APTA report highlights current funding challenges for transit agencies

The American Public Transportation Association — a member-based advocacy organization — has released a report [PDF] this month that highlights some of the challenges facing transit agencies around the country. The report crunches data from a survey of transit agencies that APTA conducted in the spring of 2011. While the funding picture is better for most agencies than it was at the bottom of the recession, the report shows that many agencies aren’t out of the woods yet:

Even with the improved revenue picture, many agencies are still facing challenging budget situations. Over one-third (35%) of agencies are projecting a budget shortfall in the coming budget year. Of those, more than one in ten (16%) had shortfalls of over ten percent, and half of those expected shortfalls of over 20%. The total shortfall predicted by responding agencies was over $600 million.

Large transit agencies saw decreases in funding more often than smaller ones. Graph via APTA.

More so than smaller agencies, large transit operators across the U.S. — those like Metro with over 25 million annual boardings — have been particularly vulnerable to cutbacks in funding from local and state sources. The report doesn’t offer an explanation for the discrepancy, but it does describe how agencies have responded to funding cuts, namely: service reductions, fare increases and agency layoffs or hiring freezes.

The conclusion of the APTA report notes that the funding cuts come at a particularly important moment for public transit in the U.S.:

Transit agencies face future challenges, as rising gas prices are expected to drive public transit ridership. Agencies are currently experiencing instability in their funding sources during a time when they are expected to serve an increasing ridership.

If there’s a silver lining in Los Angeles County, the 20 percent of Measure R funds that were dedicated to bus operations has been a stabilizing force. Among others things, that funding suspended “a scheduled July 1, 2009 Metro fare increase for one year and [froze] all Metro Student, Senior, Disabled and Medicare fares through June 30, 2013,” according to the Measure R Expenditure Plan [PDF].

To help grasp just how many cities have seen their transit service cut over the last few years, Transportation for America has an excellent interactive map.

 

News blast from the Foothill Extension construction team

Here’s the latest news on a key Measure R project, the Gold Line Foothill Extension, from the project’s public affairs team. Follow the jump to see videos about the project’s public art component and for info about some upcoming community events.

Contract Award – Next Steps

Following the July 27, 2011 $486 million contract award to Foothill Transit Constructors – A Kiewit Parsons Joint Venture to design and build the Foothill Extension from Pasadena to Azusa, the Construction Authority and the selected team will now move towards executing the contract and beginning design work on the 11.5-mile project. Construction is expected to begin in Summer 2012 and wrap up in 2015; however a more detailed schedule will be developed in the coming months.

I-210 Gold Line Bridge/IFS Construction Update:

Construction over the last few months has gone smoothly on the I-210 Gold Line Bridge. The construction sites on both medians of the eastbound I-210 Freeway have been readied, and work on the temporary retaining wall being built along the center median is nearing completion (see photos below). Work will soon begin on the bridge’s foundations, including three, 110-foot deep foundations.

Over the coming months, intermittent partial and/or full freeway closures of the eastbound I-210 lanes will continue to occur, mostly from Midnight to 5:00 a.m.  Traffic will be detoured along Foothill Boulevard.

Avoid Traffic Delays: Register to receive construction alerts to your cell phone or e-mail at www.foothillextension.org.

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Chambers support America Fast Forward

 

Nice graphic from Metro staff showing that business leaders across the country are supporting America Fast Forward, the federal legislation that would allow Metro and other transit agencies to use federal loans and financing to speed up construction of big projects.

If Metro can persuade Congress to adopt the law as part of its next big transportation spending bill, the agency is hoping to use AFF to accelerate the building of the 12 transit projects — and many worthwhile highway projects — approved as part of 2008′s Measure R sales tax increase.

Problem is, many in Congress aren’t in much of a spending mood these days — even if AFF would cost a lot less than directly funding projects. We posted earlier today that the New York Times editorial board is predicting the debt-ceiling deal approved by Congress earlier this month means gloomy times ahead for states and cities. And KPCC also has a good report showing that it’s going to be politically difficult to secure more federal dollars for transportation without a federal gas tax increase — which is unlikely anytime soon.

At least in the meantime we can see that business leaders across the United States understand the need to jump-start transit construction. Doing so means creating jobs, not to mention transportation infrastructure to help people get to jobs for many decades to come.

 

So where is the transportation funding going to come from?

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?

Two new light rail lines debut in Salt Lake City this week

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.

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Increasing investment in public transit in California: A how-to from UCLA and Berkeley Law

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].

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Gold Line Foothill Extension project picks contractor to build Pasadena to Azusa light rail line

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.

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Staff report on impacts of U.S. House transportation bill proposal

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.

U.S. Senate transportation bill includes America Fast Forward provisions

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.

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Property acquisition fact sheet now online for Westside Subway Extension

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.

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