Transit agency funding threatened as Congress continues to bicker over Highway Trust Fund

Below is the latest from Metro’s government relations staff on the ongoing tussle between the House of Representatives and the Senate on keeping the federal Highway Trust Fund funded for the new few months. The news is not good:

U.S. House of Representatives Sends Highway Trust Fund Extension Bill Back to the U.S. Senate

Moments ago, the United States House of Representatives voted (272-150) to reject the U.S. Senate amended bill to fund the Highway Trust Fund and extend authorization and appropriations for highway and transit programs. On July 15, 2014, the House passed H.R. 5021 that extended funding and programs until May 31, 2015. This past Tuesday, the Senate amended the House bill by shortening the extension until December 19, 2014 forcing Congress to deal with a long term surface transportation reauthorization bill and funding this year. With the House rejecting the Senate amended bill and members leaving Washington tonight for a five week recess, the Senate must now decide to pass the House version of H.R. 5021 by tomorrow. If the Senate does not act, the Department of Transportation will implement cash management procedures to distribute less than full transportation funding payments to states. Metro’s Government Relations staff will continue to provide updates on the status of Congress’ actions regarding transportation programs and funding.

Why does this matter? Here’s a staff reporting explaining how Metro could suffer if funds from the Highway Trust Fund to Metro would eventually slow down or be halted. It’s not good: potential long-range impacts — emphasis on ‘long-range’ — could result in service cuts, delays to maintenance projects and delaying capital projects.

The Highway Trust Fund gets its money from the federal gas tax, which is currently 18.3 cents and hasn’t been raised since 1993. Congress has been reluctant over the years to raise the tax or index it to inflation and there’s no majority view of other alternatives to keep the Highway Trust Fund in the black now that vehicles are more fuel efficient and tax revenues are down.

Officials discuss motion seeking to improve Orange Line at media event in NoHo

Three Metro Board Members and other elected officials, activists and business leaders held a media event on Friday morning at the NoHo Orange Line station to discuss the Board’s passage Thursday of a motion calling for feasibility studies of improving the Orange Line and potentially connecting it to Burbank, Glendale and the Gold Line in Pasadena.

A video with some nuggets from the media event is above. Sorry about the shaky camera — I left a key piece of my tripod at home :(

I’ve had several people ask why is this an issue now and the answer is twofold:

Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, who represents Van Nuys and the surrounding area, wrote a bill reversing a 1991 bill that banned any kind of rail project on the old Southern Pacific rail corridor that became the Orange Line. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month.

•With a potential Metro ballot measure on the horizon in 2016, officials and activists realized that could be an opportunity to fund such a project but that having some studies done would help this effort.

I can’t emphasize enough that the motion only asks Metro to study possible upgrades for the Orange Line. Despite what may be said, at this time no decisions have been made about any possible improvements, nor is such a project funded or in Metro’s long-range plan.

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Other actions taken by the Board of Directors today, including motion on Orange Line upgrades

Other actions taken by the Metro Board at their meeting today:

•The Board approved a motion by Board Members Paul Krekorian, Eric Garcetti, Michael Antonovich, Zev Yaroslavsky, John Fasana and Ara Najarian directing Metro staff to study potential upgrades to the Orange Line, including adding more articulated buses, grade-separated crossings, improved traffic signal priority and rail conversion. The motion also calls for the study of extending the Orange Line to Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena, where it would connect or offer a transfer to the Gold Line.

As I’ve noted before, this is an unfunded project and that converting the Orange Line to rail is not in Metro’s short- or long-range plans at this time.Metro Board Member Paul Krekorian noted that only two of Metro’s 80 rail stations are in the San Fernando Valley, where nearly 20 percent of county residents live. He said that the Orange Line’s ridership demonstrates that Valley residents are willing to take transit. Metro staff said they will return to the Board this fall with more details on how they plan to proceed with the Orange Line study. Motion

An amendment to the motion by Board Members Pam O’Connor and Don Knabe directs Metro staff to develop protocols for adding unfunded projects to the long-range plan — a need brought in part by Metro studying future ballot measure that could potentially fund new projects. As the amendment notes, some Measure R road and transit projects remain underfunded or are facing higher expenses to build, adding to the difficulty of building projects that are not set to receive Measure R funds. Amendment

