Five mayors say the time is now to build high-speed rail in California

It’s not everyday that the mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento and San Jose co-write opinion articles in support of anything. Today, however, that quintet co-authored a piece in the Sacramento Bee supporting the state’s bullet train project which would ultimately link San Diego, Sacramento and the Bay Area.

Excerpt:

Finally, there is the matter of where to start building. Many Southern Californians have said we should give priority to their part of the state; same in the Bay Area. We know that this system will never be a success until it connects these two population centers and does so in a way that is sensitive to local concerns. But the question of where to start does not require complicated analysis. The place to start is the place where we’re ready to start, and that’s the Central Valley.

No one thinks we should build the line through the Central Valley and then stop. And we won’t. There is a parallel to the building of the Interstate Highway System more than 50 years ago. When we started building the Interstate Highway System, the first segments to be completed were not in New York or Los Angeles. The interstate was born in the middle of the country, America’s heartland, with the very first sections laid in Kansas and Missouri and then connected to the rest of the nation.

It’s an interesting read, with the mayors taking on many of the criticisms leveled at the project by the California Legislative Analyst’s office last month.

Of course, at the end of the day the biggest obstacle for the project is money. The estimated cost of the first part of the project — linking Anaheim and San Francisco — is $43 billion, the majority of which has yet to be secured.

America Fast Forward: Keeping Houston's light rail solution on track

The rail component of the Metro Solutions plan. The first light rail line in downtown Houston opened in 2004.

This is the fifth story in our series examining how L.A. County’s 30/10 financing model — and its national counterpart America Fast Forward — could help other cities around the country.

A light rail car on Main Street in Houston. Photo by accent on eclectic, via Flickr.

Los Angeles’ image as the nation’s capital of cars and sprawl persists, despite its having among the highest number of transit riders in the country and dozens of dense, urban neighborhoods. There are almost certainly many other regions as dependent on private vehicles as L.A. and one of them is Harris County, Texas.

After all, it’s the home of Houston, a city that’s both the petroleum energy capital of America and less than half as densely populated as Los Angeles. It’s also a region that’s considering a third outer-belt highway bypass into undeveloped prairie lands, one that Infrastructurist skewered as a “highway to nowhere.”

But there’s a competing vision on the table for the future of Houston, the nation’s fourth most populous city. And this transit alternative vision was embraced by Houston-area residents in November 2003, when they approved a long-range transit plan to be implemented by Metro, the regional transit agency for Harris County. Light Rail Now described the measure’s passage accordingly:

Voters approved by 52% the Metro Solutions plan – including an immediate $640 million revenue bond measure for Metro, the transit agency, to undertake construction of 22 miles of rail transit, with both light rail (LRT) and regional “commuter”-type rail. The vote also authorizes 44 new bus routes, doubles HOV lanes, and extends Houston Metro’s participation in local road projects…The bonding program is part of a $7.5 billion regional transit plan which will build eventually 73 miles of rail transit. Metro will now seek federal matching funds for the new rail projects.

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Metro officials talk planning at TOD conference

A 30-10 map on display at a Metro information table.

A 30-10 map (ca. 2010) on display at a Metro information table.

The Los Angeles Chapter of the Urban Land Institute held a conference in Pasadena on Thursday to discuss transit-oriented development in the greater-L.A. area.

The aim of the conference was to figure out a way to put more development around transit hubs. It’s a strategy embraced in many places to promote alternatives to driving and provide housing closer to jobs.

There is also evidence it’s already taking hold here in Los Angeles County. Thousands of units of new housing near transit have sprouted in North Hollywood, Hollywood, Koreatown, Long Beach, downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena in recent years. That said, there are many places along the Metro Rail system where there has been little or no development.

Metro played a big role at the conference because it’s involved in building transit-oriented developments on land it owns near rail and bus stops.

One panel’s topic was: “Where is the ‘T’ in TOD? What is the status of major projects in Los Angeles County.”

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Jaime de la Vega nominated as chief of city of Los Angeles' transportation agency

Some interesting news from the office of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: he has nominated deputy mayor Jaime de la Vega for the job of general manager of the city’s Department of Transportation.

