New Rules of the Road

After a natural disaster strikes, the initial shock of human misery normally gives way to the less dramatic drudgery of picking up the pieces. All too often, repairs fall behind schedule, causing the public to grow restive, politicians to complain about the agencies involved, and tempers all around to flare.

But in Los Angeles, the Northridge earthquake of 1993 prompted federal, state, and local agencies to discard old rules and create an environment through which they could renovate one of the world's most important transportation corridors in just three months. With their eyes focused on the Santa Monica Freeway, these agencies sent their people to the area with the authority to approve funding and contracts without checking with Washington or Sacramento.

Immediately, the city's Transportation Department completely revised traffic patterns on local roads, averting gridlock. Within days, a team of workers from AMTRAK, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Navy Seabees, and Metrolink beefed up the rail system with new locomotives and train stations. The Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration waived certain federal regulations to speed the repair process. In addition, the highway agency also quickly began to approve construction contracts. All told, $15 million in assistance arrived at the scene within two days. Within 10 days, $100 million was available.

It was an impressive, top-to-bottom accomplishment. Federal, state, and local agencies cut red tape, empowered employees, put their customers first, and curtailed the $1 million in local economic costs that accumulated every day that the Santa Monica Freeway was closed.

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