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LA says 'yes' to tax increase for transportation

The Expo/Bundy Station is one of seven new stations along Metro's Expo Line extension to Santa Monica.
Courtesy of Steve Hymon/Los Angeles Metro
The Expo/Bundy Station is one of seven new stations opened along Metro's Expo Line extension to Santa Monica in 2016.Metro plans to further expand the rail network with funds from Measure M.

A transportation building boom is set to bring a wave of rail, bus and highway projects to gridlocked Los Angeles County after voters approved Measure M on Tuesday.

Current returns show the tax measure garnering the support of nearly 70 percent of Angelenos, above the two-thirds share it needs to pass. While some votes are yet to be counted, the returns have transportation advocates claiming a decisive victory.

"Seventy percent of this county said we are sick and tired of traffic and we’re going to do something about it," said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti at a press conference at Union Station Wednesday. Garcetti was the most visible backer of Measure M.

"The car capital of the world will soon be home to a transit system that is the envy of the world," he added.

The sales tax will provide billions for transportation projects, further transforming a car-dependent region that has seen significant investment in public transportation in recent years.

Measure M will add a half-cent sales tax and extend the existing Measure R half-cent increase passed by voters in 2008. Both increases will be permanent unless voters act to repeal them.

The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority estimates the tax increase will generate $120 billion over 40 years, funding massive rail expansions, highway improvements, biking and walking infrastructure and local street repairs.

Among the biggest projects proposed:

  • A subway under the Sepulveda Pass connecting the San Fernando Valley to West Los Angeles
  • An extension of the Gold Line to Claremont
  • A northern spur of the Crenshaw line, possibly into West Hollywood
  • A light rail line connecting Artesia to downtown L.A.
  • An acceleration of construction on the Purple Line subway to Westwood to be finished 10 years earlier than scheduled.

One unanswered question is how many residents will take advantage of the transportation options. Bus and rail ridership has been trending downward lately, though the Expo Line extension connecting downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica has been popular.

The impact of technologies like self-driving cars could also shift the landscape for commuters.

Under California law, the tax increase needed to clear a two-thirds threshold to pass. Measure M will be the fourth sales tax increase to support transportation in L.A. County.

Measure R, which passed in 2008 and funded construction of the Expo Line, Gold Line to Azusa and Regional Connector, passed with about 68 percent voter approval. Measure J, which would have extended Measure R, failed in 2012 by half a percent, falling just about 16,000 votes short of the two-thirds threshold.

Garcetti emphasized that Measure M captured 70 percent of the vote. "That’s a mandate and that is a statement."

Elsewhere in the state, a measure to fund repairs on the Bay Area's BART system also appears headed to pass with around 70 percent of the vote.

See a full timeline of all 46 capital projects on the Metro website.