U.S. Conference of Mayors backs America Fast Forward

The U.S. Conference of Mayors last week voted to back a resolution by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti that “urges Congress to create a new category of qualified tax credit bonds to fund $45 billion over 10 years for transportation to stimulate infrastructure investment.”

Not exactly earth-shaking news. But it’s good news nonetheless.

Let me explain. Metro has been pursuing the America Fast Forward (AFF) initiative for four-plus years. AFF includes two parts: an expanded federal loan program and a new bond program.

The loan program — called TIFIA — was expanded by Congress in 2012. TIFIA loans help provide local transit agencies such as Metro with low-interest loans that can be used to help pay for big, expensive projects — and, in fact, TIFIA loans are being used to help finance the building of the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the first phase of the Purple Line Extension and the Regional Connector.

The bond program has been garnering support, but Congress still hasn’t made it part of a multi-year transportation funding bill. In a nutshell: those who invest in transportation bonds receive federal tax credits instead of interest, a good way for investors to lower their tax burden and a good way for transportation agencies to save on interest costs.

america-fast-forward-bonds

Will Congress go for it? Hard to say as partisan politics have prevented Congress from approving of a truly long-term transportation funding bill since a four-year bill was signed into law by President Bush in 2005. That bill expired in 2009, was extended several times and then replaced by a two-year bill in 2012 that expires this year.

Earlier this year, President Obama released a bill proposal that embraced the AFF bond program as well as the TIFIA program. Congress hasn’t exactly embraced the President’s bill but there have been indications of support for the AFF bond program. In the meantime, mayors continue to push Congress to do something, as many cities are trying to expand transit systems and need help financing pricey projects.

As Mayor Garcetti wrote about the Conference, “As gridlock continues to paralyze our federal government, it’s America’s mayors who are increasingly leading the charge to improve quality of life across this country.”

Transportation headlines, Thursday, April 24

Have a transportation-related article you think should be included in headlines? Drop me an email! And don’t forget, Metro is on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Pick your social media poison! 

The people mover at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. Photo by David Wilson, via Flickr creative commons.

ART OF TRANSIT: The people mover at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. Photo by David Wilson, via Flickr creative commons.

Freeway toll lanes seem to speed things along, somewhat (L.A. Times) 

Here’s the top of the story, which provides a good summary of the preliminary analysis of the ExpressLanes that was released this week:

The first comprehensive analysis of Los Angeles County’s experimental toll lanes indicates the pay-to-drive routes made some rush-hour commutes faster and less painful, both in the toll lanes and in the free lanes, but made little to no difference for many drivers battling morning traffic.

According to an independent report prepared for federal transportation officials, the toll lanes along the 110 and 10 freeways didn’t significantly change overall traffic speeds during peak periods for drivers using either the tollway or the general lanes.

But for individual drivers on the freeways at certain times, the experimental lanes may have made a significant difference: Drivers heading west on the 10 Freeway toll lanes at 7:30 a.m. may have driven up to 18 mph faster than they could have before the tollway opened, the report said. But on the northbound 110 Freeway at 8 a.m., commuters in the free lanes crept toward downtown Los Angeles at 21 mph, the same speed as before the lanes opened.

The Metro Board is scheduled to today to consider whether extending operation of the ExpressLanes beyond January 2015.

In related news, the Los Angeles Newspaper Group has an editorial saying it’s too soon to continue the ExpressLanes. Excerpt:

As it is now, the MTA has authority to run toll programs along the two freeways through January 2015. There’s a bill in the Legislature that would extend that authority and open the possibility of proposing more toll roads.

The legislation by California Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, could be a game changer for the MTA, which has previously floated the idea of a toll lane on the 405 Freeway.

It’s going before some key legislative committees next week, so there’s a push by MTA staffers to get the board to back an extension. An affirmative vote would bolster the bill, SB 1298, which has already gained the support of the board.

