Federal government approves $670-million grant and $160-million loan for Regional Connector

Officials from Metro and the Federal Transit Administration signed a pair of agreements Thursday that will provide a $670-million federal grant and a $160-million federally-backed loan for the Regional Connector light rail project. The total budget of the project is $1.37 billion.

A media event with public officials is being held at 10 a.m. next to the Gold Line’s Little Tokyo station. We’ll post photos and video later today.

In practical terms, the agreements clear the way for construction to begin later this year on the 1.9-mile underground light rail line in downtown L.A. that will tie together the existing Blue Line, Expo Line and Gold Line with tracks between 7th/Metro Center and Little Tokyo. When the project is complete — forecast for 2020 — passengers on those lines will be able to travel through downtown without having to transfer to another line.

The project will also allow trains to run more frequently through downtown. Blue Line and Expo Line trains currently must turn around at 7th/Metro Center, a time-munching maneuver.

Utility relocations on the project are already underway with construction expected to begin later this year after the Metro Board of Directors selects a contractor to build the line. Metro already has three light rail projects currently under construction — the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Expo Line and the Gold Line Foothill Extension. The first phase of the Purple Line Extension of the subway is also expected to sign funding agreements with the federal government later this year, allowing the Metro Board to select a contractor to build that project.

That means that within the next calendar year, Metro could have an unprecedented five rail projects being built simultaneously that will add about 29 miles of rail to the existing 87-mile Metro Rail network. All five projects are also receiving significant funding from Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by 68 percent of Los Angeles County voters in 2008.

The Connector is the first Metro project to receive a federal New Starts grant since the Eastside Gold Line, which opened in 2009. New Starts is a federal program designed to help local transit agencies build expensive transit projects.

The loan is coming from the federal TIFIA program, which helps local areas secure low-interest loans that are cheaper than loans found on the open market. The TIFIA program is part of Metro’s America Fast Forward initiative that was expanded in the most recent federal multi-year transportation bill. Metro is seeking to have the program renewed and expended in the next bill, which Congress is expected to debate this year.

The Connector was originally envisioned as a rail project that would run at street level through downtown. Public opinion, however, swayed Metro to put the line underground, which increased costs but will also provide faster travel speeds and eliminate the need for a rail undercrossing at Alameda Street. The increased cost is the reason that federal funding is crucial for the project.

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The news release from Metro is after the jump.

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Metro debuts next generation bus today

Metro debuted the first of 550 New Flyer buses this morning. The New Flyer buses will be replacing the remaining high floor buses, thus making Metro a 100 percent low-floor fleet. Additionally, the buses will eventually replace all coaches built between 1999 and 2001, which will result in a much younger fleet that can continue to provide reliable service for Metro bus riders.

The Metro Board in January 2013 approved a $308-million contract for 550 new buses, which will be delivered over the next 18 months. One particular focus of Metro staff was making the buses as ADA-compliant and safe as possible and some of the new features of the new buses include the Q’Pod wheelchair securement system, which better accommodates passengers in wheelchairs. Each bus is also equipped with a new video monitoring system that can be downloaded wireless to law enforcement, if necessary.

The first buses will be put in service in areas of Los Angeles County served by Division 5 in South Los Angeles, Division 7 in West Hollywood and Division 18 in Carson. One of the new buses is also running today only along the 33 line that serves Venice Boulevard. 

On the ground photos of construction work on the Gold Line Foothill Extension

The folks at Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority hosted a media tour Thursday of the light rail project that will extend the Gold Line for 11.5 miles from eastern Pasadena to the Azusa/Glendora border with new stations in Arcadia, Monrovia, Duarte, Irwindale and Azusa and a sprawling light rail maintenance campus in Monrovia.

The project is halfway finished and Metro’s latest forecast calls for an opening in early 2016 (the Construction Authority will turn the project over to Metro, which will operate it and determine the date of opening). Already station foundations are poured, the BNSF tracks east of Duarte have been moved to accommodate freight trains, rails for the Gold Line are either in the ground or being moved into place and bridges are complete or work is finishing up.

In other words, it’s starting to look like a light rail line (check out the aerial photos of the project we posted last week and this article in the Pasadena Star News featuring the back of my head!). When both this project and the Regional Connector are complete, there will be continuous light rail track for 45 miles from Azusa to Long Beach, not to mention the Expo Line to downtown Santa Monica. Amazeballs!

A couple of observations on the Foothill Extension project:

•With parking available at the new stations, I’m guessing the Gold Line will be a lot more convenient for riders who live east of Pasadena and who had to cope with the always-constipated traffic on the 210 freeway and then compete with spaces at the Sierra Madre Villa station parking garage. It should also be a quick train ride for many; the Foothill Extension, for example, is completely grade-separated between Sierra Madre Villa and the Arcadia station and there are other stretches of track with few, if any, street crossings.

