Metro staff report on Measure R funding potential

Metro staff has finished a report to the agency’s Board of Directors on different funding scenarios for transportation projects if Measure R was extended.

It is important to emphasize that the Metro Board has not made any decision yet whether to ask Los Angeles County voters to extend the Measure R half-cent sales tax beyond its July 1, 2039, expiration date. There is a pending state bill, AB 1446, that would give the Metro Board authority to put such a measure to voters.

Here is the report:

30-10 Intiative Project Acceleration Methodologies

Increasing investment in public transit in California: A how-to from UCLA and Berkeley Law

Passengers buy tickets at NoHo Red Line station. Photo by flickr user sicoactiva.

By now reality is setting in: We need to dramatically increase our investment in transportation infrastructure just to maintain the status quo. But it looks like Congress isn’t willing to do it, at least in the near future.

One might think that we’re sitting pretty in Los Angeles County thanks to Measure R — we’ve definitely got it better than some other regions — but federal largess also plays a big role in getting projects built here. Without it, L.A. and other cities throughout the state are going to have to find new sources of funding to help keep transit running and make down payments on future transit projects.

That’s the issue that a team of researchers from UCLA and Berkeley’s respective environmental law programs tackled in their report, “All Aboard: How California Can Increase Investments in Public Transit” [PDF].

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America Fast Forward: Linking the Seattle region with light rail transit

A Central Link light rail train at Beacon Hill station. Photo by Flickr user ishell.

If friends ever try that to claim you can’t have a successful transit system without rails in the ground, just nod politely and tell them to visit Seattle. The Emerald City didn’t have an inch of modern rail transit until a starter streetcar line opened in 2007 and a light rail line debuted in 2009. As for that short monorail of theirs, it’s mainly a tourist attraction with pretty meager ridership.

Seattle’s transit bread and butter has been its robust network of buses. Thanks to those buses, the city can tout the fact that nearly 18 percent of all commuting trips are by transit. In that category Seattle ranks 14th nationally, ahead of several rail-served cities such as, for example, Oakland. That East Bay city has eight BART stations connecting it to San Francisco.

That’s not to knock rail transit — far from it. The increased capacity rail provides can make it a sound investment in very busy corridors. And that’s where Seattle region is targeting its transit investments.
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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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Metro Comments on Beverly Hills Unified School District Complaint

This week several online news sources have reported that the Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) has filed a “Writ of Mandate” petition in Los Angeles Superior Court that seeks to require Metro to release documents on the Westside Subway Extension Project, as well as station location alternatives in the Century City area.

The reason for the petition, according to the news release from BHUSD, is that Metro is not responding fast enough to the school district’s written requests for information.

Metro reports that it has received numerous requests on an ongoing basis from BHUSD during the development of the Final Environmental Impact Study/Report [FEIS/FEIR] for the subway that is now underway. The agency provided all publicly available documents and will continue to fulfill BHUSD’s requests as additional documents are finalized and released to the public. Continue reading

Former NYC traffic commissioner lauds America Fast Forward

Over at the Engineering News Record, former New York City traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz took to his transportation blog to extol the benefits of America Fast Forward. A lot of the issues he touches on will be familiar to Source readers. Here’s an excerpt from the piece in which Schwartz discusses how AFF could forge a new — and perhaps more sustainable — relationship between the federal government and cities:

Essentially the idea is the same as the 30/10 method: the Fed would lend sizable sums upfront to local entities with dedicated revenue streams such as sales tax proceeds. The carrot for the taxpayers is the promise that transportation projects are completed in a timely manner, in some cases that could be years, rather than decades.

There’s a carrot for Congress too: according to America Fast Forward supporters, passing legislation to enact the program can put 920,000 Americans per year building our national infrastructure without contributing to the national debt.

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Minneapolis Post asks: Could America Fast Forward work for the Twin Cities?

The Twin Cities Metrpolitan Council's 2030 Transitway Plan featuring commuter rail, light rail, bus rapid transit and improved bus corridors.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been running our ongoing series where we ask the question: How could America Fast Forward work for other cities around the country? Well, Minneapolis was definitely on our radar, but it looks like Minneapolis Post writer Steve Berg beat us to the punch.

In his story, Los Angeles tries to accelerate transit: Would it work here?, Berg takes a preliminary look at how federal loans and financing could support Minneapolis’ hope to greatly expand its rapid transit network.

A bus rapid transit station in downtown Minneapolis via Flickr user Payton Chung.

But before we delve into that question, some background: The Twin Cities region reached a population of 2.85 million in 2010, with most of the recent population growth happening in the suburbs, according to the most recent Census Bureau data [PDF].

