And it begins: Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project begins construction

The Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project this week began construction activities along the 8.5-mile alignment that includes old railroad track demolition, building demolition and tree removal and pruning.

The contractor Walsh/Shea Corridor Constructor (WSCC) began removing old railroad tracks at two locations: Florence Avenue between Crenshaw Boulevard and Manchester Avenue and Aviation Boulevard between Manchester Avenue and Imperial Highway.

The work will be done between 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and will last for the next four months. No traffic impacts are expected since this will be done in Metro’s right-of-way.

The demolition of buildings at the northeast corner of Crenshaw Boulevard and Rodeo Road will have the same work schedule but is expected to be completed in two weeks. At the same location trees will be removed beginning Thursday, Feb. 6. This is expected to take only two days and will have the same work schedule. This location will be used as a construction yard and will ultimately be the location of a future underground station.

In addition, tree pruning will take place at four locations along Crenshaw Boulevard: between Exposition Boulevard and Rodeo Road, between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Stocker Street both sides of Crenshaw Boulevard and both sides between 43rd Place and 43rd Street.

The last location will be the center island at Crenshaw and 48th Street.

For more information on construction activities please contact Metro Construction Relations at (213) 922-2736, visit the project webpage crenshawcorridor@metro.net or metro.net/Crenshaw and follow the project at Twitter at twitter.com/crenshawrail or Facebook.com/crenshawrail.

Here are the construction notice on these activities:

Federal Highway Trust Fund faces $172 billion shortfall over next decade, according to new report

The federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon was last increased in 1993; it funds road and highway programs — and also provides funding for federal mass transit programs. To put it lightly, Metro relies on federal dollars in order to build new projects and ongoing maintenance, among other things.

Metro CEO Art Leahy issued this legislative update Tuesday about the need to raise the gas tax, a task that is ultimately up to Congress:

Congressional Budget Office Projects Massive Deficit For Federal Highway Trust Fund

Earlier today, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a baseline projection on the federal Highway Trust Fund that predicts a shortfall of $172 billion over the next decade. The CBO baseline projection is the latest evidence that the federal Highway Trust Fund is running out of money at a rapid pace. Last month, in an address before transportation experts in the nation’s capital, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx predicted that the U.S. Department of Transportation could start “bouncing checks” as early as this August 2014. Also last month, our Board adopted a support position for H.R. 3636, legislation authored by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) that would increase the federal gas tax by 15-cents per gallon over the next three years and simultaneously index the gas tax for inflation. It is estimated that the Blumenauer bill, backed by our Board of Directors, could completely fill the $170 billion shortfall facing the federal Highway Trust Fund over the next decade. Please find here a copy of the baseline projection on the federal Highway Trust Fund that was issued by the CBO earlier today – http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/43884-2014-02-Highway_Trust_Fund.pdf

Preview of February Metro Service Council meetings and service changes public hearings

Four of the five Metro Service Councils will hold public hearings this month to receive public input on proposed bus service changes for June or later this year. There will be a presentation at each hearing on the changes proposed for each region, and the public will have the opportunity to provide comments.

Service Councils will not vote on the proposed changes until March, taking into consideration all comments received. In addition, a special pubic hearing will be held in downtown LA in Metro’s Board room on Saturday, February 8 at 9 am to provide additional opportunities for the public to comment on the proposed changes.

Please note that these public hearings are unrelated to the upcoming public hearing regarding proposed fare restructuring on March 29. Only comments on the proposed service changes will be accepted at the hearings described in this article. Service Councils will have Fare Forums to discuss Metro’s fare restructuring proposals, and accept public input, during their March meetings.

The San Fernando Valley and Westside/Central Service Councils will conduct their meeting and public hearings at their usual council meetings times. The San Gabriel Valley and Gateway Cities Service Council will start their meeting a little later than usual, at 6 pm. The Gateway Cities meeting and public hearing will be held at a new location – the Aspire Pacific Academy, located at 2565 E 58th Street in Huntington Park.

The South Bay Service Council will hold their meeting at the regular time, and will not have a public hearing since no major service changes are proposed in that region. All public hearings and Service Council meeting dates and times are listed below.

The proposed service changes can be reviewed on Metro’s web page at www.metro.net/about/metro-service-changes/proposed-changes-metro-bus-service.  Anyone unable to attend hearings can submit their comments in writing by mail, postmarked no later than midnight, February 14, 2014, sent to: Metro Customer Relations, ATTN: June 2014 Service Changes, One Gateway Plaza, 99-PL-4, Los Angeles CA 90012-2932. Comments can also be submitted by e-mail to: servicechanges@metro.net or via fax at 213-922-6988.