•There are going to be some awesome development and redevelopment opportunities along the Foothill Extension, which is following old freight tracks that mostly went through industrial areas. There will be stations in downtown Arcadia and downtown Azusa and the city of Monrovia has been planning improvements, open space and development near their station for quite some time — it’s important because the tracks are about a mile south of Monrovia’s eminently pleasant downtown. Check out the renderings above.

As with any new rail line in our area, it remains to be seen how the rail-community interface comes together (I can easily write the same thing about any of the rail projects thus far in L.A. County). What’s important right now, I think, is that the rail side is coming together right now, courtesy of the Measure R sales tax increase approved by L.A. County voters in 2008.

Many thanks to the Construction Authority for the tour last week and the tip about Canyon City Barbecue, which I nominate for an appearance on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” Also, here’s a screen grab of the latest interactive construction map from the Authority; click on the map to visit the interactive version.

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Jamzilla update #6, 9 a.m. Monday

Construction work on the 405 continues to go smoothly and is on track to be completed by 6 a.m. Tuesday.

Two lanes will remain open on the northbound 405 freeway throughout the day and into the evening. A full closure of the northbound 405 is scheduled to run from midnight until 6 a.m. Tuesday.

Again, Metro and Caltrans ask the public to avoid the northbound 405 over the Sepulveda Pass if possible.

More on the 80 hour closures on the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvement Project’s home page. The project is adding a northbound HOV lane between the 10 and 101 freeways, along with ramp and bridge improvements to improve traffic capacity and seismic safety.

Jamzilla update #5, 6:20 p.m. Sunday

Photo by Dave Sotero/Metro.

Photo by Dave Sotero/Metro.

Above is a look at the work being done on Sunday on the northbound 405 near the 101 junction. Repaving work remains on schedule and is going well, according to Metro and Caltrans.

Two lanes on the northbound side of the freeway over the Sepulveda Pass will remain open until midnight and then a full northbound closure will be in effect until 5 a.m. Monday. Two northbound lanes will then reopen. Another full closure is scheduled for early Tuesday morning.

There were delays of about 18 minutes Sunday afternoon and heavy traffic on the 10 freeway at times with folks headed to and from the beach. Metro and Caltrans again asks motorists to avoid the northbound 405 if possible on Monday to avoid creating a big traffic tie-up.

More on the 80 hour closures on the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvement Project’s home page. The project is adding a northbound HOV lane between the 10 and 101 freeways, along with ramp and bridge improvements to improve traffic capacity and seismic safety.

Jamzilla update #4, 11:40 a.m. Sunday

Sunday4Very little news to report, people. The repaving work is going well. Meanwhile, the northbound 405 is down to two lanes north of Mulholland. It will remain that way until late tonight when there will be an overnight closure of the northbound side in the Sepulveda Pass area.

Metro and Caltrans thanks everyone for their cooperation thus far. That said, we still need folks to avoid the area if they can to avoid creating a big traffic mess.

This it it, people: Jamzilla 80-hour closure of northbound 405 lanes begins late Friday; officials ask for motorists to avoid 405 this weeekend

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Photo by Dave Sotero/Metro.

Photo by Dave Sotero/Metro.

Lane closures begin late Friday evening and a complete closure of the NORTHBOUND 405 will be achieved by 1 a.m. from Getty Center Drive to Ventura Boulevard. Only two northbound lanes will be open during daylight hours on Saturday, Sunday and Monday and a 65 percent reduction in traffic is needed to avoid serious gridlock.

MOTORISTS ARE ASKED TO AVOID THE AREA IF POSSIBLE!!!! ESPECIALLY DURING THE DAY WHEN THE NORTHBOUND 405′S CAPACITY WILL BE LESS THAN HALF AS USUAL!!!! 

Officials again asked the public to avoid the 405 and Sepulveda Pass area this weekend at a news conference Friday afternoon at Caltrans' Traffic Management Center. Photo by Dave Sotero/Metro.

Officials again asked the public to avoid the 405 and Sepulveda Pass area this weekend at a news conference Friday afternoon at Caltrans’ Traffic Management Center. Photo by Dave Sotero/Metro.

The 80-hour lane closures — which end Tuesday morning — are being done for repaving work on the northbound side of the freeway. Most of the work until now has been on the sides of the freeways, on the freeway ramps or the bridges above the 405. This work is being done on the freeway itself and is necessary to complete the project — which is expected to be done by this summer.

The I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project is adding a northbound HOV lane between the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10) and the Ventura Freeway (I-101). The southbound 405 already has an HOV lane. When completed, the 405 will have HOV lanes in both directions from the northern San Fernando Valley to the Orange County line (click here to see a map of HOV lanes in L.A. County).

Here is the closure area for Jamzilla weekend:

I405-80HrClosure_map

The traffic maps and photo at the top of this post are from Saturday, March 2 of 2013 — a day when three lanes on the northbound I-405 were closed between Montana Avenue and the Getty Center off-ramp for construction work on the 405 northbound carpool lane project. 

