81 MILLION REASONS TO BE HAPPY: All things considered, I thought it was pretty amazing that President Obama’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year included $31 million in federal funds for the Regional Connector and $50 million for the Westside Subway Extension.
Both, of course, are excellent and needed projects that will give hundreds of thousands of people a good alternative to sitting in traffic in the years after they open. I’m not the biggest fan of ridership projections — predicting the future is generally hard — but this federal document shows that both the Connector and the Subway Extension are expected to have some of the heaviest ridership of any transit projects getting federal funds in the nation.
On the federal funding front, the challenge for both projects has been the long and drawn-out environmental review process. Generally, transit projects don’t get federal money until the environmental studies have been approved by local agencies and then certified by the feds in a “record of decision.”
There’s a good reason why: the studies, after all, spell out in excruciating detail what exactly is going to be built. The feds, naturally, want to know what they’re spending their dollars on.
The Connector’s final study goes to the Metro Board of Directors’ planning committee later today and is scheduled to be voted on by the Board at their meeting on Feb. 23. The Federal Transit Administration is presently reviewing the Subway Extension’s final study, which should be released soon.
Although there’s a very official process to secure federal funds, Metro and many elected officials across the region have lobbied hard to secure money in the next federal budget — and I mean ‘lobbied’ in the best sense of the word. Local officials did their job and supported and promoted our projects in a competitive landscape.
Here’s another reason having the money in the budget is important: it shows that the feds believe in the projects despite the fact there are a few (emphasis: a few) people trying to knock them down.
So, all in all, a good week so far by Metro.
LA CIENEGA BOUND?: In another interesting step for the subway, we learned this week that Metro staff is recommending pushing the first phase of the project to Wilshire and La Cienega instead of Wilshire and Fairfax. That’s a little less than a mile farther than the original plans.
Wilshire and La Cienega, of course, may not be the epicenter of the known universe — but the area isn’t exactly a backwater either. As the screen grab below from Google maps shows, this a stretch of Wilshire with many office buildings.
It’s also less than a mile to the Beverly Center, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, La Cienega Park and the headquarters of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, as well as some popular restaurants, including Lawry’s — home of some seriously tasty prime rib.
The other interesting thing about this screen grab is the number of homes near Wilshire and La Cienega. For a lot of people heading toward downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood and — one day — to Century City and Westwood, the subway is going to be a very good reason to take a short walk or bike ride from home to the train station instead of hopping in their car.
We talk a lot about how the subway, in particular, will allow people to get into the Westside. But it will also allow many to escape the traffic-clogged area.
LONG ENVIRO STUDIES: I railed recently on the length of the environmental review process for transit projects — which I think has become increasingly burdensome to agencies and the taxpaying public in recent years.
Last week I went up to the Metro Library (it’s on the 15th floor of Metro headquarters and is open to the public, btw) and looked at the final environmental document for the El Monte busway. It was about 35 pages long, including some photos and maps.
I’m not saying enviro docs should be that short. But I remain convinced that we don’t need 1,000 pages to explain the positive impacts of building transit in an urbanized setting and analyzing alternatives that even my dogs would know are silly.
FOOTHILL EXTENSION GOOD NEWS: I’m not surprised, but still good news that the Foothill Extension Construction Authority has struck a deal to acquire land in Monrovia for a rail maintenance yard. Such negotiations often become long, drawn-out affairs and this one was no exception.
It’s a good thing to get out of the way, with the Foothill Extension expected to begin major construction later in the year and aiming toward a 2015 opening. This is a Measure R-funded project and the sooner it gets done, the more goodwill that will by extended toward voters across L.A. County who approved raising the sales tax in 2008.
If — and it’s still a big ‘if’ — Metro goes to voters in November asking them to extend Measure R past its 2039 expiration date, it will be important to show voters that progress has been made on many projects and nothing spells progress like boots on the ground.
UNION STATION PHOTOS: A couple of weeks ago I noticed about a dozen photographers taking images in Union Station. It looked like some sort of club — I was hurrying to catch a train and didn’t have time to stop and ask.
If anyone out there knows who was taking the photos, I’d love to see some of their work and possibly share it with Source readers. On a scale of photogenic, Union Station rates highly.
BONUS THOUGHT: I still have no idea if I’ll be taking the Expo Line to the Bruce Springsteen show at the Sports Arena on April 27. But I do know that the ticket buying process for big concerts and sporting events has gotten way out of control, thanks to the Internet.
As of this morning, there are almost 3,000 tickets for sale to the two Bruce shows at the Sports Arena on StubHub, a resale website. And that’s just one ticket reseller — who knows how many thousands of other tickets are for sale on other websites.
The tickets just went on sale less than two weeks ago and it’s obvious that thousands of people gobbled them up on the Internet with no intention of going to the shows — they only want to scalp the tickets. Yes, it’s legal. But it also forces many people who are actual Bruce fans to get scalped to get decent seats.
There’s an easy solution to this and one that Ticketmaster has toed the water on: setting up a system in which people who buy the tickets are the ones who actually have to attend the show. In other words, the system requires the person who bought the tickets online to bring a credit card and identification to pick up the tickets and get into the arena.
Yes, it’s a little draconian and, yes, there would be problems for people who want to buy tickets as gifts or obtain them as a favor to family and friends. But I think it’s better than the current system that allows, and even encourages, thousands of tickets to go straight from the box office to the re-sale market.
As for the Bruce shows, I’m guessing that many s
calpers will be punished by market forces. A lot of people simply aren’t going to pay sky-high prices to see the Boss, as brilliant as he may be, IMO. But I doubt that’s going to stop the scalpers from trying again, whether it’s tickets for Madonna, the Clippers or, hopefully, the Stanley Cup finals involving a certain local hockey team having troubles putting the biscuit in the oven.