A Measure R extension Q & A

Source: Metro staff.

Measure R was approved by nearly 68 percent of Los Angeles County voters in 2008 as a half-cent sales tax that would be in effect for 30 years — with an expiration date of mid-2039.

As many Source readers know, Metro staff are proposing to ask county voters to extend the Measure R half-cent sales tax past 2039 in order to accelerate the construction of transit and road projects. Here’s the staff report, which is scheduled to be considered Thursday morning in the Board of Director’s Executive Management committee. (UPDATE: The committee voted 4 to 1 to move the staff proposal without a recommendation to the full Board for their consideration at their June 29 meeting. Voting for were Board Members Diane DuBois, Richard Katz, Antonio Villaraigosa and Zev Yaroslavsky. Voting against was Mike Antonovich.)

The decision whether to go to voters with the issue is scheduled to be made this month by Metro’s 13-member Board of Directors that oversee the agency. The following Q&A is based on Metro staff reports and presentations and is intended to help explain why the staff is recommending an extension and other issues involved:

Why is Metro staff proposing to ask voters to extend Measure R past its 2039 expiration date?

Metro staff have looked at many financing options and have concluded an extension is the best way to complete Measure R transit projects in the next 10 to 13 years instead of the next 27 years. It would also greatly increase funds available for Measure R highway projects.

There are three primary reasons Metro wants to accelerate the construction of transportation projects:

•A good way to beat future inflation is to build projects now, particularly when construction costs are significantly down.

•Extending Measure R would give Metro the revenues it needs to take advantage of favorable financing. There are historically low interest rates presently and the federal government may expand a low-interest loan program that would help Metro.

•Equally important, a Measure R extension would create a lot of jobs in the near-term as Los Angeles County is still struggling with unemployment because of the Great Recession. A study on behalf of Metro by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. estimates that Measure R will create 410,000 jobs and that an extension of Measure R would accelerate 260,000 of those jobs.

What other reasons are there to build now?

Building transit now means that area residents would enjoy the benefits of the projects much sooner.

According to studies by Metro, accelerating Measure R projects would between 2010 and 2040 increase transit boardings by 220 million, reduce harmful emissions by 1.6 million pounds, reduce delays to congestion by 141 million hours, decrease the number of vehicle miles traveled by 594 million and reduce the consumption of foreign oil by 29 million gallons.

What projects would be funded by an extension of Measure R?

The same list of transit and road projects funded by the original Measure R.

On the transit side, the following projects would be accelerated: the second phase of the Gold Line Eastside Extension to South El Monte or Whittier, the Metro Connector to LAX, the Green Line Extension to the South Bay, the West Santa Ana Corridor transit project, the Regional Connector and possibly the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor project.

In addition, the third phase of the Westside Subway Extension could be completed to Westwood by 2022 to 2025 instead of by 2036.

On the highway side, Measure R helped provide funding for 16 different projects. A Measure R extension would supply $3.7 billion to those projects — that’s $3.7 billion that doesn’t otherwise exist and that money could help the projects be completed at an earlier date.

How else would Measure R extension money be used?

The same as the current Measure R. In addition to transit and road projects, funds would be allocated to Metro bus operations, Metro rail operations and Metrolink.

In addition, 15 percent of the revenues from a Measure R extension would continue to be returned to cities and Los Angeles County unincorporated areas on a per capita basis for local projects such as bike lanes and improvements, road repair and other transportation needs — all money that otherwise would not exist.

What has the original Measure R accomplished?

Many projects that had no funding whatsoever in 2008 are now under construction or about to be.

On the transit side, two projects are under construction: the second phase of the Expo Line between Culver City and Santa Monica and the Gold Line Foothill Extension between Pasadena and Azusa.

Environmental studies have been completed for three other projects — the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Regional Connector and the Westside Subway Extension — and construction could be underway on all three by the end of 2013.

Within the next two years, five rail projects will be under construction simultaneously in Los Angeles County. That’s unprecedented in modern times.

And the Orange Line Extension to Chatsworth is opening June 30. This was the first Measure R project and was finished ahead of schedule and under budget. The Measure R funds that were to be used for the project will be used instead for another Measure R transit project in the San Fernando Valley.

On the highway side, Measure R has helped fund ramp improvements along the 405, 110, 105 and 91 freeways. Also under construction: An HOV lane on the 5 freeway between the 134 and 170; the carpool lane connector between the 5 and 14 freeway, and; the widening of the 5 freeway at the Carmenita Road interchange.

