Officials from Metro and the Federal Transit Administration signed a pair of agreements Thursday that will provide a $670-million federal grant and a $160-million federally-backed loan for the Regional Connector light rail project. The total budget of the project is $1.37 billion.
A media event with public officials is being held at 10 a.m. next to the Gold Line’s Little Tokyo station. We’ll post photos and video later today.
In practical terms, the agreements clear the way for construction to begin later this year on the 1.9-mile underground light rail line in downtown L.A. that will tie together the existing Blue Line, Expo Line and Gold Line with tracks between 7th/Metro Center and Little Tokyo. When the project is complete — forecast for 2020 — passengers on those lines will be able to travel through downtown without having to transfer to another line.
The project will also allow trains to run more frequently through downtown. Blue Line and Expo Line trains currently must turn around at 7th/Metro Center, a time-munching maneuver.
Utility relocations on the project are already underway with construction expected to begin later this year after the Metro Board of Directors selects a contractor to build the line. Metro already has three light rail projects currently under construction — the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Expo Line and the Gold Line Foothill Extension. The first phase of the Purple Line Extension of the subway is also expected to sign funding agreements with the federal government later this year, allowing the Metro Board to select a contractor to build that project.
That means that within the next calendar year, Metro could have an unprecedented five rail projects being built simultaneously that will add about 29 miles of rail to the existing 87-mile Metro Rail network. All five projects are also receiving significant funding from Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by 68 percent of Los Angeles County voters in 2008.
The Connector is the first Metro project to receive a federal New Starts grant since the Eastside Gold Line, which opened in 2009. New Starts is a federal program designed to help local transit agencies build expensive transit projects.
The loan is coming from the federal TIFIA program, which helps local areas secure low-interest loans that are cheaper than loans found on the open market. The TIFIA program is part of Metro’s America Fast Forward initiative that was expanded in the most recent federal multi-year transportation bill. Metro is seeking to have the program renewed and expended in the next bill, which Congress is expected to debate this year.
The Connector was originally envisioned as a rail project that would run at street level through downtown. Public opinion, however, swayed Metro to put the line underground, which increased costs but will also provide faster travel speeds and eliminate the need for a rail undercrossing at Alameda Street. The increased cost is the reason that federal funding is crucial for the project.
The news release from Metro is after the jump.
The news release from Metro:
Metro’s Regional Connector Project Receives Full Funding Grant Agreement from the Federal Transit Administration
Metro joined federal, state and local elected officials today to announce the receipt of a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) from the Federal Transit Administration in the amount of $670 million to fund the $1.37 billion Regional Connector Project.
“This agreement from the federal government to provided critical funding for this important gap in the regional system paves the way for major construction to begin later this year on the Regional Connector project,” said Metro Board Chair and Lakewood Councilmember Diane DuBois. “This is an extremely important project that will benefit the entire region by connecting the Blue and Gold Lines through downtown Los Angeles offering passengers a one-seat ride from Pasadena to Long Beach and from East Los Angeles to Santa Monica.”
The Regional Connector Project completes a 1.9-mile gap between the Metro Blue Line and the Metro Gold Line by providing a direct connection with three new stations planned for 1st Street/Central Avenue, 2nd Street/Broadway and 2nd Place/Hope Street in downtown Los Angeles.
“I was pleased to lead the charge earlier this year to ensure that Congress provided $130 million for the Regional Connector and the Purple Line Extension to the Westside. These funds are part of a longer-term financial agreement to bring $670 million in federal grants and a $160 million low-interest federal TIFIA loan to Los Angeles Metro,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) “I would also like to acknowledge the voters of Los Angeles County who wisely voted in 2008 to support Measure R, which is leveraging the federal grants and loans from which the city and its residents will benefit.”
“Bringing our lines together to make transfers easier is a common sense solution that will dramatically improve the rider experience,” said Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Board Vice Chair Eric Garcetti. “I want to thank our partners in Washington for helping make sure Los Angeles gets its fair share for our critical transportation projects. This federal funding, combined with the Measure R funding we already have, is critical to expanding our transit system and cutting traffic.”
The Regional Connector Project is an important rail connection project overwhelmingly approved by the voters and funded by the Measure R half-cent sales tax ordinance for LA County transportation improvements. The FFGA with the federal government now secures completion of the project.
“By committing $670 million to the Regional Connector, the federal government becomes a true partner in helping Angelenos build world class transit, create local jobs, and spur the region’s economy. When Angelenos approved Measure R in 2008, they made a solid investment in changing the way people moved throughout Los Angeles. The Regional Connector is a critical part of making that vision a reality. It is a prime example of how we return our federal tax dollars to our community for local projects that generate jobs and economic growth,” said Congressman Xavier Becerra (CA-34), Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and representative for Downtown Los Angeles.
The Regional Connector Project, expected to be completed in 2020, will attract nearly 17,000 new daily riders and provide access to more than 88,000 passengers saving commuters up to 20 minutes off their daily commutes. It will provide a one-set, one fare ride for commuters from Azusa to Long Beach and from East Los Angeles to Santa Monica without the need to transfer between rail lines for major east/west and north/south trips.
“When the 1.9-mile Regional Connector is completed, transit riders from my district in East Los Angeles will be able to travel to the west side without transferring from one line to another. This will save time, improve cross county connections and make transit a more attractive and seamless transportation option for Angelenos,” said Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-40) “However, even before the line opens, my constituents and our communities will also benefit from the signing of this agreement because it will provide critically-needed, good paying jobs during construction and then during operations. While our nation continues its economic recovery, these jobs will employ our residents, beat back unacceptably high unemployment rates, and produce a quality “Made in America” transportation system. Jobs today and transit tomorrow. That’s a great combination! I hope that more Angelenos will get out of their cars and try a more stress-free ride to their destination on our ever growing rail system.”
The new Metro Rail extension will offer an alternative transportation option to congested roadways, provide significant environmental benefits and spur economic development throughout the County. Through improved connectivity, riders will be better able to use the entire Metro Rail system, municipal bus lines and other regional transportation services.
“The Regional Connector has been a long time coming so I’m very pleased that Metro secured the federal funding necessary to make it materialize,” said Supervisor Gloria Molina. “Once completed, Gold Line riders will be able to travel from Azusa to Long Beach and from East Los Angeles to Santa Monica without transferring lines. It’s a major step in transforming Los Angeles County’s mass transit network into a truly world-class system. East Los Angeles is the fifth most densely-populated community in the entire continental U.S. and this important project will finally ensure the Eastside is connected to the rest of L.A. County’s light rail network.”
In addition to the FFGA, the U.S. Department of Transportation has granted Metro a loan of $160 million for the Regional Connector Project from a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act Loan (TIFIA) to complete the funding package for the project.
For more information about the regional Connector project, visit metro.net/projects/connector.
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