I posted earlier that the New York Times editorial board certainly seems a gloomy future for cities and states that depend on federal funding. Now, here’s a second media story that focuses on transportation funding — and the news isn’t much better.
As KPCC reporter Kitty Felde explains, the federal gas tax has not increased since 1993. Even in the best of economic times — and 2011 is not — politicians are loathe to raise the gas tax. But without a hike, the federal Highway Trust Fund will be depleted, which is kind of a problem: the Fund is used to pay for transportation projects across the U.S. Excerpt:
China spends 9 percent of its gross domestic product on infrastructure projects; India spends 5 percent. The U.S.? About 2.4 percent of our GDP goes to infrastructure. And as a congressional supercommittee looks for ways to cut $1.5 trillion from the federal deficit, that number is likely to continue to shrink.
With a shrinking highway fund, Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed a multiyear transportation spending bill with big-time cuts. Meanwhile, Democrats in the Senate — led by California’s Barbara Boxer — have proposed a two-year bill that maintains current funding levels for transportation. Both bills, by the way, include some of the provisions needed for Metro’s America Fast Forward program to become law, allowing the agency to accelerate its building of transit projects funded by the Measure R sales tax increase.
But neither of the bills proposed contains ALL of what’s needed for America Fast Forward. If transportation agencies such as Metro do not get direct funding from the feds, nor can they even borrow and use other federal financing tools, then what happens next?
A round of applause for the Beehive State: Two new light rail lines are officially opening this weekend in the Salt Lake City area, with the Utah Transit Authority saying it’s the first time any region has opened two lines at the same time.
The UTA is also saying that both projects were delivered early and about 20 percent under budget. The Mid-Jordan line is 10.6 miles long and cost $535 million. The West Valley City extension is 5.1 miles long and cost $370.
Taken together, the two lines cost about $57.6 million per mile — which is a very good price compared to most new light rail lines in the nation. Most Metro light rail lines cost much more due to tunnels and bridges needed in a denser urban environment.
Passengers buy tickets at NoHo Red Line station. Photo by flickr user sicoactiva.
By now reality is setting in: We need to dramatically increase our investment in transportation infrastructure just to maintain the status quo. But it looks like Congress isn’t willing to do it, at least in the near future.
One might think that we’re sitting pretty in Los Angeles County thanks to Measure R — we’ve definitely got it better than some other regions — but federal largess also plays a big role in getting projects built here. Without it, L.A. and other cities throughout the state are going to have to find new sources of funding to help keep transit running and make down payments on future transit projects.
That’s the issue that a team of researchers from UCLA and Berkeley’s respective environmental law programs tackled in their report, “All Aboard: How California Can Increase Investments in Public Transit” [PDF].
Big news this afternoon on a key Measure R transit project: A $485.9-million contract has been awarded to a joint venture of two firms, Kiewit and Parsons, to build the 11.5-mile extension of the Gold Line from eastern Pasadena to the Azusa/Glendora border.
The contract approved by the Board of the Foothill Extension Construction Authority means that work in earnest should begin on the line in 2012 with a scheduled opening of 2015. It’s a big victory for Foothill community residents in the San Gabriel Valley who live far removed from both the current terminus of the Gold Line in eastern Pasadena and Metrolink service.
The Foothill Extension will have stations in downtown Arcadia and Azusa, as well as a station near downtown Monrovia. The Duarte station is across the street from the City of Hope, the Irwindale station is adjacent to a major industrial park and the final station is next to Citrus College and Azusa Pacific University.
A separate contract to build a bridge to carry the Gold Line tracks from the median of the 210 freeway into Arcadia has already been awarded to Skanska. Work on the bridge is currently underway.
I wanted to point readers to a Metro staff report from earlier this month that looks at the six-year federal transportation spending bill being floated by Republicans in the House of Representatives.
And it doesn’t paint a very pretty picture of what the bill would do to Metro: big-time spending cuts. If Metro were to lose 30 percent of its federal funding for the next six years, here are the $1.44 billion in cuts it would have to make to its capital spending:
•Cut $240 million in operating funds.
•Cut $260 million in bus purchases.
•Cut $70 million in rail vehicle purchases.
•Cut $70 million in paratransit vehicle purchases.
*Cut $400 million in rail system repairs.
•Cut $400 million in highway improvement projects.
It’s a tough issue because the bill, as proposed by Rep. John Mica (R-Florida) does include some provisions needed for America Fast Forward — the changes in law Metro is seeking to accelerate the building of Measure R transit projects.
It’s also worth noting that the bill has an uphill battle. Republicans may control the House, but Senates are in the majority in the Senate and a Democrat is occupying the White House and there’s this little election thing next year. The cuts shown above wouldn’t just hit Metro hard, they would also impact spending plans by many other big transit agencies in urban areas, where voters often lean toward Democrats.
The crafting of the next federal transportation spending bill is finally underway after literally years of delay due mostly to partisan politics.
The U.S. House version of the bill was released earlier this month with elements of America Fast Forward, which would enshrine in federal law the kind of federal loans and financing that Metro needs to accelerate the construction of Measure R transit projects.
