Panels Rupture on 405 project retaining wall, no threat to public safety

Several media outlets have reported on a visible defect in a retaining wall now being constructed as part of the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project in the Sepulveda Pass.  Panels on a localized segment of the retaining wall at the future Skirball Drive on-ramp became displaced late last week. This section of the retaining wall has since been stabilized, and poses no safety risk for either freeway or street traffic.  The contractor is now performing an investigation.  Here’s additional information from a project e-mail that went out to 405 project constituents:

A MSE (Mechanically Supported Engineering) retaining wall, located along the southbound I-405 at Mountain Gate, suffered a localized failure on Thursday, December 1.  The failure occurred on Caltrans right-of-way, west of the freeway, in our construction zone.  No one was injured and our geotechnical team deemed the freeway and Sepulveda safe for the traveling public.  Traffic has not been restricted at this location.

The wall, approximately 2,000 feet long, is part of the work to relocate the Skirball Center Dr on-ramps south of their present location on the Skirball bridge.  The portion of the wall that has been compromised is only 20 feet long.  The project has been aware of deficiencies in this portion of the wall for a few weeks and were preparing a partial deconstruction plan when the panels failed.  The wall has been stabilized and there is no danger to the traveling public.  The contractor is currently performing an in-depth investigation to the cause of the localized failure.  Experts have been brought in to collect forensic evidence.  We cannot speculate at this time as to what caused the failure.  Once a thorough and complete investigation has been finalized and approved by Metro and Caltrans, the contractor will create a mitigation plan.

Until the investigation is complete, work on the other MSE walls along the project has been halted.  Our path forward will be determined by the outcome of the investigation.

We appreciate your patience during this investigation.  Please be assured that safety is our number one priority and we will work until we can guarantee that all work on the project is safe and stable.

Five things I'm thinking about transportation

BULLET TRAIN — TO BUILD OR NOT TO BUILD: I think it will take a lot more political courage at this point to build the $98.5-billion train between Anaheim and San Francisco than to kill the project.  
 
It’s always easier to say ‘no’ than attempt something that is hard and controversial and will likely have setbacks — i.e. the very definition of a large infrastructure project. Conversely, it will take a lot more political chutzpah for someone — anyone at this point — to stand up and say “if you want it, you’re going to have to pay for it and here’s how.”  
 
Until this happens, the media is going to continue to treat the project like the political pinata that it has become owing to its $85-billion budget shortfall. Case in point: this week’s round of media stories on the latest poll showing that voters would no longer vote to approve the $9.95-billion bond package to supply seed money for the train.  
 
Some news for the news media: The people barely voted to approve the bonds in the first place in 2008. Prop 1A won 52.7 percent of the vote. And, as the L.A. Times reported, there was already a poll done earlier this year saying much the same thing.  

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New timelines for Wilshire bus lane project

When we last checked in with the Wilshire rush hour bus lane project, the completion date that we posted was 2013. But Dana Gabbard at L.A. Streetsblog had a post Friday saying that the completion date for the project is now 2015.

The project will put 7.7 miles of rush hour bus lanes on portions of Wilshire Boulevard in the city of Los Angeles, from Brentwood to just west of downtown Los Angeles. The idea — and I think it’s a good one — is to speed up bus service on Wilshire, which is Metro’s busiest bus corridor.

Metro helped plan the project with the city and Los Angeles County. The city of Los Angeles is taking the lead on constructing the project, which includes some selective pavement reconstruction and street widening along Wilshire and updating the transit priority system, among other upgrades. From an Oct. 9 city report:

Extensive roadway improvements on Wilshire Boulevard, including curb lane reconstruction and selective street widening, will be done before the bus lanes are installed. Design and engineering is scheduled to be completed by June 2013, followed by construction of roadway
improvements, traffic mitigation measures, Transit Priority System upgrades, and bus lane striping and signage. The project is expected to be completed and operational by June 2015.

A spokesman for the city’s transportation agency told Streetsblog that the city will try to finish the work earlier than 2015. In more recent discussions with the city, they now believe they may be able to have it completed by the end of 2014. One obvious question this raises: will the bus lanes project be under construction at the same time that construction for the first leg of the Westside Subway Extension is getting underway?

Answer: It remains to be seen. The subway project is on track to have its environmental impact studies approved in early 2012. At that point, we should have a better idea of funding and the construction timeline for the first segment, which is supposed to go to Fairfax.

On an unrelated note, Streetsblog also reported that the new Silver Line station at Union Station – here’s a good rendering — will be completed in 2015. That is incorrect. The ExpressLanes project on the San Bernardino Freeway and El Monte Busway is still scheduled to open in 2013, with the Silver Line station scheduled for a 2014 opening, according to Metro staff.

Train testing on Expo Line to expand

Here’s the news release:

​Metro will expand the operation of test trains along the Metro Expo Line corridor beginning Sunday, Dec. 4, running trains on a schedule of every 12 minutes during the day to simulate regular mid-day service on the line once the system opens in early 2012.