•A separate motion by Board Members Michael Antonovich, Ara Najarian, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Ara Najarian directs Metro to continue the planning process for expanding bus rapid transit to eligible corridors, including Vermont Avenue and a line connecting the Orange Line to the Gold Line. The motion asks for a report from Metro staff this fall with a staffing, funding and implementation plan on expanding BRT. Motion

In an amendment to that motion by Metro Board Chair Eric Garcetti, Metro was directed to make such BRT projects the first priority when Metro pursues federal Small Starts or Very Small Starts funding. The amendment also asked for a center-running alternative where feasible in the study of the Vermont and Burbank-Pasadena BRT.

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Cafe Crepe coming to Union Station

The Metro Board earlier today approved a lease agreement with Cafe Crepe to take over the former Union Bagel space in Union Station (the Metro staff report is above). This is the space directly across from Traxx that has been vacant for quite some time.

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This is not a small space. There will be interior seating and this should be a very nice spot for bus and train travelers to stop and grab a meal at pretty agreeable prices.

Check out Cafe Crepe’s menu here — they already have locations in Santa Monica, Vancouver (B.C.) and Toronto and the plan is to be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Union Station location. The word ‘crepe’ may be in the name, but there’s a variety of things on the menu including burgers, salads, other sandwiches and desserts.

When will it open? The short answer: it’s going to be a while. The space has to be completely renovated and equipped — and all the necessary permits must be obtained from the city of Los Angeles. We’ll provide updates as the work proceeds!

Metro Board approves $1.6-billion contract to construct first phase of the Purple Line Extension subway

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After a long discussion, the Metro Board of Directors voted 9 to 3 to approve a $1.6-billion contract with Skanska, Traylor and Shea, a Joint Venture (STS), on Thursday morning to construct the 3.9-mile first phase of the Purple Line Extension subway. The first phase — with a total budget of $2.7 billion — is currently forecast to open in 2023.

No votes were from Metro Board Members Michael Antonovich, Don Knabe and Mark Ridley-Thomas. Board Member Gloria Molina was absent for the vote.

The contract approval was a key step forward for one of the cornerstone projects to be funded in part by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008. A $1.25-billion federal New Starts grant is also paying for the project.

The extension will push the subway from its current terminus at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue to Wilshire and La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Three new stations will be constructed at Wilshire/La Brea, Wilshire/Fairfax and Wilshire/La Cienega.

The procurement process began in June 2013; details are in the above Metro staff report. Three firms bid on the contract. Proposals were evaluated based on project management, technical approach and price. There was considerable discussion by the Metro Board on the issue of how the bids were evaluated and the weight that should — or should not — be given to price.

The two firms that did not win the contract have filed protests with Metro. The Board is allowed to award the contract pending the timely resolution of the protests.

Metro staff noted that while the Skanska, Traylor and Shea bid was the most expensive bid by almost $193 million, Metro staff also believes “this team offers best opportunity to deliver the project on time and on budget” — a promise reiterated by the winning bidder’s future project manager. The companies involved have also worked on the second phase of the Expo Line, the Gold Line Foothill Extension and the city of Los Angeles’ North East Interceptor Sewer tunnel.

Metro Board Member Don Knabe said that $192.5 million was too much “to leave on the table” without getting more information on the bids and the protests. Other Board Members indicated that they had faith in the agency’s technical evaluations and/or they did not want to potentially delay the project by taking too long to approve a construction contract.

Utility relocations for the Purple Line Extension’s have been underway since last year. The most recent construction timeline is below. The timeline assumes that the cities of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills grant Metro the work hours that it needs.

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Metro continues to explore ways to accelerate the second phase to Century City and third phase to Westwood via America Fast Forward, which would increase federal funding for transit if Congress were to embrace the entire concept and fully fund it. Metro is also exploring a possible ballot measure in 2016 that could potentially accelerate Measure R projects.

