Caltrans reopens reconstructed Shoemaker Avenue bridge

Photos: Juan Ocampo/Metro

Metro Deputy CEO Lindy Lee joined Caltrans this morning for a milestone ribbon cutting ceremony for the Shoemaker Avenue Bridge project. It is one of three bridges associated with the $180 million I-5 South HOV Widening/Rosecrans/Bloomfield Bridges widening project.  Shoemaker Ave. bridge is the first completely reconstructed bridge to open to the public. Metro was a significant funding partner, programming $40.4 million from Proposition C towards the total project cost.

The newly reconstructed bridge serves as a vital artery for local commuters in the cities of Norwalk and Santa Fe Springs. It is also a major thoroughfare for school buses from the La Mirada-Norwalk School District.

Keep reading after the jump for the full press release from Caltrans.

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405-Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project: it’s more than adding the HOV lane

As most of your know, the new northbound HOV lane on the 405 freeway between the 10 and 101 is opening Friday. There will finally be an HOV on the north side of the freeway to match the one on the southbound side that was completed in 2002.

Obviously traffic due to construction over the past four-and-a-half years has not been a treat. The good news: the key project work is finally open and available for Memorial Day weekend travelers and regular commuters.

The work involved has been considerable since the project got underway in 2009. The work also extends far beyond adding the HOV lane. Three bridges over the 405 have been rebuilt to seismic standards and widened. And many ramps on the 405 between the 10 and 101 have been lengthened, widened and in some cases moved to better locations.

Some interesting stats, according to Metro: Enough concrete was used on the project to build four Staple Centers, enough dirt was moved to fill 100,000 dump trucks and enough rebar installed to build 15,000 Volkswagen beetles.

I know there are people reading this who will argue that it’s pointless to improve freeways because they will inevitably fill with traffic. That’s a point well taken.

On the other hand, there’s a pretty good counter-argument to be made. The first is that the 405 has not been substantially improved since it was built across the Sepulveda Pass in 1963 — when L.A. County only had six million or so residents. The county today has more than 10 million people, not to mention the growth in surrounding areas. Look at Orange County, which is traversed by the 405. In 1960, it had about 700,000 residents. It has about 3.1 million people today, according to the Census Bureau.

The status quo on the 405 prior to work beginning in 2009 was certainly not good and logic dictates that traffic conditions would just keep getting worse in coming years as the region’s population grows. Metro and Caltrans say that project capacity improvements will help meet future traffic demands in our region.

Let’s run through some of the improvements:

•Prior to the work, there was an HOV on the southbound side of the 405 between the 10 and the 101. But the northbound side didn’t have an HOV lane due to lack of funding. There will now be HOV lanes on the 405 for 36 miles in both directions between the Orange County line and the northern San Fernando Valley, where the 405 merges into the Golden State Freeway.

Metro is also studying a new express bus that would run between Westwood and the northern San Fernando Valley using the HOV lane on the 405.

Measure R also provides $1 billion in seed money for a separate transit project that would span the Sepulveda Pass. Initial studies are underway and among the alternatives being evaluated is a transit tunnel under the pass, perhaps to be accompanied by a tolled tunnel for motor traffic.

•The on- and off-ramps at Wilshire Boulevard were rebuilt with flyover ramps to eliminate bottlenecks from cars exiting the 405 mixing with cars trying to enter. The ramps were also expanded to hold more vehicles. For example, the ramp from eastbound Wilshire to the northbound 405 is 3,129-feet long — 500 feet longer than the ramp it replaced — and has 280 percent more capacity. The southbound off-ramp from the 405 to eastbound Wilshire now has 134 percent more capacity.

•The new Sunset Boulevard Bridge is higher, longer and significantly wider at 120 feet — approximately 30 feet wider than before the project. It features two additional traffic lanes and higher capacity on- and off-ramps to improve area traffic flows and reduce congestion on local streets. Motorists will now enjoy dedicated turn lanes to access freeway ramps, and motorists traveling east/west through the bridge will be able to do so more quickly.