Also, RAND’s Martin Wachs (a senior researcher) and UCLA’s Brian Taylor (Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies) have an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Register arguing that the Metro Board should make the ExpressLanes permanent. Excerpt:

HOT lanes carry more people with less delay than other lanes, and can be added at lower cost and disruption than most alternatives. An independent consultant to the Federal Highway Administration issued a report last week showing that these lanes have improved transit service and given drivers more choices. Unlike other new highway lanes, they also raise needed revenues for transit improvements from drivers voluntarily paying tolls. Most importantly, HOT lanes increase the choices available to travelers, who can drive in regular lanes for free, pay for faster and more reliable driving during rush hours, opt for the improved express bus service financed by the tolls, or join new toll-subsidized van pools.

The FHWA study found that during the short demonstration period, in addition to those already having them, nearly 260,000 new drivers were issued transponders. While average driving speeds changed only slightly in both the express lanes and general lanes during the peak hours, travel time reliability was a principal benefit for HOT lane users.

Bait bikes ready to nab S.F. bike thieves (SFist) 

Gotta love this:

The bike theft unit of the San Francisco police department took to Craigslist on Tuesday with a post titled, “We Have Our Bait Bikes Out.” Complete with a snazzy decal of a creepy cycling skeleton, the ad warns of GPS-laden bikes that the cops will track. And if you sell a stolen bike, the po-po threaten to toss you in jail and plaster your face “all over social media.” 

The SFPD isn’t saying how many bikes actually have GPS devices installed in them. Nor does it say if clever thieves can de-activate or destroy the GPS. The idea is to instill a kernel of doubt in those who steal.

Off the bus, but pressing on (USDOT Fast Lane blog) 

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says that President Obama will soon release a detailed proposal for a multiyear federal transportation spending bill. The current bill expires this year and Congress hasn’t yet agreed on the next one. Metro is certainly watching this one closely, hoping the bill includes both a loan and bond program that are key to the America Fast Forward program to expand federal funding for transportation projects.

Security cameras help transit agencies fight crime (Transit Wire) 

A short and unskeptical article but with some interesting info about efforts to use cameras to deter crime or enforce rules in both Portland and Chicago.

 

Graphic: New Starts funding for Metro over the years — and finally on the rise again!

New Starts Appropriations Graph

The above graphic is certainly worth a look. It shows the amount of federal New Starts money received by Metro on an annual basis since 1993. New Starts is a federal program that helps local transit agencies pay for big, expensive projects and most of the money shown above went to the existing Red/Purple Line subway and the Eastside Gold Line.

The graphic is also missing a critical piece of good news. President Obama’s proposed transportation budget for fiscal year 2015 (which begins Oct. 1, 2014), which was announced today, includes $100 million for the Regional Connector and $100 million for the Purple Line Extension. If the budget is approved by Congress, the $200 million in New Starts money for Metro would be the most received in any given year.

The $100 million for the Regional Connector is part of the eventual $670 million in New Starts money that the project will receive. That was the big news a couple of weeks ago when Metro and the U.S. Department of Transportation finalized the New Starts deal. A similar deal for $1.25 billion in funding for the Purple Line Extension project should also be completed soon. Both projects are also drawing on funds from Measure R, the local sales tax increase approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008.

Stepping back, let’s look at the big picture. The Connector and Purple Line Extension also plan to use federally-backed TIFIA loans that will help Metro get lower interest rates than if they borrowed money for construction at market rates. That’s significant because it shows the degree to which the federal government under President Obama is getting involved in helping local areas build transit. It may not all be grant money — i.e. money Metro doesn’t have to pay back — but the loans still help Metro take on less debt and thus spend less on already pricey projects.

The loans are part of Metro’s America Fast Forward [AFF] proposal that has found its way into President Obama’s proposal for a multi-year transportation funding bill. AFF would expand the loan program and also create federally-subsidized bonds that local agencies could use when building projects. And that’s what I want readers to understand: the loans, the bonds, the New Starts money and Measure R combined — that’s the big kahuna here, folks. Those four things together give Metro the resources to build the expanded transit network many readers here want.

Finally, and on a very related note, I wanted to pass along a thank you from Metro officials to President Obama and Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein for helping Metro secure the federal funds and advocating for expanded transit funding in Los Angeles and other cities across the nation.

