Leon Worden

Wanted: MTA member to fight for roads

By Leon Worden
Wednesday, January 20, 1999

ouncilwoman Jan Heidt has done an outstanding job in bringing passenger rail service to the Santa Clarita Valley.

As a member of the Metrolink board and an alternate on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, she has been a staunch advocate of mass transit. Santa Clarita is one of the fastest-growing communities in terms of trains and train stations.

Later this year the Jan Heidt Metrolink Station is slated to open in Newhall. It will bring new shoppers directly into our Old Town and make it easier for residents of Valencia and Newhall to ride the trains south without having to drive north first.

Will passenger trains become the preferred mode of transit for suburban Los Angeles? Perhaps, one day. Maybe not in my lifetime, maybe not in your children's lifetime, but one day, perhaps.

The latest city survey, released last week, shows that local Metrolink ridership has doubled in the last year — from 1 percent of commuters in 1997 to 2 percent in 1998. (OK, with a 5 percent margin of error maybe it hasn't doubled, but even if it hasn't, Metrolink does report a steady increase in passengers throughout the system.)

Personally, I think passenger trains are fun.

Unfortunately, the survey suggests that 97 percent of local commuters don't think trains are fun enough to ride to work. Eighty-four percent drive alone in their cars, and 13 percent carpool. The other 1 or 2 percent who don't take cars or trains either walk or ride a bus or bike.

I wish everyone who commutes out of town — 34 percent — would take trains. Those who ride Metrolink not only get to work quicker; they also help everyone else because they aren't on the road.

I don't usually take the train if I'm going over the hill, but I wish everyone else would.

One day maybe we'll look back and say, thank goodness Jan Heidt was forward-thinking enough to plant the seed that took people out of their cars.

In the meantime, people say they simply need more roads. According to the survey, voters want roads so badly that even in this conservative, anti-tax community, 86 percent of them are willing to tax themselves to build roads. In fact, they're more willing to tax themselves for roads than for parks, libraries, police stations or a performing arts center, the survey says.

We already pay a lot of taxes for new roads, at the gas pump and elsewhere. Road money comes back to us from federal, state and local government sources.

Congressman Buck McKeon has brought a lot of money back home for new roads. Just last year he convinced Congress to appropriate over $10 million for road improvements in our valley. It's rightfully our money because we paid it. It should be spent here.

Another governmental agency responsible for returning our taxes to us in the form of new roads is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Jan Heidt wants the City Council to recommend her for the MTA board. To rally local support, she instructed city staffers to compile a list ostensibly showing how much road money she won for us during her six years as an alternate on the MTA board.

In retrospect, compiling the list was probably a mistake. Of the $10.6 million in MTA grants received by the city during Heidt's tenure, nothing went for new roads. About a million and a half went into intersection improvements and painting new lines on some existing roads, but mostly, the money went for bike paths, river trails and things associated with Metrolink.

Like Metrolink, the bike paths and river trails are good. They enhance our city's appearance and, for the 1 percent who walk or ride a bike to work, they're a critical amenity.

I know how difficult it can be to pass the baton before a project is completed. It can leave an emptiness. Sometimes you wonder if what you did really matters.

The proof is in the pudding. If it's built on a solid foundation, a corporation can survive when its president retires. A non-profit organization can move forward under new leadership if the philosophy its board shares is worthy. With a city, or another governmental agency in a democratic society, it's even more true. We don't allow ourselves to have chieftains. And no project is ever complete.

Which is not to say that public leaders can't take pride in their accomplishments. Of course they can. Jan Heidt deserves sincere credit for the work she has done to bring trains to Santa Clarita.

Now let's build some roads.

    Leon Worden is The Signal's business editor.

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