•The new Mulholland Bridge is 10 feet wider than the one it replaced and built to modern seismic standards. A new sidewalk was added on the south side of the bridge.

•The ramp from the westbound 10 to the northbound 405 was widened and other improvements were made to ramps at the extremely busy 10-405 junction.

•The 405 on- and off-ramps that serve Skirball Center Drive were demolished and rebuilt 2,000 feet south of their former location. This should help ease the traffic crunch at the intersection of Skirball Center Drive and Mulholland and make it easier to exit and enter the freeway. The new ramps also hold more than 200 additional vehicles.

•Among other improvements: new turn lanes for those entering the 405 from Sepulveda Boulevard, new sidewalks, curbs and gutters along Sepulveda Boulevard, new bike lanes for parts of Sepulveda Boulevard, an addition of 1,200 feet to the off-ramp to Cotner, the street that motorists use to access Santa Monica Boulevard (the ramp is now 2,300 feet long).

Metro Board votes to raise most fares in September but postpones further increases in 2017 and 2020

The Metro Board of Directors voted Thursday to raise Metro bus and train fares no earlier than September 1 but declined to impose the agency’s staff recommendation for additional increases in 2017 and 2020. The Board also decided to freeze fares for students.

Under the new fares, the regular fare will rise from $1.50 to $1.75. The cost of a day pass will increase from $5 to $7, the weekly pass from $20 to $25, the 30-day pass from $75 to $100 and the EZ Pass from $84 to $110.

However, the new fares will include free transfers for two hours for those using TAP cards. This is unlike the current base fare which is only good for a single ride on a bus or train, no matter the length of that ride. For example, a rider who currently rides two buses to reach their destination and pays $3 (the cost of two $1.50 fares) would only pay $1.75 under the new fares as long as the second bus ride begins within two hours.

Metro CEO Art Leahy, who began his job in 2009, and many experts outside the agency have said that encouraging transfers is a far wiser and efficient way to run a transit agency, given that about half of Metro’s riders must transfer to complete their trips. The Metro Board voted to drop transfers in 2007 as a way to reduce fraud and raise revenues.

On Sept. 1, the senior/disabled regular peak-hour fare is scheduled to rise from 55 cents to 75 cents, with the non-peak senior/disabled fare rising from 25 cents to 35 cents. (However, the Board will again consider senior/disabled fares at the June meeting.) The day pass will change from $1.80 to $2.50, the 30-day pass from $14 to $20 and the EZ Pass from $35 to $42.

This is the fourth fare increase since 1993, when Metro began operating as a new agency. The last fare increase was in 2010 when the regular single-ride fare was increased from $1.25 to $1.50. Fares for seniors, disabled riders and students have not changed since 2007; the Measure R half-cent sales tax increase approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008 froze those fares through mid-2013 and they remain at 2007 levels.

There were two key votes on Thursday.

First, the Board voted 12 to 0 with one abstention (by Board Member Gloria Molina) for a motion by Board Members Mark Ridley-Thomas, Eric Garcetti and Zev Yaroslavsky to postpone the 2017 and 2020 round of fare increases pending further analysis that also asks Metro to identify potential revenues that could offset the need for any more fare hikes.

In the second vote, the Board voted 12 to 1 to accept Metro’s staff proposal for fare increases for 2014. The vote against came from Gloria Molina.

Metro staff have said that fare increases were necessary to keep pace with rising operating costs and to avoid a budget deficit of $36.8 million beginning in 2016 and potentially rising to more than $200 million within a decade because of inflation and the increase cost of operating a transit system with more than 2,000 buses, 87 miles of rail (and many more miles on the way), van pools and other services.