And now the Senate’s bill is starting to take shape, with similar good news: America Fast Forward made the cut, although this isn’t surprising considering that Senator Barbara Boxer has a big hand in shaping the Senate’s version of the bill and has also been an ardent supporter of AFF.
A word of warning: between the House and Senate bills, there still is not everything that Metro needs for AFF to work to its full extent.
Construction staging at Hollywood/Highland during construction of that station. Note traffic continuing to flow on Hollywood Bl.
Last week, we posted the link to the Westside Subway Extension’s Metro’s construction impacts fact sheet. This week we bring you info from the subway’s new property acquisition fact sheet, which you can find here as a website and here as a PDF.
While this fact sheet is directly about the subway, it also generally addresses the process that Metro follows when it needs to obtain property for various projects. Here’s the introduction:
Why Metro Needs Property for the Subway
The Westside Subway Extension will travel underground, mostly below public rights-of-way. Metro will, however, need to acquire or secure use of some private property in order to build and operate the subway. In some cases the property will be acquired on a permanent basis. In other cases, Metro will only need the property temporarily. Property will be required for primarily three purposes:
- Construction staging
- Station portals (entrances)
- Below ground easements (subsurface easement)
Currently Metro owns two pieces of property along the proposed alignment – the parcels at Wilshire/Crenshaw and Wilshire/La Brea. Those properties were purchased in the 1980s for potential future transportation projects. The La Brea site currently houses a Metro Customer Service Center, some commercial uses and a metered parking lot. The Crenshaw property consists of a surface parking lot.
This fact sheet explains the property requirements for the Project in more detail, the various ways Metro could acquire needed property interests, and the likely timing and process for property acquisition.
Below is the news release from Metro on the news earlier today that the Westside Subway Extension is about to secure a $640.8-million federal TIFIA loan. As the release states, Metro staff will be working in the next several weeks to determine the exact impact the loan will have on the construction timeline.
TIFIA Loan for Westside Subway Extension Achieves Welcome Milestone
Earlier today, U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein issued a joint press release announcing that the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) was taking a major step toward approval of a $640.8 Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan for the Westside Subway Extension. The expansion of the TIFIA program is a centerpiece of Metro’s America Fast Forward initiative, which also calls for the creation of a Qualified Transportation Improvement Bond (QTIBs) program.
“Today’s announcement is a critical step towards creating an ambitious, multi-faceted transit network and putting Angelenos back to work,” Mayor and Chair of the MTA Antonio Villaraigosa said. “With this latest, generous loan commitment from the federal government, we will extend the Metro Purple Line from Koreatown to Century City all the way into Westwood, better serving the 300,000 commuters that pour into these job centers every day and putting approximately 40,000 Angelenos back to work.”
The route for the Westside Subway Extension that is currently in the final environmental study phase.
Very good news today for the Westside Subway Extension: a $640.8-million loan neared final approval for the project by the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.
The loan is coming from the TIFIA program, which is the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. TIFIA loans are helpful because they offer the ability to lock down good interest rates and repayment terms.
The loan will be paid back with funds from Measure R, the sales tax increase approved by L.A. County voters in 2008. The trick with Measure R funds is that they flow in slowly over time and have to be split among the many Measure R projects. A loan, on the other hand, is money that can be spent now on the subway project, which carries a hefty pricetag of about $5.3 billion if built in the next decade. Which is still no sure thing.
Under Measure R and the agency’s long-range plan, Metro is planning to build the subway in three phases: to Fairfax by 2019, Century City by 2026 and Westwood by 2036. But Metro is trying to persuade Congress to approve the America Fast Forward plan that would expand TIFIA and other federal financing to speed up the construction of big and expensive transit projects. The loan helps that cause but does not ensure it will happen.
Here’s Metro’s TIFIA application for the subway, which lists June 30, 2022 as the opening date for service to Westwood — the hope under America Fast Forward. That’s a projection obviously and not written in stone, but nonetheless interesting. The application also has construction beginning in earnest in 2013, a date we’ve heard in the past from Metro staff.
The news release from Senators Boxer and Feinstein is posted after the jump.
As we’ve crossed the halfway point of 2011, Metro’s government relations staff are still plugging away and hoping to persuade Congress to make America Fast Forward [AFF] the law of the land.
AFF would provide government loans and other financing that would allow Metro to accelerate the construction of 12 Measure R transit projects. As things stand now, those projects would be built between now and 2038. With AFF, Metro is hoping to condense that timeline to the next decade or so.
The goal is to make AFF part of the next multiyear transportation spending bill, which is already two-plus years overdue. On the plus side, AFF continues to get some plugs from both sides of the aisle — including the following one from Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York). Here’s the email from Metro CEO Art Leahy to staff:
Yesterday [last Thursday], key elements of America Fast Forward received a significant boost in Washington, D.C. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the third Ranking Senate Democrat and the Chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee unveiled the Democratic Senate’s job creation plan that focuses primarily on “A Highway Bill that will put people back to work building critical infrastructure,” as well as creating a National Infrastructure Bank.