Both parts of America Fast Forward initiative are in President Obama’s proposal for four-year transportation bill!

Earlier today in Minnesota, President Obama announced his proposal for a four-year transportation spending bill that would include both parts of Metro’s America Fast Forward initiative. If Congress was to vote the bill into law — and that’s a big ‘if’ — that could be a boon to Metro and other transit agencies around the nation that would have new financial tools to use when building big, pricey transportation projects.

Photo: Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Photo: Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

America Fast Forward includes two components. The first is a federally-backed loan program called TIFIA that is designed to give agencies access to loans with interest rates lower than can be found on the open market.

The second part is a bond program described in the graphic below. In a nutshell: those who invest in transportation bonds receive federal tax credits instead of interest, a good way for investors to lower their tax burden and a good way for transportation agencies to save on interest costs.

america-fast-forward-bonds

The hope at Metro is to potentially use a combination of TIFIA loans, America Fast Forward bonds, some federal New Starts money (New Starts is a grant program in which the federal government matches local funds to help build big projects) and Measure R tax revenues to accelerate transit projects — in particular the second- and third-decade Measure R projects. Some of those projects: an extension of the Eastside Gold Line, the Airport Metro Connector, the South Bay Green Line Extension and the second and third phases of the Purple Line Extension.

Of course, it should be noted that President Obama’s bill proposal is just that — a proposal.  Transportation bills are designed to guide spending over several years but they have been contentious in Congress in recent years. A four-year bill that expired in 2009 was temporarily extended more than 10 times before Congress in 2012 voted to approve a new two-year bill, which expires at the end of September.

So we’ll see — getting bills approved by Congress is never an easy task. Nonetheless, the fact that President Obama has included both parts of America Fast Forward into his proposal is good news for Metro and officials I spoke with here today expressed their extreme gratitude for the President’s recognition of the program.

Click here to see the entire bill proposal on the White House website.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti: The urban transit revolution depends on federal dollars

The following op-ed was written by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who also serves as the Vice chair of the Metro Board of Directors: 

The Urban Transit Revolution Depends on Federal Dollars 

By: Eric Garcetti

Too often, the story of Los Angeles is written by pundits who are focused on talking about this city as the car capital of the world;  there are a few storytellers, however, that have begun to tell a different story.  Last month, the L.A. Times featured a story on a new L.A., a city with a new identity and with an evolving network of transportation options creating the so-called “urban reawakening.”

CroppedHeadshot_qualityIn my first six months of office, I laid the foundation for an agenda that is focused on a “back to basics” approach.  It prioritizes the basic delivery of those city services and policies that improve our neighborhoods – including the creation of more sustainable, walkable, and transit-connected communities.

In the U.S., 81 percent of our people now live in urban areas — a number that has grown in recent times.  In California, 95 percent of us live in cities.  Mobility is the lifeblood of cities.  The ability to move people and goods allows us to compete for jobs with cities across the global economy.

On my first trip to Washington D.C. as Mayor, I met with President Barack Obama and with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx to advocate for nearly $2 billion of transit funds from a federal program called New Starts.  These funds would help pay for the construction of the Regional downtown Connector and the first phase of the Purple Line projects.  They will transform Metro’s growing transit system, making it easier for riders to reach jobs and popular destinations along Wilshire Boulevard, to and from downtown and across Los Angeles — the underground Connector will tie together the Blue, Expo, and Gold lines for a one-seat ride connection.

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Metro Board meeting preview: several items — including project acceleration — could determine how billions of dollars are spent

June Board meeting agenda

The Metro Board of Directors meeting on Thursday should be both interesting and longer than a cold winter’s night with a broken furnace and no firewood, matches or a blanket. The Board has a lot on its collective plate, including several items that taken together will determine how billions — yes, billions — of dollars will be spent by Metro in the coming years.

As it happens, the items are also indirectly or directly related so please allow yours truly to attempt to explain how the pieces of the puzzle fit together:

ITEM 52 The Board will consider awarding a $1,272,632,356 contract to Walsh/Shea Corridor Contractors to build the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the 8.5-mile light rail line between the Expo Line and Green Line. The Board voted last month to add two optional stations to the project at Leimert Park and Hindry before the staff contract recommendation had been released.

