Metro Transportation Authority (MTA) CEO Art Leahy is used to being out and about in the neighborhood, so when the MTA boss visited the Los Angeles Sentinel offices on Crenshaw Blvd. to discuss the highly anticipated and often controversial Crenshaw rail project in an exclusive interview, Leahy was right at home.
After all, Leahy grew up in Los Angeles, went to school in the Los Angeles Unified School District attending Franklin High School and then East Los Angeles College before finishing up at Cal State Los Angeles.
A former bus operator in 1971, he drove the line, which now runs on MLK Blvd., but back then, it was Santa Barbara Boulevard, that ultimately trekked down Crenshaw going south to Hawthorne.
“We are all part of a tremendously vibrant place,” said Leahy.
“There are festivals that go on all over the county. There are Dodger games. There are USC games; there are museums in Exposition Park. There are all the things that happen up and down Los Angeles County…”
The Crenshaw/ LAX line, scheduled to be running in about five years, will quickly become part of a rapidly expanding network that provides access to those experiences.
It will begin at Crenshaw and Exposition, running through to 60th Street before it makes a right turn on Florence to go through Inglewood, ultimately ending at Aviation and Imperial. In the meantime, Leahy invites the community here to be a part of the process.
His bubbly excitement for both the company he runs and the city and county, which depends on MTA services, is real.
“We are redesigning the second biggest city in the country, maybe the tenth biggest in the world,” Leahy said in a recent interview at the Sentinel offices, where he talked about what the almost $1.5 billion project will mean for South L.A. and other communities along its proposed route.
“We’re going to be under construction for the next several years. During that time period, a lot of activity will be taking placing and the Metro staff will be working closely with the community throughout the process.”
The Metro team wants to answer any questions as best they can, although there is a limit to what they can reveal during what they call a “blackout” period. At this time proposals have been submitted and will undergo rigorous review before a recommendation goes to the Metro board.
One question in particular reverberating among residents here is whether or not there will be a stop at Leimert Park, where the line will pass through on its way to the South Bay.
“I believe that the MTA Board of Directors wants to do the station, however, the problem is that we only have a finite amount of money from Measure R to fund a number of projects,” said Leahy.
“However, Metro Board Members are doing everything they can to find additional funding to include a Leimert Park stop,” Leahy told the Sentinel.
Meanwhile, with a slowly rebounding economy, many South L.A. residents are also asking about jobs that the project will bring. While the Federal government does not allow the transit agency to indulge in hiring preferences, they have begun a project labor agreement (PLA) with unions here that will allow people in poor neighborhoods a fair shot at the transit job market.
“Whoever wins the bid (for the construction contract) will be responsible for hiring a jobs coordinator. The jobs coordinator will be tasked to find people who are eligible for the jobs and it is their responsibility to actively recruit, train, and make sure applicants are job ready,” said Miriam Scott Long of Metro, who visited the LA Sentinel along with Leahy.
“The agreement requires that forty percent of the labor hours will go to the people who meet the eligibility profile on a local and national basis; Metro’s Board of Directors deserves credit for this innovative approach. And the way the PLA contract is written, if the contractor does not comply, they will incur penalties,” said Long
“For people who are interested in working on this project and others, now is the time to be looking into pre apprenticeship training on projects,” she added.
Metro is also encouraging African American businesses to take advantage of the myriad of economic opportunities that are associated with this project.
“We expect that this new infrastructure will contribute significant economic development opportunities for the community that will have a positive transformation in this community for many years to come,” said Leahy.
Supervising the massive 10,000 staff at MTA is an enormous undertaking, but if you would listen to Leahy it is like working at the happiest place on earth.
He spoke about the advancements that MTA has made since he was bus operator and worked his way up to Chief Operating Officer (COO) and is now the Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
“If you pause for a moment, in the last 20 years, this is why Metro is such a great place to work,” Leahy explained.
Elaborating more about the Crenshaw line, he stated, “When this line opens up there will be a connection to LAX, the Green line that will go to the South Bay and, of course, at some point to the east, connecting to the Expo Line, Culver City, and beyond.”
Leahy points to the Expo Line as being a model for what the Crenshaw project can do to enhance the community. “The Expo Line is just beautiful, it achieved all that we could anticipate, safety first and foremost of our customers, but also has been as asset to local businesses.”
Last year MTA purchased Union Station, which operates trains that take people to Riverside, Orange County, Palmdale, San Bernardino and Ventura. For their many advances, there are some stations that need vast improvements.
“If you go to the subway station on 5th and Hill, it’s terrible,” explained Leahy. “The escalator comes up and there’s a lot of nothing there. It’s in the middle of downtown and it’s not a pleasant place,” Leahy has vowed that he and MTA will fix this situation.
He concluded, “Our goal is to build a transit system which makes sense. I will also add that most of people who take trips are for work and school, but we have great potential to expand on that.”