How long is Metro proposing that Measure R be extended for?

Under the current Measure R, Metro cannot collect the half-cent sales tax after June 30, 2039.

Metro staff are asking the agency’s Board of Directors to consider three options: a 30-year extension of Measure R, extend the sale tax until voters decide to end it or leaving things as they are with Measure R expiring in 2039.

Why is Metro proposing to ask voters to extend Measure R when in 2008 Metro only wanted it to be a 30-year tax?

Persuading voters to approve the original Measure R approved by voters was a big and difficult step. In the early stages of a national recession, Metro asked Los Angeles County voters to approve a half-cent sales tax increase — and nearly 68 percent of voters backed it.

In 2008, a 30-year limit on Measure was a good way to show voters that Metro was serious about staying within budget limits for projects and to demonstrate that Measure R was a program specifically targeted at expanding transit and fixing long-standing highway bottlenecks.

What has changed? First, the longevity of the Great Recession and the unemployment it has wreaked on Los Angeles County and the region was not yet known.

Second, the America Fast Forward program first proposed by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and later backed by the Metro Board could expand a federal loan program to help fund transportation projects. If it happens, Metro wants to be in position to take advantage of low-cost funding.

How exactly do
es America Fast Forward fit into a Measure R extension?

As part of the next multi-year federal transportation spending bill, Congress is now contemplating expanding a federal loan program called TIFIA – a key part of the America Fast Forward plan.

If TIFIA is expanded, Metro’s ability to secure loans from the program would greatly improve the agency’s ability to accelerate projects. Why? The loans provide up-front money that Metro needs to build rather than wait for Measure R funds to trickle into county coffers over time.

Metro is currently required to repay all loans by the time that Measure R expires in 2039. An extension of Measure R would allow Metro to extend the repayment of any loans from TIFIA past 2039 and that, in turn, would allow Metro to accelerate more projects.

What happens if Congress doesn’t expand the TIFIA program or adopt America Fast Forward?

Metro has a fallback plan that would allow it to accelerate all of the transit projects with the exception of the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor. On the highway side, not having TIFIA would deprive projects of about $1.7 billion in funding.

Will Metro have the funds to operate all these projects once they’re completed?

Yes.

Metro has always had the money to open newly built projects and the agency is required by law to balance its budget each year. The Federal Transit Administration reviews Metro’s financial plans on a regular basis and the FTA’s latest rating indicates that Metro can pursue future building plans.

If Measure R didn’t exist and the new transit projects were never built, Metro would be facing a $99-million operating deficit today that would escalate rapidly in future years if no new revenue was generated or expenses pared.

Metro has several sources of revenue in future years that can be used for operating new transit systems: lease revenue from new development at Union Station, new ad revenue from rail expansion and more than $400 million in federal Congestion Management and Air Quality funds between now and 2040 to help pay for the first three years of operating all new bus rapid transit and rail lines.

Will bus service be slashed and fares raised to cover operating costs for the new rail projects?

Buses carry the majority of daily riders on Metro and that’s not going to change. Metro bus service hours will grow by about 10 percent between now and 2039 — and it’s likely that other bus systems in the county will also grow in that time along with service by Metrolink and Amtrak.

It is important to understand that with or without a Measure R extension, there is always the possibility of service changes in the future to adapt to changing ridership patterns and put service where it is needed the most. Metro will continue to integrate its bus and rail system to best serve its riders — it’s not a competition between buses and trains.

At this time, Metro’s fares remain among the least expensive of major transit agencies in the United States. In the future, it is likely that Metro will look at other fare models, including distance-based fares on the rail system.

One reason: the Regional Connector project in downtown Los Angeles will make it possible to take a single train for as many as 40 miles — for example, from Long Beach to Azusa.

Is Metro mortgaging the future of Los Angeles County taxpayers by borrowing money to accelerate transit projects?

No.

A Measure R extension doesn’t require Metro to borrow any money through loans or by selling bonds. The whole point of extending Measure R is to ensure that the agency has the option to borrow money and to ensure that the agency has future revenues to repay any debts.

Will a Measure R extension fund other transit projects not on the original Measure R list?

The Measure R extension would first complete funding for the original Measure R transit projects. After those are done, funds would go to unfunded phases of Measure R projects and then to projects without funding in the agency’s long-range plan.

