Regional Connector design-build contractor recommended by Metro staff

Metro staff recommends a $927.2-million design/build contract with Regional Connector Constructors (a Joint Venture between Skanska USA Civil West California District, Inc., and Traylor Bros. Inc.) to build the Regional Connector project. The staff report is above.

The 1.9-mile underground rail line, forecast to be complete in 2020, will connect the Gold Line to the Blue and Expo lines and allow trains to travel directly from Azusa to Long Beach and from East Los Angeles to Santa Monica. This should speed trips through downtown and reduce the number of transfers for most riders.

The project is partially funded by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008.

The Board of Directors will consider the contract recommendation at their Construction Committee meeting on Thursday at 10:15 a.m. in the Board Room at Metro headquarters, adjacent to Union Station. The full Board is scheduled to consider the contract at its meeting on Thursday, April 24, at 9:30 a.m.

After the contract is awarded, the Regional Connector will be the fourth rail project now under construction, joining the Crenshaw/LAX Line, Expo Line Phase 2 and the Gold Line Foothill Extension. The Purple Line Extension contract is expected to be awarded this summer and it will be the fifth rail project in Los Angeles under construction because of Measure R. In addition, Metro has begun receiving the first of 550 new state-of-the-art buses and is spending $1.2 billion to overhaul the Metro Blue Line, including the purchase of new light rail vehicles.

map_corridor_reg_conn_eng

“Inspire Your Fire” at the Festival of Books and save 10% on official merchandise with Metro

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From 2013 Festival of Books. Photo: Anna Chen/Metro

The L.A. Times Festival of Books takes over USC this weekend with music, food, films, books, books and more books! The event is free to attend; hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Getting to the Festival of Books without driving is a snap. Metro has three rail stations that serve the USC area off the Expo Line: Jefferson/USC, Expo Park/USC and Expo/Vermont. Both the Blue and Expo lines will see enhanced service during event hours to accommodate attendees. The Metro Silver Line also drops off at 37th/USC, and another option for those starting their trips from DTLA is the DASH F.

Due to the Patsaouras Plaza closure this weekend, the free Festival Shuttle Bus will be picking up passengers from Union Station at Cesar Chavez/Alameda. Connect with the shuttle via the Gold, Purple or Red Line. Signage will be placed around Union Station directing festival attendees to the shuttle stop.

As an added bonus, those who go Metro can save 10% on official FOB merchandise! Show your valid TAP card wherever festival merchandise is sold and save on your total purchase.

Some new Expo Line Phase 2 construction pics

Progress continues on the second phase of the Measure R-funded Expo Line between Culver City and downtown Santa Monica. The folks at the Expo Line Construction Authority sent over the above photos, all taken in recent days.

Both Expo Line Phase 2 and the Gold Line Foothill Extension are more than 50 percent complete and aiming toward forecast openings in early 2016.

Meanwhile, the Crenshaw/LAX Line broke ground earlier this year — we’ll have more soon about upcoming construction activities. Utility relocation continues for the Regional Connector and Purple Line Extension with the Metro Board expected to soon consider construction contracts for both projects.

Yaroslavsky motion pushes for creation of San Fernando Valley-Westwood Express bus

We posted last month about proposed route changes for buses in the San Fernando Valley. One of the proposals is for the creation of a new 588 bus that would operate at peak hours that would run between Westwood and Nordhoff Street in North Hills, mostly along the 405 freeway and Van Nuys Boulevard. This new line still requires funding.

Supervisor and Metro Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky submitted a motion to the Metro Board today about the 588 bus; the motion was approved unanimously by the Board today and asks that staff continue the studies needed for the line and to report back to the Board in May. Here’s the text of the motion:

Motion by Director Yaroslavsky

Valley-Westside Express Bus

The San Fernando Valley and Westside are two of Los Angeles’ largest economic engines—places where millions live, shop, work and play. However, there is currently no express transit connection between the regions, which are separated by the Santa Monica Mountains.

This summer, the 405 Project is expected to complete construction and open High Occupancy Vehicle lanes that will create a new avenue for express bus service through the Sepulveda Pass.

Earlier this month, the San Fernando Valley and Westside/Central Local Service Councils held public hearings and made recommendations on proposed changes to bus service in their respective regions. Among the recommendations was the creation of Line 588, an express bus offering nonstop service through the Sepulveda Pass via the I-405 HOV lanes. The line would connect Westwood to the Orange Line and extend north along Van Nuys Boulevard to North Hills. When Phase 2 of Expo Line opens, it would extend south to meet it, providing a connection to Santa Monica, USC and downtown L.A. The proposed line received strong support from the public.

