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.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, December 17

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!

ART OF TRANSIT: Sea gull-like view of a Metro bus, courtesy of our Instagram feed.

Residents living near Expo Line reduce car use, study says (L.A. Times) 

The article builds on the USC study released Monday that found that among a sampling of households within a half-mile of the Expo Line, use of the new rail line has tripled and car use has fallen by 40 percent. Excerpt:

The Expo Line’s second phase will open to the Westside in 2016. When that happens, attorney Aryan Shommetoub expects to take the train and the Big Blue Bus from his home in Baldwin Hills to a branch courthouse in Westwood.

“It’s a treat to be able to take the line to work, when I can,” Shommetoub said. He still often drives, but takes the section of the Expo Line that opened last year when he has meetings or court appearances near downtown.

After the Expo Line opened, households living within a half-mile of the stations saw a 30% reduction in their carbon emissions, the study said. Although some people had purchased more fuel-efficient cars, Boarnet said, researchers chalked up the difference to people driving less.

It’s an interesting study, for sure — and not entirely surprising. As reporter Laura Nelson notes, perhaps the study’s most relevant findings are that stations near bus stops with frequent service and roads that aren’t overly wide also are key factors in encouraging ridership.

The first phase of the Expo Line is interesting for another reason. Many of the stations — particularly west of USC — are not in areas that are big commercial centers. A lot of the stations sit amid neighborhoods with a lot of homes and apartments, making it pretty easy for residents to reach stations.

All in all, some pretty good positives although I think there’s still room for improvement when it comes to ridership. The second phase will certainly boost those numbers — as will (hopefully) more north-south bus connections from the line.

Click here to see the entire study and the accompanying news release from USC.

Foes of bullet train are gaining momentum (L.A. Times) 

The story looks at the recent Superior Court rulings that could jeopardize the issuing of state bonds needed to fund the bullet train project’s initial segment in the San Joaquin Valley. While long-time critics of the project get their shots in (surprise!), the story also notes a potential consequence for Southern California. Excerpt:

The increased uncertainty over state funding is causing jitters among some transportation planners working on major bullet-train-related projects.

The rail authority has signed agreements with the Bay Area and Southern California agencies promising more than $1 billion for local rail improvements, to be drawn from the bond money now frozen by Kenny’s ruling.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority had planned to tap those funds to help pay for $350 million in improvements to tracks at downtown’s Union Station that could be shared by high-speed and Metrolink commuter trains.

“We have to come up with a Plan B,” said Don Sepulveda, MTA’s executive officer for regional rail.

Preserving the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium (Urban Land Institute Los Angeles) 

ULI’s study on behalf of the city of Santa Monica on how best to save the old Civic Auditorium. Their recommendation: upgrade the building and develop some of the surrounding parking lots with residences, businesses, pedestrian space and other interesting uses. Sounds great — all this stuff would be near the future Expo Line station in downtown Santa Monica, the northern part of the Main Street business district, the ocean and the new and awesome Tongva Park.

Huizar plan could help activate Broadway vacancies (Downtown News)

Important story on the new city of Los Angeles planning rules announced by downtown Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar last Friday. The idea is to make it a lot easier and less expensive for businesses to redevelop the more than one million square feet in vacant space in old buildings along Broadway. This stuff is wonky but important; there’s simply no excuse for a major thoroughfare such as Broadway to look the way it does, something which Huizar recognized early in his tenure and has been trying to fix.

And remember: the Regional Connector will have a station at 2nd and Broadway!

How to screw up a street grid, Atlanta style (ATL Urbanist) 

Nice visuals show how Atlanta over the past century has made it more difficult to get around. Not a surprise. Atlanta is unofficially one of our least favorite big cities.

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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.

Explaining the other half of America Fast Forward: transportation bonds

America Fast Forward Bonds

Click above to view larger.

Metro last year scored a win when Congress adopted part of the America Fast Forward initiative, expanding a federal loan program called TIFIA that offers low-interest, government backed loans.

Metro is now pushing Congress to adopt the other half of AFF, a bond program designed to raise money to accelerate transportation projects and create jobs.

Which might sound familiar. Everyone in Congress is always talking about job creation, including President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. Metro believes AFF is a good way of tackling that issue while also dealing with a few others — expanding transit, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and ensuring that our infrastructure remains in good working order.

The bond program is a bit complex: it’s taken me a while to get my brain wrapped around it. The above graphic explains it well. In one sentence: 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.

Another way of thinking about it: the program doesn’t ask the federal government to spend directly on transportation projects. It does, however, ask the feds to forgo some tax revenues.

Metro is hoping to get the bond and loan program enshrined in the next multi-year federal transportation spending bill. The current bill expires in 2014, meaning a new bill will hopefully be approved by Congress within the next year.

Measure R bonds sold

The first set of bonds to be repaid by Measure R sales tax receipts were sold last week, according to Metro CEO Art Leahy’s daily email to staff:

Last Thursday, we sold $732 million of Measure R bonds, made up of $574 million of taxable Build America Bonds and $158 million of tax exempt bonds. Proceeds of the bonds will provide $750 million, including bond premiums, for Measure R projects. Following extensive marketing, the AAA/Aa2 rated bonds were favorably received by investors as evidenced by the nearly 2x over subscription. Because of the 35% federal subsidy, the net interest cost for the entire bond issue is approximately 3.52% as compared to an estimated 4.24% had we sold the entire amount on a tax exempt basis.

Bonds are sold in order to obtain the money to build projects now and to offset the increased cost of building them later. The alternative is to wait until Measure R receipts flow into county coffers over time — but the key word there is ‘time.’ It can take many years for enough money to accumulate to build all of the projects Metro wants to build. Here’s the list.

Pressing forward on the 30/10 Initiative

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Sen. Barbara Boxer at their discussion on the 30/10 Initiative earlier today at City Hall. To the left of the mayor are Metro CEO Art Leahy and L.A. County Federation of Labor Secretary-Treasurer Maria Elena Durazo. Photo by David Starkopf, Office of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer co-hosted a ’roundtable’ discussion on the 30/10 Initiative this afternoon at City Hall in downtown L.A.

The map shows the Measure R-funded transit projects that would be accelerated under the 30/10 Initiative. Click above for a larger image.

The point: talk about progress on the effort to secure federal loans and financing to build 12 Measure R transit projects in the next 10 years instead of the next 30. The projects are sprinkled throughout the county; among them are the Westside Subway Extension, Regional Connector, Crenshaw Line and an extension of the Eastside Gold Line.

A lot of the discussion was either technical in nature or reiterated points that attentive Source readers already know: 30/10 could indirectly create a half-million jobs in L.A. County and will likely require Congressional approval as part of the next massive transportation bill, which is likely to be taken up after the November elections.

Here are a few highlights of the discussion:

•”We expect to have good news about one of the projects or more getting accelerated within 60 days,” Boxer said, without specifying which project or projects is the candidate. All I can say for sure is that the projects farthest along in the planning stages are likely the most serious candidates and those projects, in alphabetical order, are the Crenshaw Line, the Foothill Extension of the Gold Line to Azusa, the Orange Line extension to Chatsworth, the Regional Connector and the Westside Subway Extension.

•The best quote came from Villaraigosa, explaining his intent to continue pressing hard on 30/10 during his last three years as mayor. “I’ve got three years left, I’m not going out on a cot here. I want to go out on a train.” Continue reading