Metro Board of Directors July meeting about to begin

Good morning, readers and riders! The gavel will shortly drop on the July meeting of the Metro Board of Directors. This will be the first full Board meeting with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti serving as the Board Chair; he assumed the role on July 1 and will be the Chair through next June. The Chairmanship is filled on a rotating basis among the 13 Board Members.

The agenda for today’s meeting is above. Among the items scheduled to be discussed are a $1.6-billion contract to build the first phase of the Purple Line Extension, motions to study upgrading the Orange Line and installing ExpressLanes on part of the 105 freeway and Metro’s short-range transportation plan, among others.

You can listen to the meeting live stream here. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. You can also listen over the phone by dialing 213-922-6045 although capacity is limited.

As per usual I’ll update the blog and Metro’s general Twitter account with any interestingness as it occurs.

Connect US seeks to better link Union Station to neighborhoods via new esplanades and bike paths

As most of you likely know, Metro has been developing the Union Station Master Plan to preserve the historic train depot while also renovating it and redeveloping parts of the 40-acre campus as use of the station continues to grow.

A companion study has been looking at an equally important issue: better linking Union Station by foot and bike to surrounding neighborhoods. Union Station sits on the far northern end of downtown Los Angeles and, at present, it’s often not terribly pleasant to reach via sidewalk or bike.

The linkages study — called Connect US — seeks to remedy that by recommending 13 separate projects totaling $50 million to $60 million in costs that would create a series of corridors that walkers and cyclists could use between Union Station and the Regional Connector’s 1st/Central Station and surrounding neighborhoods. Among those communities: Chinatown, Boyle Heights, Little Tokyo, the Civic Center and the Arts District.

A PowerPoint of the study’s recommendations, presented by community members last Thursday at a City Hall event, is posted above. As you scroll through, there are a series of maps and renderings that provide an idea of the scope of the project.

Among the improvements: an esplanade between the entrance to Union Station that would reach across Alameda Street to El Pueblo de Los Angeles and Olvera Street; new esplanades with expanded sidewalks and protected bike lanes along Los Angeles Street, Alameda Street and North Broadway (which would sit on the bluff above Los Angeles State Historic Park), and; add bike lanes (some protected) and sidewalk and street improvements to other key streets such as 1st Street, 3rd Street and Santa Fe and Alpine.

Metro is helping to plan the improvements, which will largely be undertaken by the city of Los Angeles (the city oversees downtown streets). The project has been separated into a series of smaller projects, the idea being that each project can be done when funding becomes available, a nod to the realities of transportation funding.

The final speaker at last Thursday’s event was Gil Penalosa, the well-known former parks chief in Bogata, Colombia, and who now heads up 8-80 Cities, a nonprofit that advocates for parks, bike lanes, pedestrians and making cities more vibrant and sustainable — the kind of things people usually like in cities. As he made clear, the Connect US plan would not only help improve mobility in downtown but would make L.A. more like other well-known cities across the globe that are walk- and bike-friendly and that people love to visit.

Gil Penalosa speaking at last Thursday's event unveiling of the Connect US plan at Los Angeles City Hall. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Gil Penalosa speaking at last Thursday’s event unveiling of the Connect US plan at Los Angeles City Hall. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

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.