Line 588 promises an immediate solution for Metro patrons while plans for a more extensive future project through the Sepulveda Pass are being evaluated. Because funding has not yet been identified for the bus line, staff is not currently conducting the tests, studies and analyses that are needed to operate it. While efforts to fund the line continue, staff should make these preparations to ensure that Line 588 can begin serving the public as soon as possible.

I, THEREFORE, MOVE that the Board direct staff to:

1.    Prepare studies, tests and analysis for launching Line 588, an express bus connecting the San Fernando Valley and the Westside via the I-405 HOV lanes; and

2.    Report back on the status and progress of the preparations at the May, 2014 full Board meeting.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, March 25

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! 

An update on our unofficial Source bracket -- now ranked as 9.5 millionth best at ESPN. We'll do even better next weekend! (Go Bruins).

An update on our unofficial Source bracket — now ranked as 9.5 millionth best at ESPN. We’ll do even better next weekend! (Go Bruins).

General Motors misled grieving families on a lethal flaw (New York Times) 

The auto manufacturer in February issued a recall for 1.6 million Cobalts and other small vehicles, five years after it apparently knew about a flaw involving an ignition switch that could cause vehicles to suddenly lose power and the ability to deploy airbags, reports the Times. There have been 23 accidents involving 26 fatalities since 2009 involving those vehicles, with some of those accidents possibly tied to the faulty switch. G.M. does not directly dispute the NYT but says that it has evidence of 12 deaths tied to the switch problem, with the accidents all occurring in 2009 or earlier.

The most damning parts of the story include anecdotes about G.M. pressuring families to drop lawsuit – and, in fact, G.M.’s 2009 bankruptcy filing in court shielded it from liabilities before July 2009. Here’s the devastating kicker to the story:

In recent weeks, the parents of Benjamin Hair, the 20-year-old from Virginia killed in December 2009, received a postcard from G.M. announcing the recall. It was one of dozens of letters about their son’s car that the company has sent since the crash.

“How many times do I have to tell them?” his mother said. “We don’t have the car, and we don’t have our son.”

Focus in CTA crash focuses on operator fatigue, braking system (Chicago Tribune) 

The operator of a train that failed to stop at the end-of-the-line at O’Hare may have fallen asleep before the train jumped across the platform and climbed escalator stairs early Monday, according to officials. More than 30 were hurt in the crash, although none were life-threatening injuries. In the meantime, the airport’s rail station remains closed and passengers are taking a bus shuttle between the airport and the second-to-last stop on the CTA’s Blue Line.

City staff asks for permission to begin work on closure of Santa Monica Airport (Santa Monica NEXT) 

Staff are seeking the OK from the City Council to perform the kind of work that would accompany a closure of the airport in 2015– i.e. how to zone the land, studying what kind of environmental cleanup may be needed. Keep in mind that the city HAS NOT made a decision to close the airport and resistance from pilots, plane owners and the FAA would almost certainly follow. Nonetheless, interesting to see the city may soon begin mulling what other uses may be possible on the land, which is a little more than a mile south of the future Expo Line station at Exposition and Bundy.

Battle of the bike paths: L.A. River versus Ballona Creek (LA Weekly)

The Weekly gives the edge to Ballona Creek based on scenery, safety, destinations and other factors. I’ve ridden the path between the Expo Line’s La Cienega Station and Marina del Rey. It’s interesting, that’s for sure — and it’s very isolated from street life or anything else around it until you reach the Marina. The L.A. River path is interesting through the Glendale Narrows although it’s often freeway adjacent and it doesn’t directly connect to DTLA at its southern end. My three cents: both bike paths could use some work.

Preparing for the end of the world? Buy a bike (SF Weekly) 

A recent study partially funded by NASA made news for predicting the collapse of civilization in a resource-depleted world. That leads the Weekly to conclude that getting a bike will greatly help your personal mobility when we’ve run out of fuel and electricity to power cars. Bikes are also relatively easy to repair and may help you quickly escape roving bands of other humans that want to kill you.

Caltrans: state roads generally in good shape (Mercury News) 

The agency’s annual “state of the pavement” report finds that 84 percent of the roads it manages in the state are in healthy condition while 16 percent are in “poor” condition. In the Los Angeles region, 35 percent of freeway lanes are in poor condition.

Construction notice: 17th Street to be closed at Colorado for Expo Line work

17thSTreet

 

The above is from the Expo Line Construction Authority, the agency building the second phase of the light rail line between Culver City and downtown Santa Monica. There is more information about the project and photos on the Authority’s Facebook page.

