Motion proposes further study of ExpressLanes for part of the 105 freeway

The above motion is scheduled to be considered by the Metro Board of Directors this month — the motion seeks to launch environmental studies of adding ExpressLanes to the 105 freeway, with an initial segment between the 405 and 605 freeways. To be perfectly clear: the motion concerns more studies of the concept. A decision to go forward with such a project would come much later.

The 105 freeway, as you likely know, intersects with the existing ExpressLanes on the 110 freeway. The 110-105 junction includes exclusive on-ramps and off-ramps between the 110 ExpressLanes and the HOV lanes presently on the 105 — i.e. there’s no need for motorists to exit the ExpressLanes or HOV lanes when going between the two freeways.

The idea, at this time, would be to have two ExpressLanes in each direction. That would be done mostly by re-striping the freeway with some spot widening. Adding those extra lanes would require approvals from Caltrans, the state agency that oversees freeway operations.

Some background: the Metro Board in 2010 had asked Metro staff to study the possibility of adding ExpressLanes to the 405 freeway between the Orange County border and Los Angeles International Airport. At the time, Orange County was considering adding HOT lanes to the 405 but Orange County Transportation Authority officials have since rejected that notion and want to add a general lane instead to their portion of the 405. This Metro staff report explains the issues.

As a result, Metro has studied other alternatives and determined that adding ExpressLanes to the 105 and eventually the 605 would help provide an ExpressLanes corridor between Orange County and LAX. If that happens, it would be a phased approach and the Board is being asked to consider an initial segment on the 105 between the 405 and 605.

Contract to build first phase of Purple Line Extension moved to full Board of Directors

The Metro Board of Directors’ Construction Committee Thursday morning took up the issue of the contract to build the 3.9-mile first phase of the Purple Line Extension between Wilshire/Western and Wilshire/La Cienega. The Metro staff report explaining the recommendation is above.

Staff has recommended that the $1.6-billion project be awarded to a joint venture of Skanska, Traylor and Shea. The Metro Board moved the item without recommendations to the full Board of Directors for their consideration at next Thursday’s meeting.

The Committee also asked Metro staff to report back next week on the reasons for a $288 million increase in the budget for the project, bringing the total to $2.77 billion — and how it will impact Measure R funding in the Westside/Central subregion of L.A. County. “We believe we can pay for the Westside Subway Section 1 cost increase of $288 million
directly from Measure R or, if necessary, incur additional bond debt to cover the cost
increase,” writes Metro staff in the above report (see appendix C).

Motion asks for study of upgrading Orange Line and possibly connecting to Pasadena

The Metro Board of Directors will consider this month the above motion that asks for study of a number of upgrades to the Orange Line, including better traffic signal synchronization by the city of Los Angeles, using more articulated buses, building grade separations, the possibility of extending or connecting the line to Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena and an assessment of converting the line to light rail.

The key word in the above paragraph: “study.” This is NOT a funded project, nor is it in Metro’s long-range plan. The motion comes on the heels of Gov. Jerry Brown signing a bill earlier this month lifting the restriction on building rail along the Orange Line right-of-way (which, ironically, was once a Southern Pacific rail corridor).

An amendment by Board Member Pam O’Connor asked a broader — and crucial — question: what kind of process could be created to evaluate new projects to see if they merit being added to the agency’s long-range plan?

The Board’s Planning Committee forwarded the motion and amendment without recommendation to the full Board of Directors to consider (the full Board meets next Thursday, July 24). As Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky said, the agency needs to figure out the best path forward for evaluating new transit projects so that the ones with the greatest impact are the ones that get built.

Metro CEO Art Leahy explained why that is important. Metro will soon be receiving a list of potential transportation projects from sub-regions in the county for inclusion in a possible ballot measure in 2016 to accelerate and/or build new transit projects by extending Measure R and/or some type of new tax (Measure R was a half-cent sales tax increase for 30 years and expires in mid-2039). Leahy said that it’s very likely that the list of projects will exceed what could be funded. And, thus, the list of projects will ultimately have to be narrowed.

In short, this motion is really about two things. The first is obviously seeking ways to improve the Orange Line, which has enjoyed very strong ridership since the first segment opened in 2005. The second is about the possible 2016 ballot measure and the Board trying to find a way to evaluate projects beyond a metric commonly used: political support.

 

First of new light rail cars arrives at Port of Long Beach

First new Kinkisharyo light rail car arriving at the Port of Long Beach.

First new Kinkisharyo light rail car arriving at the Port of Long Beach. You can just make out the windows under the protective covering.

Exciting news! The first of the 78 Kinkisharyo light rail vehicles Metro ordered has arrived in the Port of Long Beach, less than 23 months after Kinkisharyo was given the notice to proceed in August 2012. To see the car in its unwrapped glory during testing in Japan, see video below.

In compliance with Buy America’s final assembly contract provisions, the car will be transported to the new Kinkisharyo facility in Palmdale, where final assembly and vehicle testing will take place. The car is scheduled to be shipped from the Palmdale facility to Metro by October 2014.

The new light rail vehicles will be used in support of the openings of Expo Phase II and Gold Line Foothill Extension. Metro has already exercised two of four options to buy an additional 97 vehicles to be used on other projects — the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Regional Connector and replacement of other rail cars currently in use.

