Finding new solutions to old transportation problems. That, in a nutshell, was the idea behind the “Transformation through Transportation” event held by Metro today in downtown Los Angeles.
The invitation-only “Industry Forum” was a chance for Metro officials to introduce the agency and its various programs to business and industry leaders. The hope is the private sector will pony up some of those new solutions, whether it comes to financing projects or offering technology to keep Metro’s transit system safer.
As would be expected, the potential ballot measure for this November that Metro is considering was talked about quite a bit. A few points of interestingness from the event:
•Metro Board Chair and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas hit on a factoid that I think is always worth remembering: “Twenty five years ago we had zero miles of rail,” he said. “This county is some 4,000 square miles and we had zero miles of rail and in just a few months we will move from that number all the way past 100 miles.”
The current Metro Rail system has 87 miles of tracks. The Gold Line extension to Azusa that is opening on March adds another 11.5 miles. The Expo Line extension to Santa Monica — opening this spring — adds 6.6 miles.
•Hitting the nail directly on the head, Jim Frazier — the Chair of the California Assembly Transportation Committee — said “transportation funding solutions remain elusive.” As he pointed out, even with Gov. Jerry Brown focusing attention on the issue, the Legislature in 2015 still couldn’t come up with a good package to address the state’s transpo needs.
•Which brings me to the point hammered by Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Board Member Eric Garcetti: “In Los Angeles County, people do want to invest in infrastructure,” he said, citing the passage of Measure R in 2008 (with 67.9 percent of the vote) and the near passage of Measure J in 2012 (with 66.1 percent of the vote).
Garcetti then pivoted to an issue that always looms over transportation planning and funding in L.A. County: parochialism. “The city of Los Angeles used to focus on our own work. But no more,” he said. “No one out there in the real world cares about borders and boundaries. We need to start thinking that way. [Southern California] is one place. As such we need …leaders and institutions to start thinking that way.”
•Metro CEO Phil Washington had lots to say on a number of fronts. For example, he talked up Metro’s new unsolicited bid policy, that allows businesses to offer products and services to Metro without first having to wait for an official bid to be issued. He acknowledged that the Metro Board may not always be interested. “[A proposal] might be rejected but it’s my job to bring it forward,” he said.
He also brought an intriguing point — something I hadn’t considered. What if a business brings an unsolicited proposal that would help build a project — but build it years before was planned. The challenge there is that Metro has a long-range plan that includes a sequence of when projects get built. The sequence and location of those projects is — how shall I say this — Very Politically Sensitive.
As Washington pointed out, the market may like a project that is still many years away. “It’s my job to bring that to the Board and they will make the decision. “But I’m bringing it.”
•On infrastructure, Washington put it bluntly: “We have been in this country on an infrastructure vacation for the last 30 years. Our infrastructure forefathers are turning over in their graves right now.” He added that he doesn’t believe old infrastructure has been taken care of, nor does he think the nation has built really substantial infrastructure in many years.
He wants to turn that around in Los Angeles County. “We’re looking at becoming the infrastructure capitol of the world,” he said.
•As for the potential ballot measure, Washington said that he views the Measure R sales tax increase as the first part of the infrastructure program that L.A. County needs. He said the potential ballot measure would extend Measure R for 22 years (past its expiration date in 2039) and add a new half-cent sales tax increase for at least 30 years. “So think augment and extend or extend and augment. That’s what we’re talking about. It’s a big deal,” he said.
The draft spending plan for the potential ballot measure is due to be released in March with a public and stakeholder comment period to follow. The Board is scheduled to decide in June whether to put the ballot measure before voters.
•Finally, Metro Chief Innovation Officer Joshua Schank said that one of his major goals is to find a public-private partnership [known as PPP] for Metro. In short, PPPs are a way for private money to be used to finance, build or operate public infrastructure. Which project? We’ll see. I recently recorded a podcast with Joshua. Listen here.