Video and podcast from Zocalo Public Square’s forum last night on the 710 freeway

Above is both video and a podcast from Zocalo Public Square’s forum at MOCA on Wednesday evening that was titled “What does Southern California need from the 710 freeway?”

The forum — which was sponsored by Metro — focused on the 4.5-mile gap in the 710 freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena and the ongoing study by Caltrans and Metro that seeks to improve traffic congestion in the area.

The project’s draft environmental document is scheduled for release next February and is considering five alternatives: a freeway tunnel to close the gap, a light rail line between East Los Angeles and Pasadena, bus rapid transit between East L.A. and Pasadena, traffic signal and intersection improvements in the 710 area and the legally-required no-build option. The project is scheduled to receive $780 million in Measure R funding, although additional money would be needed to build some of the more expensive alternatives — if, in fact, the Metro Board of Directors ultimately decides to build anything.

NBC-4’s n moderated the panel that included Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce President Gary Toebben, former Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency Linda S. Adams, Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) executive director Hasan Ikhrata and UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies director Brian Taylor. I thought Nolan framed the 710 issue well, calling it a “Gordian knot” and that “I’ve never seen a transportation issue as convolutedly complicated as this one.” 

As the panelists pointed out several times, the 710 discussion goes back to the 1950s and original state plans to complete the 710 between Long Beach and Pasadena. Less than half of the state’s original freeway plans for our region was built — the reason, for example, that the 2 freeway ends at Glendale Boulevard and the Marina Freeway only exists west of the 405. As Brian Taylor noted, however, the 710 remains somewhat unique among the unfinished freeways because while there are uncompleted segments, there are very few areas where there is such a pronounced gap.

What to be done about it? Both Toebben and Ikhrata said that closing the gap made the most sense and would take traffic off surface streets in the western San Gabriel Valley, help improve air quality (the freeway would keep traffic moving instead of sitting and idling) and would likely also ease congestion on other freeways that motorists use to skirt the 710 gap, most notably the 110 and 5 freeways. “It’s more expensive to do nothing,” Ikhrata said, adding that billions of dollars were lost in travel delays.

When Toebben was asked if motorists would be willing to pay a toll to use the tunnel, his answer was a simple “yes.” He later noted that he lives near Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena and sees motorists each day use it as a way to close the 710 gap by using Orange Grove, the 110 freeway and the 5 freeway to get back to the 710. “Am I willing to pay three, four bucks — I don’t know what the cost will be — to avoid those other routes and get off those freeways so that others who need to travel those freeways, can? Yes, I’m willing to do that. I’d venture to say that every single person who lives anywhere close to this freeway, and I’m including myself, will see less traffic on their streets if a tunnel was built than they see right now.”

UCLA’s Taylor took the most nuanced and expansive view, first explaining the basic mechanics of freeway traffic congestion when commuters and those running errands compete for too little physical space on roadways (go to the 29 minute mark of the video). The result: throughput of the roads drops dramatically and a traffic jam ensues. He also pointed out that Measure R half-cent sales tax increase spreads the cost of mobility to everyone, whether they are using the mobility or not.

With that in mind, Taylor said that solving traffic congestion on a regional level could be done today if the area so choose with congestion pricing — i.e. tolling roadways so that motorists paid the true cost of driving (air pollution, freeway expansion, travel delays). That would drop demand for road space down to reasonable levels and allow traffic to free-flow instead of idle along. “Let’s argue about whether to close the gap or not, because we want to make sure that we never want to price people’s travel…if we did we would have a free flowing system,” Taylor said. “[But] that’s politically unacceptable.”

There was a brief Q&A session after the main discussion and it was pretty clear that some in the audience felt their view was missing: that closing the gap with a freeway tunnel would ultimately lead to more traffic and air pollution. And some of the questions revealed (yet again) the depth of the disagreements over this issue: when one audience member asked why building a rail line for freight from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach was not being considered, SCAG’s Ikhrata replied that building a freight rail line to Pasadena made little sense as most freight from the ports moves east, not north.

