Metro Sets the Record Straight on Westside Subway, Alternate Station Site

Last week, Metro announced on The Source that planners for the Westside Subway Extension were evaluating an alternative location for the Century City station along Santa Monica Boulevard as part of the project’s final environmental review process.

Just to be clear, there are still only two options under study for the Century City station.  But this new location is an alternate site for the Santa Monica Boulevard Station option that shifts the station approximately 900 feet to the east in efforts to evaluate whether the new location would avoid the Santa Monica fault line.

News of the so-called “Century Park East” station alternative was reported on several online media sources, including, among others, L.A. StreetsBlog and Curbed L.A.

Metro, however, felt compelled to respond to the February 18 Beverly Hills Courier front page story in particular, which it contends contains several factual errors about the alternate station location and the overall process required for evaluating and making decisions about the subway itself.  Read the article yourself here.

Regardless of your views on where the Century City station should or should not be located, Metro wanted to clarify with facts some of the statements made in this story.  So, for the record, here’s Metro’s response:

  • The location announced last week as being along Santa Monica Boulevard with a portal likely at Century Park East is an alternative to the location already being studied along Santa Monica Boulevard with a portal at Avenue of the Stars.  Metro staff must and will continue to study both alternatives for the Santa Monica station location in Century City along with continuing to study the Constellation station location option.
  • If the initial location along Santa Monica Boulevard cannot or should not be built due to the location of the Santa Monica Fault, this alternative location may allow for a Century City station on Santa Monica Boulevard that is outside of the fault zone.
  • An analysis of all options for subway station locations and all other aspects of the subway is required both by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
  • No new decisions about the subway have been made since the Metro Board’s last meeting on October 2010. When the subway is again considered by the Board, they will be asked to make the decisions about the project, including the location of the Century City station.
  • The project team has been contacted and had conversations with many people about the Century City station location. This includes officials, residents, and others both inside and outside of Beverly Hills.  These conversations are both consistent with the process and similar to the conversations planning staff has on an ongoing basis with interested parties near other stations and along the entire alignment for the Westside Subway Extension.
  • Despite whatever City of Los Angeles files may indicate, rail planning in Los Angeles County is the purview of Metro.  Had the Courier reviewed Metro files about the current subway analysis, it would have found several pertinent documents including the Early Scoping Report from the Alternatives Analysis Study (AA), which documents the input received during the October/November 2007 early scoping period. This report indicated public requests to evaluate a station more in the heart of Century City.  The Alternatives Analysis study itself and the staff report to the Metro Board in January 2009 indicate that continued study of a Santa Monica and Constellation Boulevard location is warranted for the Century City Station.  Material that followed from the Draft EIS/EIR as early as April 2009 also showed both station locations for the Century City station.  All of this material and more is readily accessible on the project web site.
  • Much of the discussion about the location of the Century City station has caused some to question statements made about the Santa Monica Fault, what was known about it at different stages of subway planning, and what this could mean for other development projects planned in the area.  When the Alternatives Analysis for the Westside Subway Extension began in 2007, the best information available about the Santa Monica Fault in the vicinity of Century City came from a 2005 study using a method known as “surface topography” which gathers information based on visual examination. More detailed tests conducted during 2009 and 2010 have provided more information about the fault.  More information on this is available in the project’s Frequently Asked Questions document.  See question #13.

Details released regarding Joint House and Senate Transportation Field Hearing In Los Angeles County

Last week Metro CEO Art Leahy announced that the U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chaired by Representative John Mica (R-FL), will be holding a field hearing this month in Los Angeles County to discuss our nation’s next surface transportation bill.

This morning, additional information on the event was released via Art Leahy’s email to staff:

On February 23, 2011 the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Committee and the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee will hold a field hearing entitled “Improving and Reforming our Nation’s Surface Transportation Program to Support Job Creation.”  The hearing will be led by the Chairs of the respective committees, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and U.S. Representative John Mica (R-FL).  The field hearing, which will begin at 8:30 a.m., will be held at the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration Campus in the Brentwood Theater located at 11301 Wilshire Boulevard. The committees will hear testimony from community leaders and government officials on national, state, and local transportation priorities, and innovative ideas for improving transportation programs. This hearing is one in a series as both committees continue their work on the next transportation authorization bill. This evening, the office of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer released the following list of witnesses for the field hearing: Metro Board of Directors Chairman and County Supervisor Don Knabe, the Honorable Antonio R. Villaraigosa, Mayor, City of Los Angeles; Ms. Cindy McKim, Director, Caltrans; Ms. María Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary Treasurer, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO; Mr. Will Kempton, CEO, Orange County Transportation Authority; Ms.Kathryn Phillips, Director of The California Transportation and Air Initiative, Environmental Defense Fund; Mr. Steve Heminger, Executive Director, Metropolitan Transportation Commission; and Ms. Anne Mayer, Executive Director, Riverside County Transportation Commission.

