Five things I'm thinking about transportation, Feb. 15th edition

81 MILLION REASONS TO BE HAPPY: All things considered, I thought it was pretty amazing that President Obama’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year included $31 million in federal funds for the Regional Connector and $50 million for the Westside Subway Extension.

Both, of course, are excellent and needed projects that will give hundreds of thousands of people a good alternative to sitting in traffic in the years after they open. I’m not the biggest fan of ridership projections — predicting the future is generally hard — but this federal document shows that both the Connector and the Subway Extension are expected to have some of the heaviest ridership of any transit projects getting federal funds in the nation.

On the federal funding front, the challenge for both projects has been the long and drawn-out environmental review process. Generally, transit projects don’t get federal money until the environmental studies have been approved by local agencies and then certified by the feds in a “record of decision.”

There’s a good reason why: the studies, after all, spell out in excruciating detail what exactly is going to be built. The feds, naturally, want to know what they’re spending their dollars on.

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California Democrats in Congress oppose House version of transportation spending bill

Here’s the letter that California’s Democratic House members sent today:

2.10.12 Transportation Bill HR 7

White House backs Senate version of transportation bill

We’ve been tracking the progress of the latest multi-year transportation spending bill in Congress — a bill that includes funding for Metro and the nation’s other transit agencies.

The Obama Administration on Thursday backed the Senate version of the bill co-authored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California). As we’ve been reporting, there remains considerable opposition from transit advocates to the House version of the bill.

Here is the legislative alert from Metro’s government relations staff:

As we shared in a Legislative Brief yesterday, the Senate has voted to invoke cloture on Senator Boxer’s surface transportation bill by a margin of 85 in support and 11 opposed. By invoking cloture on the bill, the Senate cleared the way for the consideration of amendments to the measure. Shortly after the Senate invoked cloture on the Boxer bill, the Obama Administration issued a State of Administration Policy (SAP) outlining their support for S.1813, popularly known as the Moving Ahead For Progress in the 21st Century Act. In part, the SAP outlined that “the Administration supports Senate passage of S.1813 to provide much needed certainty and funding for the Nation’s surface transportation programs. The reauthorization of the programs funded by the Highway Trust Fund is critical to the safety of the traveling public and the Nation’s ability to facilitate commerce and trade.”


And here is the White House statement:

White House Statement

Regional Connector team talks EIR with community at Little Tokyo open house

More slides from last night's presentation are below.

The Metro Regional Connector team held an open house last night in Little Tokyo to discuss the crucial Measure R project now that it has reached an important milestone: the release of its Final Environmental Impact Statement/Report (which you can find in its entirety here).

As regular readers will recall, the Regional Connector is a proposed 1.9-mile underground light-rail line in downtown Los Angeles that will connect the Expo and Blue Lines to the Gold Line. The Connector will allow one-seat transfer-free rides from Pasadena to Long Beach and Santa Monica to East L.A.

Three new subway stations — at Bunker Hill, Broadway and Little Tokyo/Arts District — will also make it considerably easier to travel between the north-south and east-west lines that will be formed by the Connector. Many riders will see their trips through the system shortened by as much as 30 percent as a result, the reason the line has “Regional” in its title. It will benefit many commuters across L.A. County. (Here’s a post from last month explaining many of the project benefits).

Project Manager Dolores Roybal Saltarelli noted during a presentation that the “locally preferred” alignment recommended by Metro staff grew out of discussions with the community over the last few years. In particular, Metro planners, the city of Los Angeles and downtown community members honed in on the fully-underground alternative in response to strong local support.

Looking ahead, this spring is chock full of important dates for the project. The Metro Board of Directors Planning and Programming Committee will review the FEIS/R next Wednesday, Feb. 15, and the full Board of Directors will then vote on whether to certify the FEIS/R and approve a package of mitigation measures — various procedures for reducing the impacts of construction — at its monthly meeting on February 23rd in March [post updated Feb. 22, 2012].