Here’s an article on Zocalo Public Square’s website. And here’s the SR-710 Study home page.

 

Metro to publicly finance HOV toll lane project for Santa Clarita Valley

i5_project_map

We posted last year about a Measure R project to add tolled HOV lanes to 13.5 miles of the 5 freeway in the Santa Clarita Valley between the 14 freeway and Parker Road. Vehicles with one or two occupants would pay a toll while vehicles with three or more occupants could use the lanes for free; tolling the lanes allows the project to be built well before the original Measure R completion date of 2040.

Today we have this update: Metro and Caltrans have decided to publicly finance the project instead of seeking a public-private partnership (known as a PPP). Why? It’s less expensive to publicly finance the project by using $352 million in now-available Measure R and other funds and a federal low-interest loan for $175 million.

Under a PPP, a private firm or firms would have paid for the construction of the project and then been repaid, in part, by collecting and managing tolls from the lanes for 35 years. In this case, public financing will allow Metro to borrow less money and secure a lower interest rate on the needed loan.

This project as originally proposed was also unusual because it included new sound walls for the 210 freeway in Pasadena and Arcadia and the 170 and 405 freeways in Los Angeles, and adding extra lanes for a short stretch of the 71 freeway in Pomona. Under the public financing deal, those projects will be built separately. The toll revenues would be reinvested and used for transit services and traffic operations in the 5 freeway corridor in the Santa Clarita Valley.

The current forecast calls for the HOV lanes on the 5 to open in 2021, the soundwalls to be completed in 2019 and for the additional lane on the southbound side of the SR-71 to be done in 2021 and the lane on the northbound 71 to be finished in 2028.

 

Board of Directors motion asks Metro to make renewed effort on public-private parnterships to fund transpo projects

Interesting motion above that was approved today by the Metro Board. My read on the motion: it’s three members of the Metro Board — Eric Garcetti, Michael D. Antonovich and Diane DuBois — asking Metro to step up its game when it comes to developing public-private partnerships to help fund and build transportation projects.

As the name implies, public-private partnerships are financial agreements between public agencies and private companies. There are several variations of PPPs but generally speaking it means a private firm fronts some of the money to build a project and then is paid back later, sometimes from revenues created by the project.

Metro has a PPP program that has already identified five big projects that might make for good PPPs — the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor (which could involve building a rail line under the Pass to connect the Westside and the San Fernando Valley, a very pricey idea), the High Desert Corridor, the 710 South and 710 North projects and a project that would construct congestion pricing lanes on the 5 freeway in the Santa Clarita area. But no deals have been finalized.

It’s hard to discuss PPPs without mentioning what’s happening in the Denver metro area, where voters in 2004 approved a sales tax increase to fund a big transit expansion. A PPP is being used there to build some of the commuter rail projects — including the 22-mile line that will connect downtown Denver and Denver International Airport.

Sound familiar? It should. Both Antonovich and Garcetti have made repeated public statements about the importance of connecting Metro Rail to LAX via the Airport Metro Connector project — a project that will likely need funding beyond the scope of Measure R to be fully realized.

Northbound I-5 still closed due to tanker truck accident

Northbound I-5 at SR-2 remains closed after a tanker fire this past Saturday damaged the tunnel beneath I-5. Here’s the latest from Caltrans on what’s open and what’s closed:

OPEN
Northbound I-5 is open at Glendale Boulevard.
The northbound SR-2 connector to southbound I-5 is open.
Southbound SR-2 is open through Glendale Boulevard.
The southbound SR-2 to southbound I-5 connector is open.

CLOSED
Northbound I-5 (all lanes) is closed at SR-2. The detour is northbound SR-2 to westbound SR-134 and back to northbound I-5.
The northbound I-5 connector to southbound SR-2 is closed.
The northbound SR-2 connector to northbound I-5 is closed.
The two left lanes of southbound I-5 are closed from Los Feliz to Stadium Way.

To detour around the affected northbound I-5 area, use the westbound SR-134. It is highly recommended that travelers take transit instead. The Metro Gold Line, Metrolink Ventura County Line and Antelope Valley Line all pass through downtown Los Angeles.