Staff also have repeatedly pointed to two statistics: the average Metro fare — when discounts are factored in — is only 70 cents. And each fare only covers 26 percent of the cost of providing service. Metro officials say that they want that number to reach 33 percent to better cover expenses and to ensure that the agency continues to receive needed federal grants.

Metro currently has three rail lines under construction. Both the second phase of the Expo Line and the Gold Line Foothill Extension are scheduled to open in early 2016 while the Crenshaw/LAX Line is forecast to open in 2019. Two other rail lines — the Regional Connector and the Purple Line Extension of the subway — will soon begin construction and are forecast to open in 2019 and 2023, respectively.

Discussion among members of the Metro Board revealed that many were highly uncomfortable with raising fares given the $16,250 median household income of the agency’s bus riders and $20,770 for rail riders. 

Board Member Eric Garcetti expressed disappointment that many low-income riders do not get discounted fares for low-income riders even though they qualify.

Gloria Molina offered the most pointed criticism of Metro, as she has in the past. Molina said that Metro has far more low-income riders than in other metro areas with vast transit systems. She criticized the agency’s efforts to reduce its subsidies for riders, saying it’s inappropriate in a region with so many low-income riders, many of which are making the minimum wage or less.

Instead, Molina offered a motion asking the agency to trim its operating budget by 1.5 percent, which she said would prevent the need for fare increases. That motion failed to secure a second from other Board Members. However, it was folded into the Ridley-Thomas-Garcetti-Yaroslavsky motion a request for Metro staff to determine what cutting 1.5 percent of the budget would entail and if it could be used to defer any fare increase.

And she said that Metro is not running a bus system effective enough to attract a diverse ridership that would raise more revenues. “You can’t ghettoize our buses,” Molina said.

The Board heard nearly two hours of public testimony before casting their votes. The prevailing sentiment from speakers — many from the Bus Riders Union — ran against raising fares.

One key factor in the fare discussions is a potential ballot measure that Metro is considering taking to Los Angeles County voters in 2016. Such a ballot measure — if approved, which is no easy task — could potentially raise more money for operating buses and trains, which the Ridley-Thomas-Garcetti-Yaroslavsky motion cites as funds that could possibly be used stave off the need for more fare increases.

On the other hand, the same ballot measure could also fund the acceleration and/or construction of more Metro transit projects, which in turn would raise operation costs. And a fare increase in close proximity to a potential ballot measure requiring two-thirds voter approval (under current law) could also be politically tricky.

Metro Board adopts fiscal year budget for 2014-2015

The Board unanimously approved a $5.5-billion budget for the fiscal year running from this July 1 through June 30, 2015.

Here is the updated news release from Metro to reflect the fare changes the Board also adopted today:

The Board of Directors of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) today approved a balanced $5.508 billion Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) budget, set to begin July 1, 2014. The budget includes continued commitment to the largest highway and rail building program in America, bus headway improvements and $283.4 million in maintenance expenditures to keep the system in top form.

The FY15 budget enhances many services while keeping fares at low levels, however, a base fare increase of 25 cents, from $1.50 to $1.75, goes into effect as early as September 1, 2014 to help offset a projected Fiscal Year 2017 operations budget deficit of $36.9 million. Fares for students will be frozen at current levels and the Board next month also will consider keeping fares for seniors and disabled persons at current levels. Free transfers in a two hour period also will be offered.

As part of the $283.4 million targeted at maintenance, Metro will spend $192.7 million on bus service including the purchase of 550 new clean-burning CNG buses and about $50 million for rail improvements on the Blue Line and the Red Line subway in the next fiscal year.

Safety is critical to Metro passengers and the FY15 budget contains $48.7 million to keep the system as safe as possible. Enhancements include improvements to cameras and video monitoring, security kiosks at various rail stations, signal system rehabilitation on the Metro Blue and Green lines and pedestrian safety improvements on the Metro Red Line with an underpass and overpass bridge planned for Universal City and North Hollywood stations.