As it happens, the cost of the contract was higher than expected, in part because of the cost of the new stations. That, in turn, has resulted in the overall cost of the project increasing to $2.058 billion. That also means that Metro has to put aside more contingency money — specifically, $160 million.

In order to cover that cost, staff has proposed moving some Measure R funds around: $47 million from the South Bay’s ramps and interchanges project, $47 million from the Airport Metro Connector project, $55 million from the Call for Projects for the Central Area and $10 million from the Wilshire Bus Lane project (an older project not to be confused with the peak hour bus lanes that are scheduled to fully open in 2014). STAFF REPORT

Please keep reading — much more after the jump! 

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Los Angeles Transportation Headlines, Monday, June 24

Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the Library’s Transportation Headlines online newspaper, which you can also access via email subscription (visit the newspaper site) or RSS feed.

ART OF TRANSIT: I accepted my own Metro Full Moon Challenge and came up with this un-good shot taken at the Gold Line's Fillmore station in Pasadena last night. The Source gladly accepts photos of the full moon over Metro buses, trains or other facilities.

ART OF TRANSIT: I accepted my own Metro Full Moon Challenge and came up with this un-good shot taken at the Gold Line’s Fillmore station in Pasadena last night. The Source gladly accepts photos of the full moon over Metro buses, trains or other facilities.

L.A. County cities fight over Metro plans for new trains (San Gabriel Valley Tribune) 

The Measure R project acceleration plan to be considered by the Metro Board of Directors on Thursday has received mixed support from cities in Los Angeles County. The Gateway Cities have voted against it while cities in the San Gabriel Valley are mixed. The southern ones want to see the Eastside Gold Line Extension accelerated while the northern ones are fighting to get a $1-billion Gold Line segment from Azusa to Claremont funded and built as part of the plan. Such parochial fights have been ongoing for years and years and years and it’s rare to see officials quoted in such articles acknowledge the importance of building a viable rail network connecting the county’s major job centers.

Leader editorial: station will brighten Bob Hope Airport’s future (Burbank Leader) 

The Leader is pleased that a platform to serve the Bob Hope Airport will be built to serve Metrolink’s Antelope Valley Line; currently only the Ventura County Line has an airport station. The editorial hopes the new station is part of the airport’s revival as passenger loads have slipped in recent years due to a wheezy economy, the loss of American Airlines service and a decline in flights by Jet Blue. Here’s our post about Friday’s ceremony. The platform is forecast to open in 2015.

When Santa Monica was still Oshkosh-By-The-Sea (Zocalo Public Square) 

Fun and informative piece by the organizer Ernie Powell who spent many years living in Santa Monica — years when it was a lot scruffier than now. The article does a good job explaining the mindset of a place. Excerpt:

Maybe you think of Santa Monica as a place of sea breezes and ocean beaches, of suntans and surf. But for me the core of Santa Monica is the apartment. Over 60 percent of the residents are renters, and many are combatants in a miniature class war that never stops. They are haunted by one question: Will someone try and take my apartment away? If you understand that simple fact, you’ll appreciate a lot of what makes the town tick.

I lived near Main Street in Santa Monica between 1996 and 2003 — a time when the town didn’t seem to change much. I go back now and am surprised at the amount of new development, not to mention construction on the Expo Line, something I quite frankly never thought would happen. Ever. The growing wealth of the area is hard to ignore but I’m pleasantly surprised, too, that there’s still scruff to be found.

Here is the Metro staff report on new project acceleration plan to be considered by agency’s Board of Directors this month

Metro project acceleration plan

The Metro Board of Directors this month will consider a project acceleration plan that, on average, would lop an average of 10 years off the time it takes to build second and third decade Measure R transit and road projects. It’s a big deal for many reasons — the foremost being that it could allow the taxpaying public to enjoy the investments they’ve made in local transportation a lot sooner than originally planned.