As we mentioned last week, this hearing is a great opportunity for L.A. County’s elected officials to make a strong case for the 30/10 initiative. The Veterans Administration Campus is accessible via Metro Rapid line 720, Metro Local line 20, as well as Santa Monica Big Blue Bus lines 2, 3, and 4. Metro’s trip planner is available here.

30/10 for America

Over the past year, Metro’s 30/10 Initiative has gained traction locally and in Washington. There seems to be sentiment in many quarters — including the Obama Administration — that using federal loans and other financing to accelerate construction of Measure R projects is a good idea that should be enshrined in federal law.

At the same time, the political reality — according to politicians and the media — is that we will be facing a fiscally constrained government in Washington for some time because of the federal deficit.

That doesn’t necessarily jeopardize 30/10. Part of the plan’s ingenuity is that it’s not your typical federal handout to one metro area. A 30/10 federal program could be structured to help any city or metro area that has dedicated local taxes for transit projects and can pay back the federal government.


Photo of Light Rail in Denver via Flickr user ercwttmn.

In the last decade, numerous communities have invested heavily in mass transit. And like L.A. County, many have taken matters into their own hands, voting to tax themselves or issue market-rate bonds to pay for these investments. Phoenix and Denver did it in 2004, as did Honolulu in 2007. The Center for Transportation Excellence has a complete list of cities here. With a 30/10-style hand-up, they too could realize their transit visions sooner, rather than later.

All of this will depend on creating such a program in the next multi-year federal transportation spending bill, which seems likely to be debated by Congress this year.

One of the challenges of the 30/10 Initiative is persuading other regions to help convince Congress that it’s not just a plan designed to help Los Angeles County. In the coming weeks our goal at The Source is to write about other regions that could potentially take advantage of a 30/10 plan.

The idea is simple: If we can show that Los Angeles County’s interests dovetail with those of Honolulu and Denver and Minneapolis — and many others — then we can make an even stronger case to Washington. We can show the Feds that embracing innovative financing reforms – e.g. creating an infrastructure bank and expanding Build America Bonds for rapid transit – will be a windfall for all Americans in terms of their mobility and having nicer places to live and work.


More on Obama's infrastructure plan

The White House has also released a “fact sheet” that adds a few (although not a lot) of details about how President Obama plans to achieve the goals listed in his State of the Union speech.

Here’s the section on infrastructure and transportation:

Here is the high-speed rail network that President Obama proposed in 2010. In the time since, Ohio and Wisconsin have lost federal funds due to lack of political support for projects in both states. Map by U.S. Department of Transportation.

Repairing roads, bridges and transit: The President’s Budget will outline a comprehensive, six-year plan to leverage our resources to repair crumbling roads, bridges, and transit. It will feature up-front investments that will both help generate hundreds of thousands of jobs now and lay a foundation for future economic growth that will benefit all Americans. It will also include transformational investments such as an infrastructure bank that will revolutionize infrastructure finance, leveraging government resources through attracting private capital to build projects of national and regional significance. The President is committed to making sure that this infrastructure program is fully paid for, and free of earmarks.

Increasing access to high-speed rail: The President is proposing a significant down payment on a national rail network so that, within 25 years, 80 percent of Americans have convenient access to the high-speed rail system, cutting travel time in half relative to driving a car. This new system of high-speed and intercity passenger rail will connect communities, reduce travel times and congestion, create skilled manufacturing jobs that can’t be outsourced, and spur new innovations by the next generation of American entrepreneurs.

The most interesting part is the nod to an “infrastructure bank,” which could help the 30/10 Initiative. Attentive readers know that the 30/10 plan seeks to use federal loans and other financing to build Measure R transit projects in the next 10 years instead of 30.

A bank could be created as part of the next multi-year federal transportation spending bill, which Congress may tackle this year. It’s already two years overdue and it will likely be a challenge, given the noise that both political parties are making about cutting federal spending.