Meeting topics for this month’s Service Council meetings, and the lines being considered for service changes at public hearings in each of their regions, are listed below. All meetings will include a brief report from Metro Service Council Director Jon Hillmer on previous month’s statistics on ridership, performance and other statistical categories.

San Fernando Valley - Wednesday, 2/5. 6:30 pm. A presentation will be made, and public comment will be accepted, for June service changes proposed for the following Metro Bus Lines in or connecting with the San Fernando Valley: 91, 169 222, 234, 588, 734, 741, 761.

Downtown Los Angeles Special Saturday Hearing – Saturday, 2/8, 9 am. Held in the 3rd Floor Board Room at Metro’s headquarters building located at One Gateway Plaza, LA 90012. A presentation will be made, and public comments accepted, on all proposed June service changes.

San Gabriel Valley - Monday, 2/10, 6 pm (different time). A presentation will be made, and public comment will be accepted, for a June service change proposed for Line 577 (serving the San Gabriel Valley and Gateway Cities regions)

Westside/Central - Wednesday, 2/12, 5 pm. A presentation will be made, and public comment will be accepted, for June service changes proposed for the following Metro Bus Lines in or connecting with the Westside/Central region: 234, 534, 588, 734, 761.

Gateway CitiesThursday, 2/13, 6 pm (different time and location). Preceding the public hearing, the Gateway Cities Service Council will receive a presentation on Metro’s “On the Move Rider’s Club”. Next, at the public hearing, a presentation will be made, and public comment will be accepted, for a June service change proposed for Line 577 (serving Gateway Cities and the San Gabriel Valley regions)

South BayFriday, 2/14, 9:30 am. As mentioned above, the South Bay will not be holding a public hearing this month since no major service changes are proposed for the region this June. Items on the South Bay Service Council’s agenda include a presentation on Metro’s Accident Reduction Program and an update on Electric Vehicle Charging Station Installations.

For a detailed listing of all Council meeting dates, times and locations, click here. As always, the public is encouraged to attend and share their comments with the Service Councils on improving bus service throughout LA County. If you would like to provide input to a Council but cannot attend a meeting, you can submit your comments in writing through the Service Council web page or send them to service councils@metro.net. If your comments are for a specific Council, please make sure to indicate which one you are addressing in your e-mail.

Metro’s Open Streets Program Workshop

Photos by Aaron Paley

Metro hosted an Open Streets workshop on Wednesday that featured speakers from Los Angeles and San Francisco. Over 80 people attended the event that focused on the planning and implementation of Open Streets programs.

Open streets are events which temporarily close the streets to automobiles and open them up to people to re-imagine and experience their streets while walking, biking, rollerblading or pushing a stroller in a car-free environment. The goals of the program are to encourage sustainable modes of transportation (biking, walking and transit), provide an opportunity to take transit for the first time and foster civic engagement.

The Metro Board of Directors approved the Open Streets Program in September 2014, including up to $2 million annually for open street events in Los Angeles County. The money will be distributed through a competitive grant application process.

The Metro Open Streets Program application is now available to cities to apply for grant funding by clicking here. The deadline to apply online is Friday, March 14, 2014.

Here’s the latest presentation given to Purple Line Extension’s Advisory Group with updates on current work

The Advisory Group of the Purple Line Extension had a community meeting last night for the latest update on the project that is extending the subway for 3.9 miles from Wilshire & Western to Wilshire & La Cienega.

The presentation is posted above. Updates were provided on current work on the project (including utility relocations and the exploratory shaft), systemwide station design principles and Metro’s art program, including upcoming workshops for artists who may want to be considered for Metro art opportunities on the subway project or other projects.

How Metro is studying the Rail-to-River proposal

In 2013, Supervisors and Metro Board Members Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina began promoting a proposal to build an 8.3-mile pedestrian and bike path that would connect the future Crenshaw/LAX Line to the Los Angeles River.

The path would follow the old Harbor Subdivision rail right-of-way that Metro owns and that runs through Vernon and then along Slauson Avenue.

It’s certainly a very interesting proposal similar in some respects to other urban rails-to-trails that have been built across the United States. Such a path would serve an area where bikes are commonly used to reach jobs and run errands and the path would connect the existing Blue Line, Silver Line and future Crenhsaw/LAX Line — all important north-south corridors.