The Metro staff report that explains the plan is above.

In order to best explain the plan being proposed by Metro staff, it helps first to understand two fundamental truths about Measure R, the half-penny sales tax increase approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008.

The plus side of Measure R was that it provided funding to a long list of transit and road projects, many of which were long sought by the region but lacked funding. Measure R remedied that — and is the reason that five new rail lines will be under construction simultaneously by the middle of this decade along with a host of highway projects, including the widening of the I-5 between the 605 and the Orange County line.

Measure R, however, also posed a challenge. The sales tax would last for 30 years — from July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2039 – and the construction of projects it funded were staggered over that three decade span. The third phase of the Purple Line Extension, for example, is currently scheduled to open in the mid-2030s, meaning the future children of current Bruins may be able take the train to campus. In other words, it’s a long time from now. The is true not just for the Purple Line, but for other lines to the Eastside, the South Bay, Southern L.A. County, the Westside and the San Fernando Valley as well.

It’s precisely for this reason that the Metro Board of Directors adopted a policy in 2010 to accelerate projects if possible under the America Fast Forward plan, which proposed an expansion of low cost federal loans for transportation nationwide. Besides the obvious benefit of getting to ride or drive on projects earlier, acceleration may also allow Metro to save on construction and borrowing costs (recently both have been at historic lows due the Great Recession but may now be starting to rise) and to create much-needed jobs.

I’ll better explain the new acceleration plan in a moment, but first a very important caveat: Approval by the Board doesn’t guarantee that any transit or road project would be accelerated. Ultimately, the plan will depend on Metro’s ability to secure loans and bonds from the federal America Fast Forward program, as well as federal New Starts money. In other words, Congress and President Obama must act to expand the amount of loans and bonds available to transit agencies around the United States and to provide federal New Starts to Los Angeles County.

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Transportation headlines, Thursday, June 6

Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the Library’s Headlines blog, which you can also access via email subscription or RSS feed.

Grove developer wants to extend trolley beyond shopping center (L.A. Times) 

The trolley at the Grove. Photo by Prayitno, via Flickr creative commons.

The trolley at the Grove. Photo by Prayitno, via Flickr creative commons.

Rick Caruso says he wants the trolley that ferries people around the Grove to possibly run all the way to the Beverly Center, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the new movie museum being installed at Wilshire and Fairfax — where there will be a future Purple Line Extension subway station. He also says he’s willing to put some of his money behind such an effort.

Not so fast, says others. One prominent homeowner group says no way, there’s already too much traffic on local streets without streetcars and railroad tracks. And the city of Los Angeles says an environmental review would be needed.

As for Caruso, he wrongly cites the cost of the subway to the sea (his words, not ours) at $1 billion and the Times fails to bother to correct him. The cost is $6.3 billion to build nine miles to Westwood if the project is not accelerated. And he seems to suggest that putting people underground in our balmy climate is somehow inappropriate and that it would be better to move them at street level.

All that said, it is absolutely an interesting idea precisely because of the fact that the new subway station is being built and it would surely help ridership if the subway offers easy connections to businesses and homes along/near Fairfax and Beverly Boulevard (of course, the Metro Rapid 780 bus stops at both Wilshire/Fairfax and Fairfax/3rd). The current forecast is that the first segment of the Purple Line Extension will open in late 2022, so if the city of Los Angeles is serious about anything, the time to get moving is now.

Developer has big plans for Macy Plaza (L.A. Times) 

The fortress-like shopping mall along 7th Street is scheduled for a serious makeover that would open it to the street — i.e. shops would be accessible from the street, not from inside the building. The current glass roof over the atrium would also go.

The reporter also weirdly says that plans are to connect a new plaza to a “planned subway station.” What the what? The existing 7th/Metro Center station is across the street. Yikes. Not a good day for transit facts in the Los Angeles Times!

At DTLA Rising, Brigham Yen elaborates on why this is an exciting proposal — and he’s especially happy about the prospect of an underground connection between the station that serves the Red, Purple, Blue and Expo lines and the mall.

