CONTROVERSY has never been far from the Red line metro in Los Angeles. Tunnel collapses, frequent delays and rows with contractors have all attracted attention. Things went from bad to worse in Decem-ber, and when LA Metropolitan Transit Authority CEO Joseph Drew announced his resignation, it was a sure sign of more trouble.

On December 16 outgoing Transportation Secretary Federico Peña and Federal Transit Administrator Gordon Linton summoned MTA board members to a private meeting. They were given an ultimatum to complete Red line projects in hand and quickly finalise plans for other schemes, as well as adopt a ’code of conduct’ to end their meddling in day-to-day operations. A statement issued by Linton said that ’these projects are vital to the nation as well as the immediate Los Angeles community’, but what he did not say was that the govern-ment is worried about its 50% share of funding the $5·9bn project.

MTA board members next discovered that Executive Director of Construction Stanley Phernambucq had resigned too, citing ’the dysfunctional relationship that exists between and among board members and our public works programme.’ At the board’s meeting on December 18 it was politics as usual - members postponed consideration of budget cuts and delayed the award of a politically sensitive con-struction management contract for the segment of the Red line to East LA. It so happened that a criminal investigation was under way into possible attempts to exert improper influence on the contract award. ’This is not the kind of signal we want to send to Washington’, said Board President Larry Zarian.

January 8 saw MTA staff propose a revised metro and light rail con-struction plan that would see Phase 1 of the East LA line completed in 2004 instead of 2001 and the mid-city segment by 2009, around seven years late. Opening of the Pasadena Blue line would be delayed to 2003.

On January 10 the MTA board voted to approve the revised Red line schedule. This complied with a January 15 deadline set by the FTA for the board to reaffirm its commitment to getting the line built. The meeting also adopted a code of conduct banning contractors from contacting board members before or after submission of their bids.

Linton said the Red line reaffirm-ation was a move in the right direction, but he stopped short of saying it met the government’s criteria for confirmed funding. o