Because this is an issue that involves Metro, I wanted to explain the process involved in evaluating the proposal:

•Prompted by a motion by Board Members Molina and Ridley-Thomas, Metro last year initiated a feasibility study of building an intermediate “active transportation corridor” along the eastern portion of the Harbor Subdivision. The study is expected to be presented to the Metro Board of Directors this September. The above fact sheet explains the scope of the feasibility study.

•Depending on the results of the Study the Metro Board will ultimately decide whether to initiate a project. The Board would also have to decide how such a project would be funded.

•Metro purchased the Harbor Subdivision ROW in the early 1990s and does own the land along the tracks. However, as part of the purchase deal, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad owns easements that allow it to run trains along the eastern portion of the Harbor Subdivision.

BNSF rarely runs trains on that section of tracks. But Metro would have to deal with those easements in order to make any improvements to the existing transportation corridor, whether it be for an intermediate active transportation use, or to facilitate major transit such as Bus Rapid or Light Rail Transit along the tracks.

•Metro owns several old rights-of-way (ROW) in Los Angeles County that could one day be used for rail or busway projects. Metro also has a policy about altering rail right-of-ways that it owns; the policy is posted below. The policy seeks to find a balance between allowing some uses of the ROWs while preserving them for future transportation needs.

To help give you a better idea of the lay of the land, here is a video that shows the right-of-way between its intersection with 25th Street running for 8.3 miles to Crenshaw Boulevard and 67th Street. The video was made by Metro using a shoulder mounted boom with camera attached and walking the entire 8.3 miles followed by editing to speed up the footage and give one the feeling of traveling at a higher speed.

Finally, there is a meeting for stakeholders on Feb. 26 at the Los Angeles Academy Middle School’s multi-purpose room, 644 E. 56th Street, Los Angeles, CA, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The meeting notice is below:

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Four alternatives move forward for Airport Metro Connector project — with more study of two other options

The Metro Board spent nearly two hours discussing which alternatives to study in the draft environmental study for the Airport Metro Connector project.

The bottom line:

•Four alternatives recommended by Metro staff (staff report) will go forward into the draft environmental impact study, the document required by law before anything gets built. Three of the four involve connecting the Crenshaw/LAX and Green Line to a people mover outside LAX’s central terminal area and one alternative would connect to the people mover near the Theme building in the Central Terminal area. Here are the four:

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•The Board also voted 12 to 0 to approve a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe that asks Metro staff to study two alternatives that would bring light rail directly into the terminal area near the Tom Bradley International Terminal (the motion is posted after the jump). Those alternatives are:

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•Metro expects to begin the draft environmental study in May when more is known about the development of the airport’s people mover. The Board directed staff to conduct further analysis on ridership, time savings and cost so that the Board could consider whether to include these alternatives in the draft environmental study. It remains unclear if a majority of the Board supports inclusion of these alternatives in the draft environmental study due to the cost and complexity of tunneling under the airport terminals, tarmac and/or runways.

The gist of the long conversation among the Board, Metro staff and Los Angeles World Airports staff involved narrowing down the alternatives for the best and most feasible way to connect the existing Green Line and the Crenshaw/LAX Line currently under construction to the airport.

LAX officials have long said that bringing Metro trains underground and directly into the central terminal area — i.e. also known as the terminal horseshoe — is fraught with problems. The big ones: the cost, the complicated nature and security issues involved with tunneling under airport facilities and the need to get passengers from train stations to nine different terminals from just one or two light rail stations.

Airport staff have proposed building a people mover — a type of rail system — that would connect with the Crenshaw/LAX and Green Line. As a result, Metro and airport staff have worked together to pursue options that would connect light rail to the people mover at three possible locations that are east of the terminal area and one that is in the terminal area.

Metro can’t tunnel under the airport without LAX’s permission. And Metro staff said that the cost of building the light rail alone to the Tom Bradley International terminal area would cost more than $3 billion, not counting the additional cost of a people mover that still would be needed to get people from train stations to some of the terminals. The problem: Measure R presently has about $175 million remaining for the project, meaning more funding will be needed.

One option proposed by the airport would build an Intermodal Transportation Facility (ITF) between 96th and 98th streets west of Airport Boulevard where light rail passengers could transfer to a people mover. (Airport officials also say passengers may one day be able to check luggage there). This is the option known as “LAX Connect.”