While traffic in L.A. is usually a bear on Saturdays, it was especially grizzly on that Saturday. The problem, in short: not enough motorists heeded warnings to avoid the northbound 405, thereby backing up traffic to Marina del Rey by 2 p.m. and well beyond later in the day.

Thus, the reason Metro is harping on the upcoming Jamzilla northbound lane closures that begin late Friday night and run until Tuesday morning. The message, again and sweet and short: please avoid driving on the northbound 405 over the Sepulveda Pass this upcoming weekend.

For more info, here is a roundup of recent posts:

Jamzilla is coming: unprecedented 80-hour closure of northbound 405 freeway lanes on President’s Day weekend

Video from Jamzilla press conference

Jamzilla 405 operation more complex than Carmageddon

Jamzilla countdown clock and banner ads now available

New Jamzilla public service announcement available for public use

Jamzilla video: who you gonna call? 

Transcript from Jamzilla online chat with Metro and Caltrans officials

Here’s the presentation from Thursday’s community meeting in Beverly Hills about construction of the Wilshire/La Cienega station for Purple Line Extension

Metro held two community meetings on Thursday in Beverly Hills to explain upcoming work on the first phase of the Purple Line Extension that will run for 3.9 miles between the Wilshire/Western station and the new Wilshire/La Cienega station.

The Beverly Hills Courier covered the meetings but their article did not fully or correctly explain the work that will take place.

•The Courier reported that “The Metro reps said that, first, Metro will dig a massive open hole for the La Cienega station. That hole will remain open for at least seven years, covered by steel plates. The station will be built under the plates then covered over.”

That’s not exactly right and to clarify: Surface construction on the Purple Line Extension will occur at the three new station sites along Wilshire Boulevard — at La Brea, Fairfax and La Cienega, as well as at Western in order to connect the extension to the existing Purple Line.

In between these locations, long stretches of Wilshire will be undisturbed as tunneling takes place completely below ground. As shown in the presentation posted above and the slide below, Wilshire will remain open for motorists throughout most of the construction.

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However, there will be lane closures on Wilshire for two activities — the utility relocation that is occurring now and future pile installation.

During utility relocation, two lanes of traffic will be maintained during the daytime with possible full or partial closures of Wilshire at night at the station locations.

During pile installation, work will take place behind a K-rail with two lanes of traffic open in each direction. For both activities, sidewalks and driveways will remain open.

In order to install the decking, sections of Wilshire will be closed over a series of weekends, with the closures beginning late Friday night and reopening before the Monday morning rush hour — at which time the street will return to full use.

Once the decking is complete, station construction continues below ground and beneath the concrete decking with access to the underground station box provided from construction staging sites that are located off to the side of Wilshire. This work will take place for approximately five years while Wilshire Boulevard remains fully open to traffic. This is not different than Red Line construction in Hollywood, when Hollywood Boulevard remained fully open while the Hollywood/Highland station was built — as shown in this page from the meeting presentation:

BH Community presentation 2014-2-13 FINAL

•The Courier’s story made two other errors. In response to questions from the audience and in conversations with the reporter, Kasey Shuda — the Construction Relations Manager for the project — explained that Metro would reimburse the city of Beverly Hills for any lost parking meter revenue during the time that work crews are blocking parking spaces on the street. She never spoke about parking garages, as the Courier reported.

Also, a question about the water table was answered by Scott McConnell, the project’s Director of Construction Management. He explained that Metro employs various techniques to keep water out of the tunnels and stations including gaskets, tunnel liners and pumps. Any water removed is treated if necessary and then released into the sewer or storm drain depending on what is appropriate. Metro staff also explained that the underground subway will not raise the water table in the area.

Aside from media stories, it’s important to understand why these meetings were held in addition to the regular community outreach meetings that Metro hosts for the project, most recently on Jan. 29.

Metro has a “Master Cooperative Agreement” with the city of Los Angeles that governs how Metro and the city will work together during subway construction, including each parties’ responsibilities, timelines and how Metro will reimburse the city for its time. Metro is hoping to also get such an agreement with Beverly Hills.

The meetings held Thursday were done at the request of the Beverly Hills City Council when they deferred action in January on two pending permits from Metro. The agency believes that an agreement with Beverly Hills will help the agency deliver the project as promised and simplify the permit approval process so that Metro, the city and area residents and businesses will know what to expect while construction proceeds.

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First of 18 new traction power substations delivered today

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A noteworthy construction milestone was reached today when the first of 18 new power traction substations was delivered to the Gold Line Foothill Extension and the Expo Line projects.

The first of the substations — which transfer electricity to the overhead wires — was delivered to the Foothill Extension in Duarte near the interchange of the 210 and 605 freeways, as shown in the above photos.

Both projects are now more than 50 percent complete, construction on the Crenshaw/LAX Line is now underway and utility relocation and other prep work is ongoing for the Purple Line Extension and Regional Connector projects. All the projects are receiving funding from Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by 68 percent of Los Angeles County voters in 2008.