The challenge for transportation planners in the region is to knit together these existing communities, while planning for future development in an era of increasing gas prices and decreasing vehicle miles traveled. The current transit system [PDF] provides a total of 218 transit routes, including a variety of fixed-route bus lines, one light rail line, one commuter rail line and an assortment of vanpool and paratransit services.

To support a goal of doubling transit ridership by 2030, five counties in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area approved a 1/4-cent sales tax increase to pay for a large expansion of “transitways” — bus rapid transit, light rail and other transit that runs in its own dedicated right-of-way. The plan calls for building a half-dozen new transitways on top of the existing network. Continue reading

America Fast Forward: Charlotte Lynx

Mecklenburg County's 2030 transit system plan.

This is the third 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.

In 1998, change was afoot in North Carolina. In Mecklenburg County — home to Charlotte, the state’s largest city — voters approved a comprehensive expansion of transit service to be paid for with a half-cent sales tax increase.

Right away, the sales tax enabled the local transit agency to bolster its bus system and begin planning a network of commuter and light rail lines. By 2007, the agency had some accomplishments under its belt but also faced challenges. Although a group of residents had successfully placed a measure on a local ballot to repeal the dedicated transit sales tax, the effort was resoundingly defeated by a 70-30 margin by the residents of Mecklenburg County.

Only weeks later, the Blue Line, the first leg in the light rail system, opened to the public and quickly blew by Charlotte Area Transit Systems’ ridership projections — today, it averages around 20,000 weekday riders [pdf]. And from 2000 to 2010, Charlotte-area residents heartily embraced their growing transit system, as evidenced by a doubling of ridership from roughly 40,000 to 100,000 daily trips. From 2006 to 2008 Charlotte’s transit ridership grew by 47 percent, by far the largest rate of increase in the United States.

A new transit-oriented development along CATS' initial Blue Line.

A new transit-oriented development along CATS' initial Blue Line.

Charlotte has even reaped considerable dividends in the form of increased economic development. A recent study conducted by the Center for Transit-Oriented Development found that the Lynx Blue Line helped spur the construction of almost 10 million square feet of new commercial and residential development along the line. Compared to new transit corridors in Denver and Minneapolis, CTOD showed the Blue Line’s development performance to be the strongest of the three by a wide margin.

Indeed, by several measurements, the case is strong for further investments in Charlotte’s rapid transit system. But like many metro areas around the country, sales tax revenues have dropped considerably due to the recession. In 2010 Olaf Kinard, CATS Director of Marketing and Communications, described the situation to Yonah Freemark of Transport Politic (excerpt):

The issue that all transit systems and businesses are faced with is that the recession caused a significant drop in the revenues and thus a new base from which to grow from. CATS is currently pulling in sales tax revenue at a level equivalent to the 2004/2005 annual level. Projecting that new base out 10 years at a conservative rate of increase of approximately 3% creates a $350 million difference from the 2006 projects during the same time.”

A multi-modal CATS transit stop.

A multi-modal CATS transit stop.

In our conversations with CATS officials, they shared information about their transit program generally, but declined to discuss America Fast Forward in detail or endorse it.

At this time, it remains unclear whether AFF would benefit Charlotte. On the other hand, it’s safe to say this: AFF seems very unlikely to harm any existing transit agency. If Congress adopts AFF as law, federal loans and financing could be used to build transit now — rather than many years in the future.

And waiting to build transit until the distant future, after all, only seems to offer this: more years with fewer alternatives to driving, more traffic and higher construction prices.

Previously in this series: Denver’s efforts to rapidly add light rail, commuter rail and busways, and Salt Lake City’s effort to expand transit connections.

Measure R road project breaks ground in Westlake Village

From left: Westlake Village Councilmember Mark Rutherford, Mayor Pro Tem Sue McSweeney, Metro Exec. Director Highway Program Doug Failing, Mayor Ned E Davis, Councilmember Philippa Klessig, Councilmember Robert Slavin, City Manager Ray Taylor. Photo by Juan Ocampo.

The project will add turn lanes, bike lanes and video detection at the intersection of Lindero Canyon and Agoura roads — a major junction just south of the 101 freeway. It’s the first of 18 Measure R road projects that will get underway this year.

Here’s the news release from Westlake Village:

City and Metropolitan Transportation Authority Officials to Host a Ground Breaking for the Next Phase of the City’s Arterial System Finance Program

The City of Westlake Village is hosting a ground breaking ceremony for the next phase of the City’s Arterial System Finance Program (ASFP). The ground breaking will occur on April 13 at 9 am at the northeast corner of the Lindero Canyon/Agoura Roads intersection.

Construction of the next phase of the City’s Arterial System Finance Program (ASFP), a long-range improvement program initiated years ago to improve traffic flow along the Lindero Canyon Road corridor from Agoura Road to Thousand Oaks Boulevard, recently commenced with work at the Agoura Road/Lindero Canyon Road intersection.

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