Something to keep in mind: all the alternatives would result in most passengers having to transfer from light rail to a people mover in order to reach their terminal. This is a typical arrangement at other large airports. The closest example: Those who take the BART train to San Francisco International Airport must transfer to the airport’s “Airtrain” to reach the terminals (map below). The same goes in New York, where the New York subway system and the Long Island Railroad connect to Kennedy Airport’s “Airtrain” that runs to the airport terminals.

Source: San Francisco International Airport.

Source: San Francisco International Airport.

Among the highlights of the conversation leading up to the vote:

•Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas: “I believe, and I think all of us do, that this region deserves a world class airport. The recommendation from staff would eliminate the options with the most public support and the fastest travel times. It seems to me we have an opportunity here to avoid mistakes of the past and we should. We don’t want to spend millions of dollars and miss the mark again.” (The last sentence is a reference to the Green Line coming up short of LAX).

•Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky: “We need to be very careful what we’re doing here. In the 1990s, this agency in terms of public confidence was in the toilet, we couldn’t raise a nickel from the public, there was no fiscal discipline, it didn’t matter if [projects] made sense or not. It took us 10 to15 years to restore public confidence and the public rewarded this agency by voting for a sales tax increase in 2008 with Measure R. The [four staff recommended options with the] automated people mover will get the most ridership and those are the options that we should be studying.”

•Supervisor Don Knabe: “I think to close out our options at this particular point is something we should not do. As long as we are trying to build a world-class facility, we should look at all the options…and then make the right choice.”

•Both Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and L.A. Councilman Mike Bonin said they were convinced the options that would take light rail directly into the LAX terminal area was not viable — and thus do not need to be studied as part of the draft environmental study. Garcetti said studying those options would only add to the cost of the draft environmental study, cost two billion dollars more to build and add five to six minutes in travel time on the train for those not going to LAX. “I don’t mind losing this vote,” Garcetti said. “I’m at the point where [alternatives] C3 and C4 aren’t worth pursuing.”

Bonin added: “I am supremely confident that the Board is absolutely determined to connect Metro to the airport, and kept alive and moved to the environmental process today  strongest most viable and passenger friendly alternative to do that — LAX Connect.”

One big question that will be studied: how will Crenshaw/LAX Line trains operate if a rail spur or bump is built to the west of Aviation Boulevard? If, for example, tracks are built to serve the airport’s ITF facility, Metro would need to decide if Crenshaw/LAX Line trains would serve both the ITF and the planned Aviation/Century station or just the ITF. Stay tuned.

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Public hearing on proposed Metro fare restructuring plan on March 29

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The Metro Board of Directors today approved scheduling a public hearing for Metro fare restructuring proposals. The Board is scheduled to vote on fare restructuring at its meeting on Thursday, May 22.

The two proposals by Metro staff are posted above. Here is the Metro staff report on fare restructuring.

Here is the news release from Metro:

In an effort to be more customer friendly while addressing a quickly growing operating deficit the Metro Board of Directors today voted to set a public hearing on proposed fare restructuring for 9:30 a.m. Saturday, March 29 at Metro headquarters, One Gateway Plaza in downtown Los Angeles.

The public will be asked for input on two fare restructuring options. Both would eliminate the cost of transferring from one bus or train to another — something that has been requested by many Metro customers. Both options also would raise fares gradually over the next eight years and help avoid a budget deficit that could occur as soon as 2016 if fares are not revised. Current Metro fares cover just 26 percent of the cost of operating the buses and trains and Metro faces an unsustainable operating deficit of $36.8 million in two years, growing to $225 million in ten years unless changes are made. Metro has raised fares only three times during the past 18 years and has among the lowest fares of major transit agencies in the United States.

Currently, the Agency’s Long Range Transportation Plan assumes a 33 percent recovery rate to meet funding commitments. Since 1995, the local consumer price index has increased 46 percent while Metro’s average fares have increased only 17 percent. In addition, over the years Metro has maintained the lowest fare per boarding (0.70 cents), when compared with other similar transit agencies.

The first fare restructuring option would raise the base fare from the current $1.50 to $1.75 for the next four years, with an eventual rise during the eight-year period to $2.25. (See chart below for details.) The second would keep the base fare at $1.50 during off-peak hours and raise it to $2.25 during peak hours for the next four years, eventually raising it to $3.25 during peak hours. [Off-peak hours are defined as weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. and all day on weekends and Federal holidays.]