Metro continues construction on the most comprehensive public works program in America with Measure R and other funding sources. In FY15, Metro will have five major rail projects either under construction or prepared to begin including the Metro Gold Line extension to Azusa, the Metro Expo Line extension to Santa Monica, the Crenshaw/LAX Line and the Regional Connector. The Metro Purple Line extension to Westwood has received a $1.25 billion Federal Full Funding Grant Agreement and $856 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan.

In terms of highway projects, the mammoth undertaking of modernizing and expanding capacity of the I-405 will be completed in FY15 and other projects are moving forward including I-5 widening from Orange County to the I-605, the I-710 South Corridor, the North SR-710 study and a variety of other improvements including continuation of countywide sound wall construction and the Freeway Beautification Pilot Project designed maintain landscape and remove graffiti and debris.

The Metro ExpressLanes Project continues to provide travel options on the I-10 and I-110 freeways with future expansion of ExpressLanes to be studied. The Kenneth Hahn Countywide Callbox System continues operation along with development of the Motorist Aid and Travel Information System (MATIS).

Metro will continue to contribute both operations and capital funding to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority with FY15 capital projects including the Bob Hope Airport/Hollywood Way station, Van Nuys Second Platform, Vincent Grade/Acton and Lancaster Stations, Doran Street Crossing design, Raymer to Bernson Double Track and Southern California Regional Interconnectivity Program (SCRIP), which will increase Union Station Capacity.

Stay informed by following Metro on The Source and El Pasajero at metro.net, facebook.com/losangelesmetro, twitter.com/metrolosangeles and twitter.com/metroLAalerts and instagram.com/metrolosangeles.

Here is the Metro staff report on the budget:

Metro Board of Directors meeting set to begin at 9:30 a.m.; fare increases to be considered

UPDATE: The meeting began at 9:50 a.m.

Here is today’s agenda, but let’s face it: the issue on the agenda that looms over others (which includes consideration of Metro’s 2015 budget) is the Metro Board of Director’s consideration of fare increases and changes proposed by Metro staff.

As for the order of the meeting, the Board will likely tackle consent items, then the budget and then the fare change proposal.

Those who want to listen to the meeting can do so at 213-922-6045, although the capacity of the phone line is limited. I will also provide a link once I have it for an audio stream of the meeting that should work on most computers (UPDATE: try this link to listen to the meeting on your computer). I’ll be covering the Board meeting throughout the day on The Source and on Metro’s main Twitter feed.

Here is the fare change option recommended by Metro staff:

option1

Click above to view a larger version of the chart.

Below is a Metro staff report explaining the need for the fare changes, financial statistics, a summary of public responses to the changes and Metro staff’s response to them:

There is a change from the original staff proposal issued earlier this year: staff is now recommending that fares include two hours of free transfers, not 90 minutes.

Also on the agenda is this motion by three Board Members — Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky (UPDATE) and Don Knabe – to postpone the fare changes that would go into effect in 2017 and 2020 until more study can be done. The motion as updated Thursday morning:

Both the staff fare proposal and the motion require two-thirds approval — i.e. nine of the 13-member Board of Directors.

Here is a Metro staff handout that summarizes the fare change proposal and includes a summary of the public responses:

What are they saying about the fare increases outside of Metro? Here are editorials in the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

I’ll be covering the Board meeting throughout the day on The Source and on Metro’s main Twitter feed. More information about the proposed changes can be found by clicking here.

 

Purple Line Extension secures $1.25-billion federal New Starts grant and $856-million federally-backed loan

Click above to see larger.

Click above to see larger.

IMG_20140521_105020_591 (1)

The signing of the funding documents this morning. From left, Metro Board Member Ara Najarian, Board Member Pam O’Connor, Metro CEO Art Leahy, Rep. Janice Hahn, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, Board Chair Diane DuBois, Rep. Grace Napolitano, Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky and Federal Transit Administration Chief Counsel Dorval Carter.