If the Board approves the FEIS/R, Metro staff will then work with the Federal Transit Administration to obtain a “record of decision,” which would allow Metro to proceed with relocating underground utility lines and acquiring the property it will need to stage construction activities. Following that, Metro will apply for a “full funding agreement” from the FTA — a commitment of ongoing financial support for the project from the federal New Starts program that helps fund large transit projects.

If all goes smoothly, the Regional Connector team should finish preliminary engineering and begin final design in the fall, which would allow construction on the line to begin in 2013. The line is scheduled to open in 2019.

The presentation and poster board displays from last night are embedded below:

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Five things I'm thinking about transportation, Feb. 8 edition

Having read a lot of the press and comment boards concerning the report by Beverly Hills’ consultants on tunneling safety for the Westside Subway Extension, I encourage those interested to actually read the report itself. Some of the discussion is technical in nature, but I think everyone should make their own decisions about what the report actually says and doesn’t say about Metro’s work thus far on seismic and tunneling safety for the project.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at Tuesday's news conference at Union Station about high-speed rail.

Interesting news conference by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Monday, with LaHood and Metro officials touting the California high-speed rail project. It’s interesting that even in the face of much criticism from Congress, the Obama Administration is sticking with its high-speed plan. And it’s also interesting that LaHood visited Metro’s largest rail station six days before the release of the 2013 federal budget, which will hopefully include funds for local transportation projects.

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Legislative summary: Congress and transportation funding

Here are a pair of legislative alerts posted Monday.

From Metro’s government relations staff:

U.S. Senate Finance Committee Poised to Act on Surface Transportation Bill

Tomorrow, the U.S. Senate’s Finance Committee, under the leadership of Max Baucus (D-MT), is slated to consider the Highway Investment, Job Creation and Economic Growth Act of 2012. This legislation is designed to provide full funding for the transit, highway and safety programs that have been reported out of the Senate Environment and Public Works, Banking and Commerce committees. It is anticipated that over $10 billion in additional revenues will be needed to fund the two year surface transportation bill slated for full Senate consideration perhaps as early as this Thursday. Please click here for an overview of the Highway Investment, Job Creation and Economic Growth Act of 2012.

And from Metro CEO Art Leahy:

Metro Expresses Concern Regarding Congressional Plans to End Link Between Highway Trust Fund and Mass Transit Account

Today, I sent correspondence to the Chairman and Ranking Members of the House Ways and Means Committee expressing our agency’s concern regarding language in the recently adopted American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Financing Act of 2012 that would end the transfer of motor fuel taxes to the Federal Highway Trust Fund’s mass transit account. This language, if adopted into law, would compromise the longstanding practice of using motor fuel taxes to pay for federal transit projects and programs. We have shared a copy of our correspondence with all members of the Los Angeles County Congressional Delegation. Our agency will be working with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the American Public Transportation Association and other local, state and federal mobility stakeholders to oppose efforts by Congress to weaken the mass transit account. Please find here a copy of my correspondence on this matter.

Legislative alert from Metro CEO's office — federal transportation bill

Here’s the latest legislative alert from Metro CEO Art Leahy’s office:

Sharp Partisan Disagreements Mark Passage of Surface Transportation Bill in House Committee

Earlier today (2:45 a.m. EST), the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee concluded its consideration of The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act (H.R. 7). The measure was passed by a vote of 29-24, with Democrats in strong opposition to the bill. The bill would authorize $260 billion over the next five years (ending in FY 2016). As written, the bill seeks to fold 90 different federal transportation programs into 33. The bill also increases annual funding for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program to $1 billion, the same as the U.S. Senate’s surface transportation bill, popularly known as MAP-21. H.R. 7 also maintains funding for the New Starts/Small Starts program, but would eliminate all other federal discretionary transportation grant programs. Another major provision in the bill, thanks to several amendments, includes a three year U.S. Department of Transportation study on the effects of longer and heavier trucks on our nation’s highways. A Local Hire Amendment, offered by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), failed on a voice vote. Our agency has been engaged with members of the Los Angeles County Delegation who serve on the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and will continue to work with them as H.R. 7 is moved to the House Floor for consideration.

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