For comparison, San Francisco Muni currently charges $2; Chicago CTA charges $2 for buses and $2.25 for trains; Portland TriMet is $2.50, Washington D.C. Metro is $1.60 for buses and $2.10 for peak-hour rail travel and the New York City subway fare is $2.50. All of those agencies allow for free transfers.

Because of the transfer policy, Metro customers have complained that they must pay full fare every time they switch from one train or bus to another. Metro customer surveys indicate more than half of its riders transfer to reach their destinations and the transfer policy effectively punishes those who must transfer. If adopted a no-transfer feature would make it possible for riders to board an unlimited number of buses and trains for 90 minutes in any direction for a single fare. This would allow not just for one-fare travel to a single location but also for multiple stops to, for example, the supermarket or drug store and home again on a single ticket, if all travel occurs within 90 minutes. It’s this kind of flexibility that riders have also cited in requests for transfer elimination.

Also, under the proposed new fare structures, the cost of daily, weekly and monthly passes will rise because pass holders tend to be the heaviest users of the system. Another change would be the eventual elimination of the currently monthly pass in favor of the EZ pass that would allow for unlimited travel on Metro and other bus systems throughout Los Angeles County.

No changes can occur before the Metro Board votes to approve them. The first possible opportunity for this will be in May. The earliest date new fares could take effect is Sept. 1.

Interested members of the public are encouraged to attend the upcoming public hearing and provide testimony. There will also be additional fare forums held at the regularly scheduled Service Council meeting during the month of March. Persons unable to attend the public hearing or the fare forums may submit a written testimony postmarked through March 29. Correspondence should be addressed to:

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

One Gateway Plaza

Los Angeles, CA 90012-2932

Attn: Michele Jackson

Comments may also be submitted electronically to publichearing@metro.net.

The Metro Board of Directors is expected to take up the issue of fare restructuring following the public hearing at their May 22, 2014 Board Meeting.

Roundup of today’s Metro Board of Directors meeting

Here are some of the more interesting items tackled today by the Metro Board of Directors at their January meeting:

•Item 76, the Board approved a public hearing on March 29 to review two fare restructuring proposals released by Metro staff on Friday. At this point, the Board is scheduled to vote on the changes at its meeting on May 22. Source post including charts and staff report.

•Item 15 on options for further study for the Airport Metro Connector: The Board approved a substitute motion by Don Knabe and Mark Ridley-Thomas for more study of two alternatives that would run light rail directly into the LAX terminal area; however the Board did not vote to include those alternatives as part of the project’s draft environmental study. I’ll have a post up with more info tonight or tomorrow. Staff report and earlier Source post with the four proposals favored by Metro staff and another Source post on the original Knabe-Ridley-Thomas motion that was tabled in favor of the substitute motion.

•Item 6, the Board approved a motion by Board Members Paul Krekorian and Zev Yaroslavsky directing Metro to investigate adding gates or partial gates to the Orange Line to reduce fare evasion. Motion and Source post with staff report on two December crackdowns on fare evasion on the Orange Line.

•Item 67: the item on possible ballot measures in 2016 was withdrawn by Metro staff. However, staff will continue to work with local COGs (Council of Governments) and other stakeholders on developing a list of local transportation projects that need funding. Staff report and earlier Source post.

•Item 39, the Board on consent approved a $33.4-million budget to refurbish Blue Line stations, including new canopies. Staff report.

•Item 53, the Board on consent approved a motion asking the Board to give Metro permission to seek a state bill that would allow the ExpressLanes program to continue. Here’s what you need to understand: the Board will not decide whether to continue the ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110 freeways until this spring. If they decide yes, Metro would need state legislation to continue the program — and now is the time to submit bills in the Legislature for consideration this year. Staff report.

•Item 74, the Board approved the motion posted below involving a business mitigation program for the Crenshaw/LAX Line. Staff report

•Item 58, the Board approved a motion directing Metro to study of how a countywide bike share program could be developed and implemented. Staff report

•Item 44, the Board on consent approved increasing the budget of the Silver Line bus platform at Patsaouras Plaza from $16.8 million to $30.9 million. Staff report

•Item 75, an oral report on issues involving the Orange Line’s Pierce College station and lack of restrooms at stations was not heard. It will be heard at a later date. Motion and earlier Source post

•Item 71, the Board approved a motion by Board Members Ara Najarian and Zev Yaroslavsky directing Metro to work with UCLA and USC on commemorative TAP cards. Motion