Metro already has an unprecedented four rail projects under construction: the six-mile second phase of the Expo Line between Culver City and downtown Santa Monica, the 11.5-mile Gold Line Foothill Extension between eastern Pasadena and the Azusa/Glendora border, the 8.5-mile Crenshaw/LAX Line between the Expo Line and Green Line and the 1.9-mile Regional Connector that will connect the Blue, Expo and Gold Lines in downtown Los Angeles. All four projects are receiving funding from Measure R.

 

In remarks, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti outlines his goals as Metro Board Chair

Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Board Chair Eric Garcetti delivering his remarks on Thursday morning. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Board Chair Eric Garcetti delivering his remarks on Thursday morning. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

As noted earlier, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is the Chair of the Metro Board of Directors for the next year. At the start of today’s Board meeting, Garcetti briefly outlined his goals as Board Chair. Here are some highlights from his comments.

•”When you’re talking about transportation, the top priority has to be reducing traffic.   Traffic, especially in Los Angeles, defines our lives. It keeps us from being with our loved ones and enjoying life’s daily moments. But it’s equally important that we provide good service for our customers and build for the future.

“The only way we can do that well is by working together as a region. We all know that traffic doesn’t care about borders. And none of us can serve our constituents well if we only care about what happens inside our city limits.”

•”How we do that? Innovation and technology. That’s not only the obvious things — like having cell service in our stations or creating an app where riders can load their tap cards on their phones so they don’t have to wait in line at the ticket machine.”

•”We must always be looking at where there is new demand and build projects in our most heavily traveled corridors. We must complete projects like the Exposition line all the way to Santa Monica. We must plan to build the Gold Line extension to Claremont. We must improve service between the San Fernando Valley and the Westside. We must make sure the Blue Line is fixed, and our highest [ridership] rail line runs like it once did. And we must find a way to open the train to the planes by the time the Crenshaw Line starts running.”

•”I’m committed to keeping the momentum going on our construction projects — and making sure they’re done on time and on budget. We cannot repeat the cost overruns and sinkholes of the 1990s.

“When I became Mayor, I was told the new lane on the 405 project wouldn’t be open until the fall. So I called an old friend, Nick Patsaouras, and asked him to volunteer his time and talents to get it done sooner. He came through big for us. As Chair, I am calling on him to now lend his expertise and provide construction oversight of the Crenshaw Line.”

•”Over the last year, we were successful in securing over three billion dollars from the federal government. I’m confident that success will continue if we work together across the region to get our fair share from Washington and Sacramento. But we also need to think creatively about public-private partnerships and innovative financing. People are impatient, people can’t wait.”

Metro Board of Directors July meeting about to begin

Good morning, readers and riders! The gavel will shortly drop on the July meeting of the Metro Board of Directors. This will be the first full Board meeting with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti serving as the Board Chair; he assumed the role on July 1 and will be the Chair through next June. The Chairmanship is filled on a rotating basis among the 13 Board Members.

The agenda for today’s meeting is above. Among the items scheduled to be discussed are a $1.6-billion contract to build the first phase of the Purple Line Extension, motions to study upgrading the Orange Line and installing ExpressLanes on part of the 105 freeway and Metro’s short-range transportation plan, among others.

You can listen to the meeting live stream here. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. You can also listen over the phone by dialing 213-922-6045 although capacity is limited.

As per usual I’ll update the blog and Metro’s general Twitter account with any interestingness as it occurs.

Connect US seeks to better link Union Station to neighborhoods via new esplanades and bike paths

As most of you likely know, Metro has been developing the Union Station Master Plan to preserve the historic train depot while also renovating it and redeveloping parts of the 40-acre campus as use of the station continues to grow.

A companion study has been looking at an equally important issue: better linking Union Station by foot and bike to surrounding neighborhoods. Union Station sits on the far northern end of downtown Los Angeles and, at present, it’s often not terribly pleasant to reach via sidewalk or bike.

The linkages study — called Connect US — seeks to remedy that by recommending 13 separate projects totaling $50 million to $60 million in costs that would create a series of corridors that walkers and cyclists could use between Union Station and the Regional Connector’s 1st/Central Station and surrounding neighborhoods. Among those communities: Chinatown, Boyle Heights, Little Tokyo, the Civic Center and the Arts District.