The city of L.A. is, of course, the largest in Los Angeles County by leaps and bounds and is heavily involved in Metro’s existing transit and road programs.

And, of course, the Department of Transportation will play a big role in the planning and execution of some big Measure R transit projects that will be located either exclusively or partially in Los Angeles. Among them: the Westside Subway Extension, the Regional Connector, the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the second phase of the Expo Line, the Orange Line busway extension, San Fernando Valley north-south bus improvements and a to-be-defined transit project to span the Sepulveda Pass and link the Valley to the Westside.

Building transit is hard enough and it helps tremendously when the city and Metro — a county agency — are working together.

De la Vega previously served as a deputy for Mayor Richard Riordan, lives in the Valley and has been around local transportation issues going back to the 1990s. His nomination must be approved by the City Council. The press release from the mayor’s office and de la Vega’s bio are posted after the jump.

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ACLU says it intends to sue Maryland transit agency for trying to stop photographer from taking pictures

This is a photo of a Maryland Transit Administration train in Baltimore that was posted on Flickr. Photo by skabat169.

A very interesting story ran earlier this week in the Baltimore Sun: The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland has said it intends to sue the Maryland Transit Administration because transit police tried to stop a pair of photographers from taking pictures of trains and other transit infrastructure.

The ACLU contends that in this case photography is a protected First Amendment right. Excerpt from the story that neatly frames the issue:

The right of photographers to take pictures in public places has been a point of contention virtually since the invention of the camera. But the disputes have become more frequent — and more contentious — since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which prompted police to challenge individuals who take photos or video of public infrastructure as potential security risks.

Civil libertarians and rights advocates say police have been given no new powers to curb photography since 9/11. In many cases, they say, police are making up laws and rules on the spot and issuing orders they have no right to give.

The Maryland Transit Administration declined comment on the prospect of a lawsuit but said its media guide requests that people request permission from the agency before taking photos.

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Business and labor groups reaffirm support for America Fast Forward

Fox and Hounds Daily this week published an editorial titled, “Putting American Workers and Businesses Back In the Fast Lane,” that makes a strong push for support of America Fast Forward.

The authors of the piece were Gary Toebben, President of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, and Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Both smartly want to see Measure R transit projects built in the next decade instead of the next three decades.

Needless to say, business and labor don’t always agree on public policy issues. However, in Los Angeles they’ve come together to support investing in public transportation and creating jobs. And right now, the way to get that done is by getting all hands on deck in support of America Fast Forward, also known locally as the 30/10 plan (30 years of transit projects in 10 years — get it?).

The plan, which Toebben and Durazo call “a shining example of hope and collaboration,” would work the following way:

AFF calls for increasing and leveraging the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) to support the private sector in creating jobs now by building projects on a faster timeline…[meaning] that construction teams can get to work building a 21st century public transportation system today — not years from now.

As the piece notes, Congress is presently outlining its priorities for the next multi-year transportation bill, and Toebben and Durazo praise a bipartisan group of Senators — including California Sen. Barbara Boxer — for committing their support for expanding TIFIA and enshrining America Fast Forward in law.

So, check out the piece for yourself and let us know what you think.

SoCal transportation group says "thanks" to Congressional leaders for supporting America Fast Forward

Mobility 21, a transportation advocacy group made up of Southern California stakeholders, have expressed thanks to a bipartisan group of Senators for developing a new transportation bill called  “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” or MAP-21.

One of the key components of MAP-21 is America Fast Forward (PDF) – an idea that started in Los Angeles as the 30/10 Initiative – a program designed to use federal dollars to support locally approved and funded projects (like Measure R projects).

Here’s the full press release from Mobility 21:

Southern California’s leaders applaud the bipartisan group of U.S. senators for outlining a new federal transportation program called “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” or MAP-21.