New Round of Westside Subway Community Update Meetings Planned

Metro will be holding community update meetings January 24 through 31 for the Westside Subway Extension Project, currently going through its Final Environmental Impact Statement/Report (EIS/EIR) planning phase.

Metro will provide members of the public with background on Project planning to date, detail what community members can expect during the Final EIS/EIR phase and provide an overview of the anticipated subway construction process.

The public can participate in any of the three community update meetings.  Content for all three meetings will be identical:

  • Monday, January 24, 6-8 p.m., LACMA West  – Terrace Room, 5th Floor, 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036.  Served by Metro Lines 20, 720, 217 & 780. Validated vehicle parking is available in the Museum’s 6th Street underground garage.  Enter from 6th and Ogden.  Spanish & Korean translation will be provided.
  • Wednesday, January 26, 6-8 p.m., Westwood United Methodist Church – Fellowship Hall, 3rd Floor, 10497 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90024.  Served by Metro Line 20. Free parking is available below Belmont Village, the building east of the Sanctuary. From Wilshire Blvd., use the Belmont Village driveway and proceed under the overhang to the underground parking lot.  Park on levels P2, P3 or P4 and take the church elevator in the southwest corner of the parking lot.  There will be signs to direct public to the meeting room.  Spanish translation will be provided.  Metro will also offer a live webcast of this meeting that you can view from any computer simply by going to metro.net/westside.
  • Monday, January 31, 6-8 p.m., Roxbury Park – Auditorium, 471 S. Roxbury Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.  Served by Metro Line 28 and Santa Monica Big Blue Bus Line 5. Metered lot and street parking is available.   Spanish translation will be provided.

The final environmental review and preliminary engineering phase is scheduled to last approximately one year and is a precursor to final design and construction based on project funding.

Top 10 Transportation Stories of 2010

Come 2013, these 720 Rapids will be galloping along in their own lanes during rush hour.

The past year has seen many diverse transportation issues grab headlines in Southern California and across the country. A good way to appreciate how much has changed, or hasn’t, is to think back to what the world of transportation looked like on Jan. 1, 2010. In the dawn of this year, “30/10″ was still a fledgling idea and BP’s Tony Hayward could still go yachting in peace.

So, with an eye to how far we’ve come in the Los Angeles region — and how far we still have to go — here are the top ten transportation stories of the year in no particular order:

Metro Board Backs 30/10 as Official Policy

Early in the year, the Metro Board of Directors adopted the 30/10 Initiative as official Metro policy after the idea was first championed by L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa in the fall of 2009. The idea is simple: use federal loans and other financing to build a dozen Measure R projects over the next 10 years instead of following the 30-year Measure R schedule. That would greatly expand transit to the regional’s employment centers and also extend transit’s reaches deeper into communities in L.A. County.

Parts of 30/10 will almost certainly need Congressional approval and that is no certain thing….

Crenshaw/LAX Line Wins $546 Million Federal Loan

…But the Obama Administration’s loan for the Crenshaw/LAX light rail line is an example of what 30/10 aims to do — and a sign that at least the White House is listening.

In a sign of support for L.A. County’s 30/10 Initiative to build Measure R projects more quickly using a variety of federal funds, the U.S. Department of Transportation allocated more than half a billion dollars in discretionary loans to begin construction of the Crenshaw project.  The loan may help complete the project by 2016 instead of the original 2018 timeline. The loan may also free up some funding for use in other capital investments projects. It was a huge win for the county and a sign that the Obama Administration is aware of 30/10 and its potential.

Feds Fail to Approve a National Transportation Bill, Again

For the second consecutive year, Congress failed to authorize a new six-year transportation financing bill — the same kind of bill that will likely include the necessary language to fully enact 30/10. One big reason for this foot-dragging is the refusal of most politicians to even consider raising the gas tax, which is earmarked for transportation infrastructure investments. Attentive readers will recall that the federal gas tax has remained stuck at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993.  Because the tax is not indexed to inflation, it has slowly lost its buying power over the years, prompting Congress to kick in general funds to cover the deficit.

For the next two years, the effort to direct more federal funding to transit investments may have gotten more difficult. Not only did transit champion Minnesota Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) lose his reelection bid to the House of Representatives in November, the new House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee features a majority comprised entirely of representatives of suburban and rural districts. It remains to be seen how inclined they are to support urban transit projects.