​The additional train testing is needed along the entire line in an effort to test the operation of the trains and all train and signal systems for the Metro Expo Line. No date has been set for the opening of the line. Metro will select an opening date for the public once all systems and trains are thoroughly tested and operated.

​Due to the increase frequency of trains traveling along the entire Metro Expo Line corridor, Metro is reminding the public to be alert and stay updated on rail safety tips.

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New Federal Transportation Authorization bill will be delayed — again

The update from Metro’s government relations staff is below. The agency has been pushing for America Fast Forward legislation — to use government loans and financing to accelerate the building of transit and road projects — to be included in the bill.

A new multi-year bill was supposed to be passed by Congress two years ago. Fighting between Democrats and Republicans has delayed it, leading to several short-term renewals of the existing bill, which covered spending through fiscal year 2009 and was signed by President Bush in Aug. 2005.

The bill is also a chance for the federal government to lay out its transportation spending priorities for the next several years. For example, if the federal government wanted to greatly expand spending on transit, the multi-year bill would be the place to do it.

The update:

Despite a sustained effort by public transportation agencies, many Members of Congress, and a broad coalition of private sector organizations, Congress is poised to move consideration of a new federal transportation authorization bill to 2012. Efforts to reauthorize the previous surface transportation bill (SAFETEA-LU) in 2011 effectively ended this afternoon in Washington, DC when the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, John Mica (R-FL) announced that the legislative schedule next month would not permit him to move forward with a new transportation bill. The current extension of SAFETEA-LU is slated to expire on March 31, 2012. Our agency will continue to work diligently with Chairman Mica, Chairman Boxer of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and members of the Los Angeles County Congressional Delegation to ensure that our Board-approved legislative program is advanced in any transportation authorization bill considered by the second session of the 112th Congress in 2012.

Update from Expo Line Construction Authority

The independent agency, the Expo Line Construction Authority, posted the following to their Facebook page on Monday:

Expo has turned the system over to Metro for Pre-Revenue Operations. Once Metro determines that the system is safe to operate, the line will open to the public. We anticipate an opening to the Jefferson/La Cienega station early next year, but Metro will determine the actual opening date since they will be operating the line.

I want to reinforce that point loud and clear: At this time, Metro DOES NOT have an opening date for the Expo Line. Nor has Metro made a decision whether to first open the line first to La Cienega/Jefferson or all the way to Culver City, where the station is still being completed.

The bottom line is that Metro, which currently operates five rail lines, will decide when the Expo Line is ready for passenger operations and can be opened. We rode on a test train last week and wrote this: “There are still parts of the project not yet finished, namely there’s work to be done on the switch on the junction of the Expo Line and Blue Line tracks, the ventilation system in the tunnel under Figueroa near USC and the Culver City station.”

There is also no start date yet for pre-revenue testing, when trains run on a simulated schedule but without passengers.

Please stay tuned. When we have news, we’ll post it here as soon as we can. In the meantime, we urge all pedestrians, cyclists and motorists to be attentive around the Expo Line and look and listen when approaching the tracks.

Five things I'm thinking about transit, Nov. 23 edition

1. SEARCH YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT HIGH-SPEED RAIL: I’ve searched my feelings and finally figured out exactly how I feel about high-speed rail: the same way I felt about the Westside Subway project between 2005 and 2007 when many, many public officials were talking about it but Metro obviously didn’t have the money to pay for it.

I had little doubt the subway was a good project and there were big obstacles that had to be overcome, such as the Congressional ban on funding. Still, I thought a lot of the talk about the project didn’t amount to much until there was a viable funding plan. That finally happened in 2008 when the Measure R sales tax increase to fund many road and transit projects was proposed, put on the ballot and then approved by 68 percent of Los Angeles County voters.

And that’s the issue I have with high-speed rail. It sounds great, but the funding plan is still very sketchy. And, sadly, the issue of funding from the federal government seems split on party lines. Many Democrats like it but haven’t said much in the way of actual details when it comes to money. And many Republicans dislike it because it would require — gasp! — government funding to get built.

2. MULLING THE EXPO LINE AFTER OUR BIG RIDE ON TUESDAY:

-The line isn’t opening until next year, but I’m curious to hear from readers about how they plan to use the new light rail line and how they see it impacting their commutes. Comment please!

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One more Expo Line video: eastbound from La Cienega

Why not – it’s the day before the holiday! Here is one more video from our ride on the Expo Line yesterday — this time from the La Cienega station eastbound to the La Brea station. Both are aerial stations. The video doesn’t convey how good the views are from both, particularly to the north toward the mountains.

Here is yesterday’s post with a pair of videos of the train heading west past USC. And here’s our post with some initial impressions of the line.

More photos from The Source's day out on the Expo Line

Just when you thought we were done recapping our Expo Line ride on Tuesday…more photos! Check out these below that Steve and I snapped while we cruised from 23rd Street station to La Cienega station.

23rd and Flower St Station

Cruising along at a brisk clip.

La Cienega station plaza from the top of the staircase.

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