The mayor’s proposal would bond against Measure R street repair funds the city would receive for street repairs for the next 27 years.

Villaraigosa’s staff has been meeting with council members and Los Angeles Department of Transportation staff to hammer out the details for a formal report that the mayor plans to release within the next few days, said Peter Sanders, a spokesman for the mayor.

The plan, dubbed L.A. Road Works, would combine a $750 million bond issuance with $150 million from existing funding, such as the gas tax and Proposition C, passed in 1990, according to city officials.

The idea is to capitalize on low interest rates for bonds and construction costs that are low because of the recession, said City Councilman Bernard Parks. But he was skepticial of the plan’s potential ramifications, saying he has not seen a financial analysis from the city administrator.

The overall thrust of Measure R, which is expected to generate $38 billion over the next 27 years, was to build out the region’s rail transit system, but part of the revenue is set aside for cities’ street maintainance needs.

While it is being compared to Villaraigosa’s 30-10 plan to leverage Measure R money for federal funds to fast-track 30 years worth of rail projects into a 10-year time-frame, Sanders said the mayor’s street paving plan doesn’t require federal money.

Parks said that he doesn’t think a financial plan originally designed for rail projects is necessarily a good fit for street repaving.

“If you build 30 years worth of rail projects in 10 years, the rail projects are still going to be there in 30 years,” Parks said. “If you repair 40% of the streets in two years, assuming it could be done, it’s not like they are going to last for 27 years.”

Los Angeles Councilman Paul Koretz said the idea of improving the city’s battered streets is appealing, but officials would need to find some other funding mechanism that would keep them that way.

“I think it is an interesting idea,” Koretz said. “For as long as I can remember, one of the biggest complaints has been about the condition of the city streets.”

Although a formal plan has yet to be submitted to a City Council committee, Koretz said he was told the mayor’s staff hopes to get a plan approved by December or January.

“They want to get this done while the mayor is in office and has the ability to move this through,” he said.

Villaraigosa will be term-limited out of office in 2013.

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