RELATED

New light-rail vehicle makes its first public appearance (in Japan)

New rail car designs in the works

Metro Board approves contract to purchase new light rail cars

Metro currently has four rail projects under construction: the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the second phase of the Expo Line, the Gold Line Foothill Extension and the Regional Connector and work is expected to begin soon on the Purple Line Extension’s first phase. All are funded in part by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by L.A. County voters in 2008. In addition, Metro has begun receiving the first of 550 new state-of-the-art buses and is spending $1.2 billion to overhaul the Metro Blue Line, including the purchase of new light rail vehicles..

“Notice to Proceed” granted for construction of Regional Connector project!

map_corridor_reg_conn_eng

It’s official: there are now four Metro Rail projects currently under construction after the Metro earlier this week gave its contractors — the Regional Connector Constructors, Joint Venture — the official “notice to proceed” on building the line. Until recently, Metro never had more than two rail projects underway at the same time.

The Regional Connector will be a 1.9-mile underground light rail line that will connect the Gold Line to the Blue Line and Expo Line in downtown Los Angeles. With a scheduled opening of 2020, the Regional Connector will allow trains to run directly between Santa Monica and East Los Angeles on an east-west line and between Azusa and Long Beach on a north-south line.

That should pass along several benefits to Metro Rail riders: faster and more frequent trains through downtown Los Angeles; fewer transfers for most riders; three new stations in Little Tokyo, Civic Center and 2nd/Hope, and; eliminating the need to turn around every Blue Line and Expo Line train at 7th/Metro Center, where both lines currently dead end.

Utility relocations and other advance work on the project began last year.

The three other Metro Rail lines under construction are a 6-mile extension of the Expo Line between Culver City and downtown Santa Monica, an 11.5-mile extension of the Gold Line between eastern Pasadena and the Azusa/Glendora border and the 8.5-mile Crenshaw/LAX Line that will run between the Expo Line and connect to the Green Line south of the airport.

The Expo Line and Gold Line Foothill Extension projects are currently scheduled to open in early 2016. The Crenshaw/LAX Line is scheduled to open in 2019; it will eventually connect to a people mover to be built by Los Angeles World Airports to connect the Crenshaw/LAX Line and Green Line to terminals at the airport.

The Metro Board is also scheduled to consider awarding a construction contract later this month for the 3.9-mile first phase of the Purple Line Extension subway between the existing Wilshire/Western station and Wilshire/La Cienega. When work begins, there will be five Metro Rail projects under construction.

All five of these projects are receiving funding from Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by two million Los Angeles County voters in Nov. 2008. Measure R included funds for 12 transit projects and a number of highway projects, as well as money for operations and funds for smaller transportation projects in cities in Los Angeles County.

Update on the vanishing federal Highway Trust Fund

If you have the brainspace and stomach for it, here’s an update from Metro CEO Art Leahy and the agency’s government relations team on efforts to keep the federal Highway Trust Fund solvent:

U.S. House of Representatives Bill Would Fully Fund Federal Highway Trust Fund Through May 2015

Earlier today [Tuesday], legislation was introduced in the U.S House of Representatives by the Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means that would fully fund the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) through May 2015. The bill (H.R. 5021) offered by Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) would derive approximately $6.5 billion in new revenues from “pension smoothing” and another $3.5 billion from extending custom fees until 2024. Critics of the legislation have noted that the bill raises revenues over a 10 year period to ensure the solvency of the HTF for only the next 10 months.

The House Committee on Ways and Means is expected to hold a markup of H.R. 5021 this Thursday.

Also this week, the Senate Committee on Finance, led by Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Ranking member Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT) may act on their own version of a bill to ensure the solvency of the HTF. The Senate proposal, while not finalized, is expected to raise approximately $8 billion in new revenues, which would keep the HTF solvent through December of this year.

Please find here the text of H.R. 5021. We will continue to communicate our high level of interest on this matter with members of the Los Angeles County Congressional Delegation.

Why does this matter? See this post that explains how a depleted federal Highway Trust Fund could eventually result in service cuts at Metro and other financial impacts.


Metro report explains potential impacts of Highway Trust Fund being further depleted

Above is a report prepared by Metro CEO Art Leahy and Metro staff for the agency’s Board of Directors. The short of it: Metro would eventually have to cut service if the federal Highway Trust Fund continues to wither.

The bigger issue is this: Congress is due this year to approve a long-term transportation funding bill to replace the one that expires in 2014. The new bill needs to tackle an ongoing issue: the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is funded by the federal gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993 (it’s 18.3 cents per gallon). Vehicles are more fuel efficient and people aren’t driving as much or using as much gas — thus, the HTF is struggling to keep up with expenses that have risen over time.

One of those expenses is helping supply funds to transit agencies across the country for items such as maintenance and construction projects. Local agencies tend to spend most of their funds on providing daily service and, thus, need the help of state and federal government for big expenses.

How to save the Highway Trust Fund from eventually going broke — it’s nowhere near that, yet — has been a source of considerable discussion in Washington D.C. for many years now. One idea that is constantly batted around is imposing a vehicle mileage tax that would tax motorists based on how many miles they drive instead of by the gallon.

But nothing has happened. Politics in D.C. are tough and the two-year election cycle in the House of Representatives makes things tougher. Hopefully this is just another threat to transportation funding that never comes to pass. Time will tell.