Routes chosen for Westside Subway Extension and Regional Connector

After decades of changing political winds, ever-slowing traffic, and financing issues, the Metro Board of Directors in October selected a locally preferred alternative that will extend the Purple Line west to the VA Hospital in Westwood from its terminus at Wilshire and Western. It would mean a 25-minute ride from Union Station to Westwood — cutting in half current transit times.

At the same meeting, a fully underground Regional Connector was approved that will directly link the Gold Line to the Blue and Expo lines with three new stops in downtown Los Angeles. The day it opens, Angelenos will be able to grab a one-seat ride from Santa Monica to East LA or Azusa to Long Beach. Like the Westside subway, the Connector was another project that has been on the books for many years, but could never quite muster enough political support to get it built.

Of course, Measure R — the half-cent sales tax increase approved by county voters in 2008 — made both projects possible.

The Rise of the Transit Blogger

Transportation coverage in L.A.’s media outlets has taken a hit in the past few years. But picking up the slack have been a slew of local blogs by transportation enthusiasts, advocates and even public agencies themselves — like, say, your humble transit blog The Source.

But we’re far from the only store in town and it truly has been a great year for transportation blogging. LA Streetsblog relaunched under its own leadership board (full disclosure: I’m a member) and plans to expand its coverage with writers in Long Beach, Northeast L.A., the Westside and beyond.  The Los Angeles Department of Transportation launched a Bike Blog to help keep locals up to date on its plans to make the city a more bike-friendly place. Siel Ju, who wrote extensively about “de-car-ing” as Green LA Girl joined KPCC’s environmental blog, Pacific Swell. And of course, this year Joel Epstein has added his vital voice for transportation reform in Los Angeles at the Huffington Post.

Backbone Bikeway Network

Backbone Bikeway Network

Bike Planning Moves Forward

Across the Southland, cities have begun to embrace bicycling as a legitimate form of transportation. In 2010 several took steps to create infrastructure that support this healthy, carbon free and traffic-reducing method of commuting. After working extensively with bicycle advocates, the city of L.A.’s Planning Department has finally produced a bicycle plan that is widely supported and includes the Backbone Bikeway Network.  Meanwhile, the second largest city in the county, Long Beach, is making great headway in its plan to become the most bike friendly city in the U.S.

Wilshire BRT Approved with Condo Canyon Exemption

Come 2013, the tens of thousands of Angelenos who travel by bus through the Wilshire corridor every day will see a boost to their travel speeds.  At its December meeting, the Metro Board gave its initial approval to a project that will add a peak hour bus lane to Wilshire from the Santa Monica-L.A. border to the MacArthur Park area, although about one mile of lanes was removed from the Condo Canyon stretch of Wilshire in Westwood. Of all the public transportation investments in L.A. County right now, this one probably offers the biggest bang for the buck. The project will come back to the Board in the spring.

BP Oil Spill Devastates Gulf of Mexico

America’s petroleum-based transportation system has a profoundly negative impact on our health and environment.  But sometimes its deleterious effects — whether it’s asthma or toxic runoff — are out of sight and out of mind.

When a BP oil well off the coast of Louisiana exploded and spewed sticky oil into the Gulf of Mexico for months, the high cost of our transportation was put in stark relief.  The long term question remains:  Will Congress take action to support transportation systems that do not rely on off-shore drilling and importing oil from politically volatile nations? On this point, cities and states are already leading the way.

California High Speed Rail Commits to Central Valley

In January, California’s High Speed Rail project got a major boost when it won $2.25 billion in Federal stimulus funds. And there have since been additional infusions of federal money. The California High-Speed Rail Authority says the money will be enough to build track and stations between Bakersfield and Madera, just north of Fresno.

This initial segment is a critical piece of the project, even though it isn’t intended to be operational until the line is built all the way from San Francisco to Anaheim. In other words, the project has a long ways to go.

10/10/10 — 100,000 Angelenos Come out for CicLAvia

I count myself among those who were excited, even optimistic, about L.A.’s first open streets celebration. But I don’t think anyone expected the turnout, the unbridled joy and the ebullience of that day.  Even the L.A Times understood that, on that October day, the car’s reign was overthrown in a peaceful coup by the bike and the sneaker. At its core, CicLAvia was an act of transportation revolution, and for that reason I think it was this year’s biggest local transportation story — although I’m sure some of you will disagree. If you missed it, check out this video and come out for the next CicLAvia on April 10, 2011.