On the Gold Line, the Del Mar Station is recommended for those who want to park and ride. Parking is available at a discounted rate of $2/day to those who show their TAP card.

Metrolink recommends using the Glendale Station or Downtown Burbank Station to access the Ventura County Line and Antelope Valley Line. Visit their site to find out more information on parking availability.

Those who can should also try to telecommute or rideshare for the time being to avoid driving in the area.

Public hearing next week on proposal to build HOT lanes on I-5 in Santa Clarita area

I-5 HOT lanes meeting notice

The meeting notice is above; the meeting is from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. this Thursday, March 28, at Santa Clarita City Hall in the Council chambers.

The project proposes to accelerate the construction of 13.5 miles of HOV lanes by making them HOT lanes — i.e. lanes in which vehicles with one or two occupants would pay a toll (the toll would apply to two-occupant vehicles only at peak hours). Here’s a post with many more details about the project.

The hearing is required because the project’s environmental study, completed in 2009, must be amended to include the newly-proposed HOT lanes.

Groundbreaking held for another project to widen I-5 freeway between 605 and Orange County border

Public officials at the groundbreaking this morning including Metro Board Members Diane DuBois and Don Knabe in the center of the frame. Photo by Luis Inzunza/Metro.

Public officials at the groundbreaking this morning including Metro Board Members Diane DuBois and Don Knabe in the center of the frame. Photo by Luis Inzunza/Metro.

The project that broke ground this morning will widen the 5 freeway for 1.2 miles between Shoemaker and Silverbow avenues by adding a general purpose lane and HOV lane in both directions. The project will also widen three bridges over the freeway — at Shoemaker, Rosecrans and Bloomfield. Metro is contributing $42 million of the $214 million cost of the project, with Metro’s money coming from Prop C (1990) and Measure R (2008) sales tax increases approved by county voters.

This is one of six projects that will add a general purpose lane and a carpool lane to the 5 freeway for seven miles in both directions from the 605 freeway junction to the border between L.A. and Orange counties. That border is a well-known bottleneck — Orange County has widened the 5 and added a carpool lane whereas the 5 remains three or four lanes north of the county line. The completion date for all of the projects is 2016.

Below is the program from today’s ceremony and a project map. The news release from Caltrans is posted after the jump.

groundbreaking program I5

Click above to see larger image.

Click above to see larger image.

Click above to see larger image.

And here’s a project map:

SouthProjects_Rosecrans-OverviewDetails1203

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Official ribbon cutting held for HOV direct connector between 5 and 14 freeways

Officials cut the ribbon on the new HOV connector this morning. Rep. Tony Cardenas is holding the scissors. Photos by Luiz Inzunza/Metro.

Officials cut the ribbon on the new HOV connector this morning. Rep. Tony Cardenas is holding the scissors. Photos by Luiz Inzunza/Metro.

The blue pin shows the new connector that allows motorists to travel between the HOV lanes on the 5 and 14 freeways. Photo: Google Maps.

The blue pin shows the new connector that allows motorists to travel between the HOV lanes on the 5 and 14 freeways. Photo: Google Maps.

The long-awaited connector allows motorists in the HOV lanes on the 5 and 14 freeways to remain in the HOV lanes while traveling between the two freeways. It opened in late December and a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Friday morning to celebrate the project, which began in 2008 and cost $175.8 million.

“A major investment in North County benefitting Santa Clarita and Antelope Valleys, the I-5/SR-14 direct HOV connector will improve safety, traffic flow and air quality at this major bottleneck in our regional freeway system,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, Chairman of the Metro Board of Directors.  “We need more direct HOV connectors from the 5 to the 405 and 134 to link the North County HOV system to the rest of Southern California–as far away as San Juan Capistrano and San Bernardino–in the next 5 years.”

Glendale Councilman and Metro Board Member Ara Najarian speaks at this morning's event.

Glendale Councilman and Metro Board Member Ara Najarian speaks at this morning’s event.