A PowerPoint of the study’s recommendations, presented by community members last Thursday at a City Hall event, is posted above. As you scroll through, there are a series of maps and renderings that provide an idea of the scope of the project.

Among the improvements: an esplanade between the entrance to Union Station that would reach across Alameda Street to El Pueblo de Los Angeles and Olvera Street; new esplanades with expanded sidewalks and protected bike lanes along Los Angeles Street, Alameda Street and North Broadway (which would sit on the bluff above Los Angeles State Historic Park), and; add bike lanes (some protected) and sidewalk and street improvements to other key streets such as 1st Street, 3rd Street and Santa Fe and Alpine.

Metro is helping to plan the improvements, which will largely be undertaken by the city of Los Angeles (the city oversees downtown streets). The project has been separated into a series of smaller projects, the idea being that each project can be done when funding becomes available, a nod to the realities of transportation funding.

The final speaker at last Thursday’s event was Gil Penalosa, the well-known former parks chief in Bogata, Colombia, and who now heads up 8-80 Cities, a nonprofit that advocates for parks, bike lanes, pedestrians and making cities more vibrant and sustainable — the kind of things people usually like in cities. As he made clear, the Connect US plan would not only help improve mobility in downtown but would make L.A. more like other well-known cities across the globe that are walk- and bike-friendly and that people love to visit.

Gil Penalosa speaking at last Thursday's event unveiling of the Connect US plan at Los Angeles City Hall. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Gil Penalosa speaking at last Thursday’s event unveiling of the Connect US plan at Los Angeles City Hall. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Motion proposes further study of ExpressLanes for part of the 105 freeway

The above motion is scheduled to be considered by the Metro Board of Directors this month — the motion seeks to launch environmental studies of adding ExpressLanes to the 105 freeway, with an initial segment between the 405 and 605 freeways. To be perfectly clear: the motion concerns more studies of the concept. A decision to go forward with such a project would come much later.

The 105 freeway, as you likely know, intersects with the existing ExpressLanes on the 110 freeway. The 110-105 junction includes exclusive on-ramps and off-ramps between the 110 ExpressLanes and the HOV lanes presently on the 105 — i.e. there’s no need for motorists to exit the ExpressLanes or HOV lanes when going between the two freeways.

The idea, at this time, would be to have two ExpressLanes in each direction. That would be done mostly by re-striping the freeway with some spot widening. Adding those extra lanes would require approvals from Caltrans, the state agency that oversees freeway operations.

Some background: the Metro Board in 2010 had asked Metro staff to study the possibility of adding ExpressLanes to the 405 freeway between the Orange County border and Los Angeles International Airport. At the time, Orange County was considering adding HOT lanes to the 405 but Orange County Transportation Authority officials have since rejected that notion and want to add a general lane instead to their portion of the 405. This Metro staff report explains the issues.

As a result, Metro has studied other alternatives and determined that adding ExpressLanes to the 105 and eventually the 605 would help provide an ExpressLanes corridor between Orange County and LAX. If that happens, it would be a phased approach and the Board is being asked to consider an initial segment on the 105 between the 405 and 605.

Contract to build first phase of Purple Line Extension moved to full Board of Directors

The Metro Board of Directors’ Construction Committee Thursday morning took up the issue of the contract to build the 3.9-mile first phase of the Purple Line Extension between Wilshire/Western and Wilshire/La Cienega. The Metro staff report explaining the recommendation is above.

Staff has recommended that the $1.6-billion project be awarded to a joint venture of Skanska, Traylor and Shea. The Metro Board moved the item without recommendations to the full Board of Directors for their consideration at next Thursday’s meeting.

The Committee also asked Metro staff to report back next week on the reasons for a $288 million increase in the budget for the project, bringing the total to $2.77 billion — and how it will impact Measure R funding in the Westside/Central subregion of L.A. County. “We believe we can pay for the Westside Subway Section 1 cost increase of $288 million
directly from Measure R or, if necessary, incur additional bond debt to cover the cost
increase,” writes Metro staff in the above report (see appendix C).