Transportation headlines, Friday, March 14

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On Expo and Gold Line projects, light rail cars could be in short supply (KPCC)

Media coverage of the story posted on ZevWeb about the possibility of there not being enough light rail cars at Metro once the Expo Line Phase 2 and the Gold Line Foothill Extensions are complete. Excerpt:

Metro is in this bind because of a deal gone bad with AnsaldoBreda, the Italian contractor originally hired to make its rail cars.  That deal fell through in October of 2009, and the agency spent two more years settling on and signing a deal with a new contractor — Kinki Sharyo of Japan. Metro spokesman Marc Littman said Kinki Sharyo is essentially playing catch-up, setting a very aggressive schedule to make sure rail cars begin to arrive in the middle of 2015.

“They have a great reputation for being on time,” Littman said “They’re doing everything they can to get us the cars as quickly as they can.”

Littman said Metro expects to have 24 new rail cars by the end of 2015, with four more arriving each month after that.  He adds that once construction on the Expo and Gold Line extensions is complete, Metro must spend months testing each for safety and training operators before opening them to passengers.   Metro expects to open phase two of the Expo line in January of 2016 and the Gold Line’s Foothill Extension two months later.

Still, Metro is considering options for dealing with a potential railcar shortfall when the two new extensions open.

“One of things that we could do is shift all of our maintenance work to night so that we can squeeze more capacity out of our existing fleet during the day,” Littman said.  “It’s possible we might have to run shorter trains, or we might have to truncate service.”

I also offered a little history of this issue in yesterday’s headlines.

How many people get to work without a car in your neighborhood? (Better Institutions)

Nice series of maps by Shane Phillips that break it down by census tract in Los Angeles County. The results aren’t exactly a shocker: the tracts with the highest transit use tend to be close to downtown and the ones with fewest transit users tend to be on the county’s fringes (Malibu, Palos Verdes). Interestingly, some of the areas with low transit use will soon be getting new transit options — such as a very nice Gold Line station. I’m talking to you, Arcadia! :)

Paris offers free public transport to reduce severe smog (BBC)

A lack of wind and unseasonably warm days for late winter have conspired to produce Beijing-like smog in Paris, at times obscuring views of the Eiffel Tower. In response, officials have offered three days of free rides on transit from today through Sunday and also made bike sharing free.

Transportation headlines, Thursday, March 13

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Looming train shortage at Metro (ZevWeb) 

Metro is in a race against time. Literally. The big question tackled by this story on Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s website: will there be enough rail cars to operate enough train service on two projects under construction — Expo Line Phase 2 and the Gold Line Foothill Extension — and more than halfway complete?

Excerpt:

So, with a likely initial shortfall of about 50 train cars, the issue presents some tough decisions for Metro, all of which are likely to be unpopular with the traveling public. It could delay the new lines’ openings, operate them with shorter, more crowded trains, offer less frequent service, or redeploy cars from elsewhere in the system, thus spreading the pain more broadly.

The shortage is expected to be most severe in the first months of operation for the two new extensions, with steady improvements coming as new rail cars arrive throughout 2016. But even the prospect of a relatively short-lived disruption has been enough to strain the relationship between Metro, which will operate the lines, and the two construction authorities charged with successfully completing the projects.

Samantha Bricker, chief operating officer for the Exposition Light Rail Construction Authority, expects Expo Phase 2 to be ready for testing in the summer of 2015, which would make it possible for the line—running from Culver City to Santa Monica— to serve the public as early as December, 2015. But she’s worried that the train car shortage could impede that schedule and disappoint passengers looking forward to jumping aboard the westernmost phase of a light rail line that’s already attracting large numbers of riders.

“If these projects are done on time and there are no trains there, the public is going to go nuts,” Bricker predicted.

Metro’s Gold Line Foothill Extension, running from Pasadena to Azusa, is expected to open just two months later.  Habib Balian, chief executive officer of the Foothill Construction Authority, said he, too, is worried that his line’s opening will be delayed or marred by diminished service in the early months.

“It’s going to sit there and cobwebs are going to grow until Metro starts service, or they are going to put wimpy service on all the rail lines,” Balian said, referring to the possibility of importing rail cars from elsewhere in the system.

The problem dates back to November 2009 when negotiations between Metro and  rail car manufacturer AnsaldoBreda on a deal for new rail cars finally collapsed. Metro staff and some Metro Board members were never happy with the firm (including Yaroslavsky and Supervisor Mike Antonovich, perhaps most prominently) which had previously delivered flawed rail cars to Metro under an earlier contract. Despite this poor track record with Metro, the city of L.A. delegation of the Metro Board were hoping that the firm would build a manufacturing facility in downtown Los Angeles to provide much needed jobs during the Great Recession. That, of course, would have been a significant political victory.

The rail car contract then had to be re-bid and it wasn’t until April 2012 that the Metro Board — with great urging from Metro staff — finally approved a contract for 78 new rail cars with Kinkisharyo. That firm is presently building an assembly facility for the rail cars in Palmdale and company officials say that it will be very difficult to accelerate delivery of the vehicles.