Agree or disagree with my choices? Or feel I left any stories off my list? Leave a comment!




FTA gives Metro the green light to study transit alternatives for Van Nuys corridor

Van Nuys Corridor Map

Metro announced today that it has been selected to receive $2 million in Federal Transit Administration funding to begin two new transportation projects: an alternatives analysis for a premium transit service on Van Nuys Boulevard and work to improve the agency’s transit forecasting model. See the FTA’s announcement.

And here are the project descriptions.

This latest funding notice from the FTA injects new momentum into the agency’s Measure R program and is a win for the San Fernando Valley.

The Van Nuys Corridor is a main element in the East San Fernando Valley North-South Rapidways Project, which seeks to provide better transit service on key corridors in the Valley.

For the Van Nuys Corridor project, the goal is to greatly improve mobility on Van Nuys Boulevard for about 10 miles between Ventura and Foothill Boulevards. Anyone who has ridden a bus down Van Nuys Boulevard in this area knows this street is primed for some sort of premium service.

The Van Nuys corridor consistently ranks as one of the top ten busiest bus corridors in Los Angeles County. In the Valley it is the busiest corridor. Total weekday boardings on Metro buses serving this boulevard even beat the Metro Orange Line and Ventura Metro Rapid in terms of daily ridership. (Metro has approximately 27,000 weekday boardings for buses running on Van Nuys compared to the Orange Line’s 23,500 and Ventura Rapid’s 5,500 boardings).

So what are the possible transit alternatives the Alternatives Analysis will study? Besides the obligatory No-Build and Transportation Systems Management alternatives, Metro will be looking at the following options:

Westside Subway Project soil and seismic testing to begin

The exploratory drilliWorker demonstrates soil test drilling at news conference held in Westwood on Aug. 20, 2009. ngs are a key part of the planning and environmental process for the proposed Westside Subway Extension, a regionally beneficial Measure R transportation project. Photo by Gary Leonard.

Worker demonstrates soil test drilling at news conference held in Westwood on Aug. 20, 2009. The exploratory drillings are a key part of the planning and environmental process for the proposed Westside Subway Extension, a regionally beneficial Measure R transportation project. Photo by Gary Leonard

The next step for planning and engineering the Westside Subway Extension — including deciding the exact route the project will ultimately take through Beverly Hills, Century City and Westwood — begins next week when Metro contractors begin conducting soil, seismic, noise and vibration tests as part of final environmental review and preliminary engineering for the project.

In October, the Metro Board of Directors approved two Century City station locations for final review, resulting in two alignment options between that location and Beverly Hills.

One route option has raised the ire of some in Beverly Hills because it would travel underneath historic Beverly Hills High School to reach a station at Constellation and Avenue of the Stars. The other route option would stay largely under city streets to reach a station at Santa Monica Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars. That route is not without its concerns as well – it would follow a known earthquake fault. For a summary of these and other options, read a previous Source post.

Geotechnical work will be conducted along the entire planned alignment from Western Avenue to the Westwood/VA Hospital but will begin in the Beverly Hills, Century City and Westwood areas to help resolve this outstanding issue. Next week’s testing is scheduled for Westwood, where work permits have been secured. Continue reading

Will the new Congress hinder Metro’s 30/10 Initiative?

That’s the question asked by the L.A. Times in a strong weekend story by reporters Richard Simon and Dan Weikel. Republicans won the majority in the House of Representatives in last week’s elections and are vowing to cut spending — which could impact 30/10′s prospects of becoming law.

The 30/10 Initiative proposes to use federal loans and other financing to build Measure R transit projects in 10 years instead of 30. The Times reports that although Measure R would be used to repay the federal government, there are still $2 billion in costs to the U.S. Treasury associated with 30/10 — paying interest on a new kind of transportation bond, for example — and that may be a tough sell with Republicans.

Excerpt:

“With this year’s deficit at $1.3 trillion, and next year’s projected to be a trillion dollars or more, it’s going to be extremely difficult to convince Congress to increase spending for anything,” said Jim Specht, deputy chief of staff to Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands), who could return as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. John Campbell (R-Irvine) said he is open to hearing Los Angeles officials make their case, but added: “We have got to reduce a lot of spending…. The people just voted, we believe, get this deficit and this debt under control.” Continue reading