Art Leahy Leaves OCTA for LA Metro: Good Riddance

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News item: Art Leahy, who has led the Orange County Transportation Authority for eight years, accepted an offer to head Los Angeles County's Metro - a transit agency with a $3.4 billion budget. (Courtesy of the Orange County Register)

Be careful what you wish for, LA ...

*The NOAA, which has jurisdiction because the project falls within a state-federal partnership known as the Coastal Zone Management Act, also said the TCA would be limited to one representative. But besides TCA Chief Executive Officer Art Leahy, 15 of his board members trotted up to lobby for the extension--in their capacities as mayors and city council members. ("Say You Will Build It, and They Will Come--If the 'It' is a Toll Road Over Trestles Parkland" by Matt Coker, Sept. 2008)

*Since Leahy became CEO in January 2001, neither he nor his agency has done anything to solve the county's traffic nightmare, install a meaningful mass transit system or improve the agency's abysmal track record on bus service. ("Hooray for OCTA?" by Nick Schou, July 28, 2005)

*OCTA's CEO since 2001 was lured from a similar position in Minnesota after he pushed through the Hiawatha Line, the Twin Cities' own light-rail disaster. Orange County officials expected Leahy to similarly shepherd the CenterLine to greener valleys, but it was instead sent out to pasture. Leahy directed his staff to push unrealistic ridership projections that were so laughable, Orange County's congressional delegation never warmed up to OCTA's repeated pleas for federal pork. In fact, Leahy put so much effort into obtaining federal funding for the CenterLine these past couple of years that he neglected almost every other OCTA responsibility. Freeway maintenance tanked--did somebody say, "Goddamn it, I need another front-end alignment"? The bus union became angered at stalled contract talks. And the working class that compromises most of OCTA's bus ridership were burdened with higher fees and the elimination of monthly bus passes for students. Nevertheless, the OCTA Board of Trustees rewarded Leahy last fall with a contract extension, a raise and a $6,000 bonus for his "outstanding performance during the past year." ("Next Stop: Immobility" by Gustavo Arellano, Feb. 17, 2005)

*Sometime next month, there will be a private workshop on the CenterLine, the controversial $1 billion light-rail project that shrinks every year like a grape in the sun. You can bet at some point during the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) Board of Trustees meeting, CenterLine supporters such as Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido and Buena Park City Councilman Art Brown will invoke the name Hiawatha--as in the Hiawatha Line, the recently completed light-rail system serving the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. . . . Much like the CenterLine, the Hiawatha Line was also mired in controversy until the appearance of Art Leahy, the current OCTA CEO who occupied a similar position in Minnesota as head of Metro Transit from 1997 to late 2000. Minnesota political observers credit Leahy for pushing the Hiawatha Line toward construction, and many OCTA board members have insisted for years that Leahy will do the same for CenterLine. Since Orange County and the Twin Cities share much in common, goes the argument, it's inevitable we'll also need light rail. . . . This argument is what logicians call a piece of shit. ("Battle of the Boondoggles" by Gustavo Arellano, Jan. 27, 2005) 

*Originally conceived as an ambitious 87-mile answer to Orange County's horrendous congestion question, the OCTA had already reduced the CenterLine to a 29-mile route by the time Leahy came aboard. Under Leahy, CenterLine has shrunk even more: if built, its planned 9.3-mile length would barely pass through Irvine and Costa Mesa before slicing through Santa Ana's Bristol Street and Civic Center Plaza. And even this scenario isn't certain. ("Choo-Choo-Choo-Ching" by Gustavo Arellano, Nov. 18, 2004) 

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