Four years later: the status of major Measure R highway and road projects

Work earlier this year on the 5-14 HOV lane connector project that is receiving Measure R funding. Photo: Caltrans District 7.

I posted an update last week on the transit projects funded by Measure R. Some of the major road projects get their turn today.

The following list just looks at some of the major road projects that are benefiting from Measure R dollars. Many other smaller projects around Los Angeles County ranging from median improvements to repaving have been completed or are underway.

And that doesn’t count the dozens of smaller road projects that will be paid for by the 15 percent of Measure R revenues returned to local cities for use on transportation-related projects and expenses.

I-5 HOV: The project to construct one carpool/HOV lane in both directions between the 134 and 170 freeways is under construction.

I-5/SR-14 HOV Direct Connector: The project is under construction and is building ramps that will allow carpoolers to travel between the 5 and 14 freeways without leaving the HOV lane.

I-5 Carmenita Road Interchange Project: The widening of the 5 freeway on either side of the Carmenita Road overpass is under construction.

I-5 North County Capacity Enhancements: Truck lanes between the 14 freeway and Pico Canyon are under construction. Other improvements, including more truck lanes and freeway improvements, are in the study and planning phases.

South Bay Operational Improvements: The project will help fund a number of on- and off-ramp improvements (such as widenings, auxiliary lanes and metering) primarily in Carson, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Lawndale, Redondo Beach and Torrance, as well as parts of the city and county of Los Angeles. Some improvements are under construction; many others will be built between 2013 and 2015.

I-5 Widening I-605 to Orange County Line: The project will add one general and one HOV lane in both directions for 6.4 miles. The project is in its final design phase and will be built in six segments. The Alondra segment is under construction and construction contracts were just awarded for segments three and four.

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I-5 South Corridor braces for second wave of congestion-busting improvements

Officials break ground March 19 to launch the I-5 HOV Widening and Alondra Boulevard Bridge Project, the second of six segments of the I-5 South Corrdior Improvement Projects.

Officials break ground March 19 to launch the I-5 HOV Widening and Alondra Boulevard Bridge Project, the second of six segments of the I-5 South Corrdior Improvement Projects.

Caltrans and Metro announced Monday that construction will begin on the I-5 Widening and Alondra Boulevard Bridge Project, the second segment of the I-5 South Corridor Improvement Project that runs from the Los Angeles/Orange County Line to the I-605. Last fall, Caltrans began the first of six I-5 corridor improvement projects totaling more than $1 billion; some of the funding is coming from Measure R.

The $110-million Alondra Boulevard Bridge project will add one carpool lane and one general purpose lane in each direction from North Fork Coyote Creek to Marquardt Avenue, a distance of nearly a mile. The project also includes reconstructing two bridges at Alondra and North Fork Coyote Creek to accommodate a wider freeway, redesigned ramp structures and realigning Firestone Boulevard and Freeway Drive frontage roads.

The Alondra Boulevard Bridge Project is expected to be completed by mid-2015.

The Alondra Boulevard Bridge spans the 1-5 South Corridor in Santa Fe Springs. An estimated 220,000 vehicles travel this section daily.

The Alondra Boulevard Bridge spans the 1-5 South Corridor in Santa Fe Springs. An estimated 220,000 vehicles travel this section daily.

The art of transit

photo by johnsnape, via Flickr  

I know what you’re thinking: this photo was taken during Carmageddon in July. Nope — look a little closer. This is San Diego County — see the exit to the 8 freeway. How did the photographer get the shot? He kept the shutter open for five seconds with an aperture of f/16 and an ISO of 100. The long exposure made the cars disappear — a neat trick. I know another way to help accomplish this is to use a darkened filter to allow for longer exposures needed to make the moving objects in the frame vanish. Fun. This photo was taken with a Canon EOS REBEL T2i.

To submit a photo for the Art of Transit, post it to Metro’s Flickr group, email it to sourcemetro@gmail.com or Tweet it to @metrolosangeles with an #artoftransit hashtag. Many of the photos we’ve featured can be seen in these galleries on Flickr.