New Measure R funds would not be available until after 2050, according to Metro staff. However, other funding sources could be available earlier.

What is needed for a Measure R Extension to be approved?

First, the state Legislature must approve a bill, AB 1446 (by Assm. Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles), that would allow Metro to ask voters to consider an extension. Gov. Jerry Brown then must sign it. The bill has already been approved by the Assembly and is being debated in the State Senate.

Concurrently, a majority of the 13-member Metro Board of Directors must approve sending a Measure R extension to voters for their approval. That must happen by July. In addition, a majority of the five-member Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors would have to approve putting a Measure R extension on the ballot.

 

18 replies

  1. Are there any plans to extend the Purple Line to Santa Monica after it reaches the VA?

  2. So wait, why isn’t the Gold Line Phase 2B on here? The project should be funded all the way to Montclair. That’s where the major transit center is, it’s one of the main reasons the Foothill Extension makes sense.

  3. GaryB,

    The reason is that Foothill Extension beyond Azuza is not a funded Measure R project same as the Purple Line beyond the VA is not either.

  4. @Matt

    As I understood it, Measure R included the Gold Line *to Claremont* as a project. It was only able to fund it partially, like many of the projects listed above that are slated to get additional funding, but the goal of getting it to Claremont is part of the Measure R text. Why should the Green Line Southbay Extension or the as-yet-undefined Santa Ana Transit Corridor get funding for expedited construction when the original obligations of Measure R haven’t even been properly funded?

    • Hi Gary;

      This issue was discussed in committee this morning and I’ll do my best here to summarize what Metro officials said.

      Many of the Measure R transit projects were not fully funded — that is, they will need money from other sources to be completed. For example, the Westside Subway Extension only has enough Measure R funds to go to Westwood and there is no other funding right now to take it further west. Other projects not fully funded include the Metro Connector to LAX, the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Regional Connector, the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor and, as you mentioned, the Foothill Extension.

      Metro officials say there is no difference between any of these projects. Thus the reason that staff are recommending that a Measure R extension would only accelerate what’s already being funded by Measure R. Obviously there’s a difference of opinion, with some San Gabriel Valley officials arguing that Measure R promised to pay for the entire Foothill Extension to Claremont. Metro officials and some Board members do not feel that’s the case.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  5. It’s unlikely that any plan will push the purple line further west.

    Here’s why. At one point a subway to the sea was imagined from downtown along wilshire to santa monica. Mishaps and bad publicity when the red/purple lines were being constructed allowed various politicians to enact legislation that prevented any subterranean subway construction in Los Angeles. This prohibition led to the creation of the Expo line as a priority. Being for the most part, at-grade allowed this project to move forward all the way to the beach. After enjoying the success of the red line from downtown to the valley, the residents of Los Angeles demanded that subways be reconsidered and the prohibition was repealed. But by that time, the expo was under construction and west of the 405 ran a parallel track to santa monica.

    Given that transit dollars are so scarce the mta has to choose lines carefully and serve all the communities of the entire city. Santa Monica is now covered. Adding a largely parallel line is not fair to communities with no transit at all. Furthermore, adding a somewhat parallel line would siphon riders off of the expo line. After all, who wants to ride a clunky line at grade when they could zip along underground and not have to sit in traffic with cars, right?

    I think the most logical thing mta will do, is to create a line roughly parallel to the 405 from LAX all the way to the valley. This is the Sepulveda Pass corridor project. This would intersect with Expo, purple and in the valley, the orange line.

    I think the construction of the purple line to one stop west of the 405 is smart (rather than having a westwood village terminus) but I wish they had gone one more stop to the expo line in the short term, which would have created a really important connection in the shorter/medium term. A future sepulveda line could have paralleled it, and shared two stops, but that’s clearly not going to happen.

  6. Add to all this the fact that there’s no reason to build the Gold Line east of the point in San Dimas shown in this Google Map Link since it will just be running parallel to the already frequent Metrolink San Bernardino Line:

    http://goo.gl/maps/VG1F

    FOUR parallel tracks of rail transit from San Dimas to Montclair to Rancho Cucamonga (where the Gold Line is supposed to head to ONT if that airport still exists) doesn’t make any fiscal or ethical sense when other parts of the county have the supportive density and non-rail transit usage today.

  7. I thought the Regional Connector was supposed to open in 2019, regardless of Measure R2.

    Without Measure R2, it would open in 2025? That’s something brand new to me.