In the meantime, Metro is sending a delegation to the company’s headquarters in Japan later this month to see if there is any way to get more vehicles quicker. Deliveries are currently scheduled to begin in September 2015 and continue through 2017. As for the Expo Line Phase 2 and the Gold Line Foothill Extension, Metro has been forecasting that both will open in early 2016. The projects together add 17 miles of track to the Metro system, meaning more trains are needed to cover that turf and maintain existing schedules.

Bottom line: this is really a story about politics and the awarding of big contracts.

UPDATE: Metro officials say they do not believe that the agency will be 50 rail cars short assuming the projects open on time — which, of course, remains to be seen. Officials also say they may be able to shift maintenance schedules around so that more rail cars will be available to operate at any given time.

Southern California Transit Advocates takes position on fare increases (SO.CA.TA website) 

The group isn’t large but they do pay close attention to transit in our region and, in particular, serve as watchdogs over Metro and other agencies. The group says it generally supports the fare increases proposed by Metro but would like to see some changes.

In particular, SO.CA.TA wants to see the free transfer period extended from 90 minutes to two hours and for TAP cards to be sold for single rides on buses for the same price as they’re sold from ticket machines at rail stations ($1). The group also declined to support the second option for fare increases that focuses on separate fares for peak and off-peak times. That, the group said, is a poor idea that would only make taking transit more confusing.

Fossils unearthed by Metro reveals L.A.’s watery past (KPCC)

A nice look at the reasons why that marine fossils are being found in the exploratory shaft for the Purple Line Extension project. The main reason: the beach wasn’t always located at its present location in L.A. :)

Becoming a biker in L.A.: buying a bike (KCRW)

A rookie cyclist dives into the world of bikes and bike gear to try to determine what she really needs. The gist of it: the proliferation of bike gear and fancy bikes has made things a lot more difficult than when Old Goats such as me bought bikes in decades past.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, March 4

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Blue Line train strikes vehicle–at least 12 injured (L.A. Times)

Initial reports are that a mini-van ran a red light and was struck by a Blue Line train on Washington Boulevard and Maple Street in downtown Los Angeles. Metro officials said that 10 people aboard the train were injured — none life-threatening and mostly described as cuts. The Los Angeles Fire Department said that 12 people overall were hurt. The train runs down the middle of Washington Boulevard and train and car traffic are both controlled by traffic signals. Therefore, there are no crossing gates.

Earlez Grill relocates to make way for Crenshaw/LAX Line (Intersections South LA)

The popular restaurant that used to be a stone’s throw from the Expo Line’s Crenshaw station has to move south. The new address will be 3864 Crenshaw Boulevard, about a half-mile south of the Crenhaw & Exposition intersection and an easy walk.

Los Angeles redoubles its efforts to win 2024 Olympics (Daily News)

The big question among the experts: what the International Olympic Committee will ultimately want from a host city: an effort starting from scratch requiring billions of dollars in investment or a more modest effort using existing buildings and infrastructure? The latter would seemingly favor a bid from the Los Angeles area. As I’ve written before, one thing our area can boast to the IOC (if it comes to that): in 1984 there were ZERO miles of rail serving the area. By 2024, there will be 117 miles of light rail and subways (and possibly more if projects are accelerated by America Fast Forward, etc.) and another 512 miles of commuter rail provided by Metrolink.

How Buenos Aires unclogged its most famous street (The Atlantic Cities) 

The answer: Avenida 9 de Julio saw three lanes of car traffic converted to bus rapid transit lanes in the middle of the street — even with a subway that runs below. A lot of opposition surfaced before the change and apparently melted away after the world didn’t end.

Cities move to help those threatened by gentrification (New York Times)

With cities enjoying a renaisance in some parts of the U.S. and property values rising thanks to new market-priced development, cities such as Boston, Philadelphia and Boston (to name a few) are changing laws to freeze or lower property taxes of long-time residents who stuck out the hard times. The property tax issue is not really an issue in California thanks to Prop 13 which greatly limits the amount that property taxes can be raised year-over-year. That said, there isn’t much in place to regulate the actual price of housing, the reason that affordable housing advocates fret (rightfully, in my view) that some parts of California cities will become off-limits to anyone but the wealthy.

Iron Maiden singer planning on circumventing the globe twice in world’s largest airship (Salon) 

Looks like a nice way to travel. Hopefully passengers don’t have to listen to Iron Maiden, a band who reminds me of a broken jackhammer.

Photos from the California drought (PolicyMic)

A little off-topic, but pretty amazing photos of two depleted reservoirs, Oroville and Folsom.