At its strategic planning meeting in Orange County, Calif., members of Mobility 21 – a bipartisan transportation advocacy group of business and government – specifically expressed their thanks to Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Senator David Vitter (R-La.) of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for taking the necessary steps to improve transportation investment for America’s future. Mobility 21 represents seven counties and 21 million residents of Southern California. Mobility 21 also issued a call to move swiftly to pass MAP-21 incorporating these key provisions:

  • America Fast Forward – a program to stretch federal dollars for locally approved and funded transportation projects to take advantage of low construction costs and create hundreds of thousands of jobs at significant savings to American taxpayers. This adds funding to Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Investment Act (TIFIA) projects.
  • Breaking Down Barriers – a national initiative to expedite project delivery without sacrificing the environment or the rights of people to be heard which will accelerate the creation of more than 800,000 much-needed jobs across America.
  • Goods Movement – a strong, focused freight delivery program that efficiently moves goods throughout the nation and beyond. This would sustain nearly 1 million jobs in Southern California and an additional 2 million jobs nationwide.

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Other Board actions taken today

Two loose ends from today’s Board of Directors meeting:

•The Board approved rolling passes for TAP cards — meaning that weekly and monthly passes will be good seven and 30 days from the time they’re purchased instead of being tied to the calendar. Metro’s target date to begin such sales is Aug. 1. Staff report

•The Board also approved plan to distribute transponders for the ExpressLanes congestion pricing project on parts of the 10 and 110 freeways. The big to-do in this item is that transponders will be available through AAA, making it easier for motorists to get them. Earlier Source post

$4.145 billion annual budget for Metro approved by Board

In the sixth hour of their monthly meeting on Thursday, the Metro Board just approved a $4.145 billion budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

It’s the largest budget in the agency’s history, mostly due to money being spent on the construction and planning of Measure R transit and road projects approved as part of the half-penny sales tax increase in 2008.

Here is the press release from Metro:

The budget will keep Metro fares at current levels, however, the Metro Board today approved lowering the cost of the Metro day pass from $6 down to $5 for a one year test starting Aug. 1 to help attract commuters and others squeezed by rising gas prices.

In FY 12 Metro will trim some unproductive bus lines that were either underutilized or that duplicate service operated by Metro, the municipal bus operators or by the expanding Metro Rail system. Trains are being tested for the first phase of the Expo light rail line that will run from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City past USC. An opening date has not yet been announced but it should be soon.

Metro CEO Art Leahy stressed that Metro is not skimping on maintenance or on street supervision and is focused on improving on time performance, equipment reliability and cleanliness. He also said he is positioning the agency to strategically add service where it’s needed and to give commuters and others more incentives to beat the high price of gas. Service is being added to the Silver Line express bus service from the South Bay into downtown Los Angeles, the Metro Gold Line and the Metro Red Line subway. In addition, Metro will be adding service on selected bus lines to ease overcrowding.

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Board votes to add Leimert Park Village station to Crenshaw/LAX Line — if the funds can be found

The Metro Board of Directors voted Thursday to add an underground station in the heart of Leimert Park Village as part of the Crenshaw/LAX light rail line — but on one big condition. The station would only be built if funds, estimated at about $131 million, can be secured.

The money could potentially come from a variety of sources, the most likely being lowered construction costs. In essence, the Board agreed that the project must stay within a budget of $1.715 billion with or without a Leimert Park Village station at Vernon Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard.

The 9 to 3 vote for an amendment by Board Member Richard Katz ended a five-hour debate on an issue prompted originally by a motion by County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas — a member of the Metro Board — that sought the new station. 

Ironically, Ridley-Thomas ended up voting against the motion, saying he wanted stronger language to ensure the station gets built. “We know what we need to do to move forward to ensure we have a credible project at the end of the day,” an obviously disappointed Ridley-Thomas told the audience after the votes. Board Members Mike Antonovich and John Fasana also voted against the motion.

In particular, the Board asked that the station be included when construction firms bid to build the project. The hope is that the winning bid can find a way to get the station done within the project’s budget — or, at the very least, an underground box where a station can be added at a later date.

If neither is possible, the motion recommends that a street level station be built at 48th Street — two blocks south of Vernon — and that non-Metro funding be found to build it.

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