    • Hi Alex;

      It’s still targeted for a 2019 opening — as explained to me by Metro staff, it was a project that already had been accelerated but it’s included on this list anyway as an extension would help with some of the funding.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  8. […] Metro is serious about advancing dozens of transit and freeway projects through an extension of the Measure R tax increase, which budgets billions for things like the Purple Line subway extension and the 405 carpool lane project. The Daily News reports that Metro’s board will vote on extending Measure R, which increased sales taxes in 2008 by a half-percent but expires in 2039, at their June 28 board meeting. The tax increase could be extended indefinitely, for another three decades, or simply allowed to run out in 2039. If the board greenlights an extension, then it moves to the arduous process of getting it on the November ballot; Metro has until August 10 to submit a ballot measure to the Registrar. So, why is an extension needed? Because it would allow money to be advanced against future revenues, and thus allow projects to start work immediately or very soon. As it stands now, Metro has to parse out projects knowing there’s only a limited amount of money coming in (about $40 billion). An extension of Measure R would mean quicker openings (see image) for a bunch of juicy projects, The Source notes. […]

  9. @ Steve Hymon:

    I still don’t understand that argument. You’re saying only projects which are currently (partially or slowly) funded via Measure R should receive additional funding (for completion or acceleration) through Measure R+. The “Foothill Extension” is being partially funded by Measure R. Just because the project was split into Phase 2A and 2B for logistic purposes, doesn’t mean Phase 2B shouldn’t be funded.

    @Erik G:

    You miss the point of the Foothill Extension. Metrolink serves Downtown LA/San Bernardino (and frankly, is only “frequent” during rush hour), the Foothill Extension will parallel the congested I-210 and serve people heading to/from Pasadena. Once the extension is built, travel time on the Gold Line between Montclair and Pasadena will be highly competitive with driving. Further, those three transfer stations with Metrolink will strengthen both routes.

    The ROW is already there, every city along the route has been pushing for this for decades, many have already planned TOD districts around the future station sites, some have even been built. The local communities are vocally and actively supportive and yet this extension has been consistently ignored in favor of projects through communities who are pathologically opposed. I suppose the fundamental question is, “Why?”

    • Hi Gary;

      I’m just trying to convey Metro staff’s arguments. Staff is saying that the extension accelerates what is already being built under Measure R. In other words, the extension wouldn’t provide enough money to fund the Westside Subway Extension beyond Westwood, nor would it provide the money to extend the Foothill Extension past Azusa.

      Obviously this is something that is going to be discussed a lot at next week’s Board meeting.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  10. “I’m just trying to convey Metro staff’s arguments.”

    Sorry, I realized after I hit submit that I used the word “You’re” when I meant to say “They’re.” It wasn’t my intent to put words in your mouth! I’d also like to thank you for trying to help me understand the logic going on behind the scenes. I think I understand it a bit better now 🙂

  11. Extending Measure R would also allow cities to borrow against future local set-aside funds to repair sidewalks and streets. The Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services made a report in 2008 that states it would take 5-7 times more money to repair a street once it reaches a condition of F, or failed. Los Angeles had a backlog of $1.9 billion in needed street repairs in 2008, according to the report, and the city also has $1 billion in needed sidewalk repairs.

  12. Borrow against future set funds means, “let our kids and grandkids figure out the problem in their times.”

    This is nothing different than robbing Peter (future) to pay Paul (today). I’m voting against this. I don’t want my kids and grandkids coming up to me when I’m older saying why everyone in their generation is so poor because daddy’s and grandpa’s generation were too selfish to figure out their own problems on their own.

  13. Will the Measure R extension improve the blue-line? Meaning, will safety, infrastructure and development improve along the blue-line? For example, will we see improvement in the stations (lighting, landscape, security, parking structure, ect). Or will we see Transit Oriented Development along the blue-line? For example, along the Artesia Station, there is a need of Transit Oriented Development.

    • Hi Jose;

      As proposed by staff, a Measure R extension doesn’t direct money directly at the Blue Line. It does, however, provide money for rail operations and that could benefit the Blue Line. I completely agree that much of the corridor is in need of development — Metro, however, doesn’t actually develop properties. That’s something the agency can help with, but mainly needs to come from the private sector and the municipalities along the Blue Line corridor in terms of providing the right kind of entitlements to encourage the investment.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source