Dodgers owner says it’s trying to bring second sport to Chavez Ravine (Curbed LA, following L.A. Times)

In a court filing related to former team owner Frank McCourt’s divorce, Guggenheim Sports Management says that it’s in sensitive negotiations with a major entity over the use of the land around Dodger Stadium. The Times broke the story and Curbed does a nice job of summing it up. The major entity is likely the National Football League, which has long coveted the site over existing stadiums in the region and other potential sites (next to Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles or the City of Industry, a site that will have 25,000 parking spaces according to its developer).

Here’s what I don’t get. The owners of Dodger Stadium and its acres of parking lots certainly have the right to pursue plans for their property. But it would sure be nice to know what the people of Los Angeles want and to have that solidified in the city’s zoning code. As I’ve written many times, Dodger Stadium and Chavez Ravine are far removed from the core of downtown Los Angeles, separated by topography, the 110 and 101 freeways and the street grid. I’m unaware of anyone having plans at this time to extend rail service to the stadium, a proposition that is both very expensive and somewhat impractical given that the ballpark is only used relatively few hours out of the year.

On a related note, have fun finding the words “City of Industry” on the “Los Angeles Stadium” website.

25 ideas for transforming Los Angeles (Frying Pan News)

Occidental professor Peter Dreier has a robust list of things-to-do for the mayor-elect, including transportation. Excerpt:

Los Angeles outgrew its suburban roots years ago when the freeways became parking lots. Now Los Angeles needs to grow up around transit stops. Making public transit a real possibility for people trapped in their cars means both building up Los Angeles’ bus and rail system and building up the areas within walking distance of that system.

Los Angeles needs to grow up around transit stops.

In recent years, traffic flows have improved, and new rapid bus routes are in place. The city is now in the early stages of a large-scale expansion of public transportation, which will be the largest land-use change in the city since the build-out of the freeway system. Garcetti’s job will be to help manage land-use policies around that expansion so that they create livable, walkable neighborhoods and maximize use of the transit system, thereby reducing traffic congestion, pollution and harmful gas emissions. Such goals require that working families and core transit riders be able to live around the transit stops and do not get displaced or shut out of those areas by rising rents and home prices.

The success of Measure R in 2008, the “30-10” plan to accelerate implementation of our transit revolution and the 66 percent “yes” vote on Measure J in 2012 (just short of the two-third needed for passage) demonstrate that Los Angeles voters are ready to invest in a transportation transformation. Garcetti should build on this voter trust – and on the partnership between elected officials and labor, business, environmental and community groups – to expand our transit system into one that is robust, environmentally sustainable and financially sound, and that contributes to economic prosperity.

 

Hard to argue with that! One note: The 30/10 plan was renamed America Fast Forward a couple of years ago to help build its national appeal. Congress approved part of the plan by expanding a federal loan program known as TIFIA in the most recent multi-year federal transportation bill. Metro is currently lobbying Congress to adopt the other equally important half that would give transit agencies access to interest-free loans in exchange for tax credits for those who invest in the bonds. Here’s a more detailed explanation.

Support for America Fast Forward bonds program is coast-to-coast with a lot in between

130528_13_2065_ntc_America_Supp_AFF_v3

 

bond2

 

Here’s a new graphic from Metro showing the growing support for the bond part of the America Fast Forward program that Congress will hopefully adopt this year. And here’s the update from Metro’s government relations squad:

Last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined over 100 mayors from across the United States in encouraging the United States Congress to back our agency’s America Fast Forward Transportation Bond initiative. America Fast Forward Transportation Bonds represent a new class of qualified tax credit bonds that would, if enacted into federal law, significantly increase transportation infrastructure investments across the nation. Support for the initiative is bi-partisan in nature, including from Scott Smith, the Vice-President of the Conference of Mayors. Mayor Smith is a Republican who is currently the mayor of Mesa, Arizona. Please find here a map that illustrates the broad array of America’s mayors in support of America Fast Forward Transportation Bonds.

 

Here’s an earlier post that better explains the bond program. The gist of it: these are bonds that would come without interest for transit agencies, a potential savings of millions of dollars on big projects.