Officials from Metro and the Federal Transit Administration signed a pair of agreements this morning in Washington D.C. for a $1.25-billion federal grant and a $856-million federally-backed loan to build the first phase of the Purple Line Extension subway under Wilshire Boulevard. We’ll post video of this morning’s event later.

The agreements clear the way for construction activities to begin later this year on the 3.9-mile addition to the Purple Line, which currently terminates at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue. The first phase of the project will extend the line to the intersection of Wilshire and La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Three new stations will be included in the first phase: at Wilshire and La Brea Avenue, Wilshire and Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire and La Cienega.

The first phase of the project is scheduled for completion in 2023 with a project budget of $2.821 billion. The Metro Board of Directors is scheduled this summer to select a contractor to build the first phase. The subway is one of 12 transit projects funded in part by the Measure R half-cent sales tax increase approved by more than two million voters in Los Angeles County in 2008 (the measure passed with 67.93 percent approval).

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaking at the signing this morning in Washington D.C.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaking at the signing this morning in Washington D.C.

Utility relocations are already underway on the first phase and a 75-foot-deep exploratory shaft has already been dug across the street from LACMA in order to validate and learn more about soil conditions in that area. A number of fossils were found, identified and preserved during the excavation of the shaft.

The second phase of the project will extend the line to Century City in 2026 and the third phase to Westwood in 2036. Metro continues to explore ways that the second and third phase of the subway project and other road and transit projects may be accelerated from their original Measure R timelines.

The federal New Starts program is providing the $1.25-billion grant; the money will be appropriated to Metro on a year-by-year basis by Congress. The New Starts program helps local transit agencies build large and expensive transit projects.

The $856-million loan is coming from the TIFIA program that helps provide low-interest loans backed by the federal government to build new infrastructure; TIFIA helps reduce interest costs. The TIFIA program was expanded by Congress in 2012 to include transportation projects and is part of Metro’s America Fast Forward initiative to expand federal funding for transportation projects.

Metro also secured a $670-million New Starts grant and $160-million TIFIA loan earlier this year to help fund construction of the Regional Connector, a 1.9-mile underground light rail line that will connect the Blue Line, Expo Line and Gold Line in downtown Los Angeles to speed trips throughout the county and to downtown.

Here’s video of Metro CEO Art Leahy talking about the significance of today’s announcement:

The news release from Metro is below:

Delivering on the Promise of Measure R

L.A. METRO RECEIVES  AGREEMENTS FOR NEARLY $2 BILLION IN FEDERAL GRANTS AND LOW-INTEREST LOANS FOR PURPLE LINE EXTENSION PROJECT

Los Angeles, Calif. – Marking an historic vote of confidence in Metro Rail subway construction in Los Angeles, The L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) today joined federal, state and local elected officials to announce the receipt of a $1.25 billion Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) from the Federal Transit Administration to help pay for the first nearly four-mile, $2.821-billion segment of the long-awaited Metro Purple Line Extension Project toward West Los Angeles.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Transportation simultaneously granted Metro a low-interest loan of $856 million from a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) Loan to complete the funding package for the first phase of the project. Combined, the nearly $2 billion in project commitments represent the single biggest federal transportation investment in the history of Los Angeles County.  The remaining $821 million in project funding includes Measure R, City of Los Angeles, and other existing local and federal funds.  

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Community meeting on June 5 for Union Station Master Plan update

Special Briefing – LA Union Station Master Plan Update

Work continues to chug along on the Los Angeles Union Station Master Plan; please see the above flier for the upcoming meeting on June 5.

The Metro Board last year approved a plan concept that would construct a greatly expanded east-west passenger concourse while relocating the bus plaza to a north-south configuration closer to Alameda Street, allowing the many bus stops around Union Station to be consolidated. 

RELATED:

Union Station Master Plan home page

Master Plan Facebook page

Master Plan Twitter feed