By The Los Angeles News Group Editorial Board, March 19, 2015
Phil Washington will lead the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Los Angeles County has been on overdrive, trying hard to shed its
image as the nation’s traffic-clogged car capital these past years and
build out a transit system befitting the sprawling metropolis it is.
five major rail lines under construction and ongoing transit and
highway projects, officials like to say Metro is engaging in one of the
nation’s largest, if not the largest, public works programs.
Who leads it matters.
why two recent hires, one by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan
Transportation Authority’s board and another by the Metrolink board,
which serves six counties in Southern California, are important as both
agencies see a slump in ridership and face unique but different challenges.
The board of Metro, as the Los Angeles transportation agency is
called, named Phil Washington to replace outgoing CEO Art Leahy, who
will move over to lead Metrolink.
Washington will need not only
to finish the projects already under way on time and within budget, but
he comes in as transit officials are considering whether to ask voters
to approve a tax that would fund continued expansion of the transit
Dubbed Measure R2, after a 2008 voter-approved, half-cent
sales tax that is responsible for the transit boom, the potential tax
could allow Washington to do what he did well in Denver.
Last week Washington resigned as the head of the Denver Regional
Transportation District, where the former army veteran built a national
reputation as someone who delivers.
He implemented a massive
voter-approved rail expansion program that had been lagging before he
took the helm, and spearheaded the agency’s first public-private
partnership, a $2.2 billion deal to connect downtown Denver to the
airport by rail when it’s completed in 2016. That’s promising.
is described as a charismatic man who can engender loyalty. Los Angeles
officials say that his ability to push big projects forward and get
them done on time made him an attractive choice.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, who heads the board and is wont to talk about his aspirations for a world-class transit system, said,
Washington is “the ideal person to manage our $36 billion
transportation infrastructure program.” He said Washington’s “track
record of maximizing project efficiency, securing much-needed funding
and increasing customer service will well serve Metro riders and
The bar is already high for Washington, but he is not without critics. Some say he overpromised in Denver and ridership fell short. More worrisome is the state of the Denver RTD’s pension, which is going dry.
Washington needs to ensure similar mistakes aren’t made in Southern
California. And he needs to focus on the details beyond the expansion —
such as making it easier for would-be car commuters to take rail.
an operations man with whom many board members were privately
frustrated for his handling of construction projects, will jump to
Metrolink where his challenges will be cutting costs while improving
ridership and safety.
Both men have the potential to change the
region’s image and build up an admirable transit system, so long as they
have learned from past missteps.