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.

 

Request for Qualifications released for Metro’s first public-private partnership project

2013-05-31 Request for Qualifications (RFQ)

Metro’s highway program quietly reached a milestone on Friday when the agency officially posted online a solicitation to firms to be considered to both build and help finance a project that would add 13.5 miles of HOV/toll lanes to the 5 freeway between the 14 freeway and Parker Road.

I know. The release of “request for qualifications” is not the sort of thing that inspires a lot of jumping and down and such. Let me try to explain in plain English why this matters and what it means for the project. The RFQ is posted above not because I expect you to read all 100-plus pages but to show the considerable work that the agency must do to release these things and what’s involved for private firms who respond to them.
First, a brief look at the project (a lot more info here in an earlier post). It’s actually six different projects, the foremost being the construction of an HOV lane for 13.5 miles in each direction on the 5 freeway between the 14 freeway and Parker Road. A toll for vehicles with one or two occupants (at peak hours only for vehicles with two occupants) would be charged to use the lanes — with the tolls being used in part to finance the construction of the carpool lanes about 30 years earlier than planned in Metro’s long-range plan. Four general purpose free lanes would remain in each direction in this stretch of freeway; the idea is to add capacity to the freeway.

This is a significant break from the traditional way that transportation projects are funded and built. Most often, government agencies either save money to pay for big projects, or pay for them as money becomes available (pay as you go), or borrow money to pay for the upfront costs and then pay off those loans (usually in the form of bonds) over many years. Think of it like taking out a loan to re-do your kitchen. Except most transportation projects are like simultaneously re-doing a a few thousand kitchens.

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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.

To accelerate the building of 13.5 miles of HOV lanes on I-5 in Santa Clarita area, Metro proposes charging tolls for vehicles with one or two occupants to use the lanes

I5_project_map

Metro this month is providing key details on plans to accelerate an important Measure R project for northern Los Angeles County. The project would add carpool lanes for 13.5 miles in both directions to Interstate 5 through the Santa Clarita area. A toll for vehicles with one or two occupants (at peak hours only for vehicles with two occupants) would be charged to use the lanes — with the tolls being used to finance the construction of the carpool lanes about 30 years earlier than planned in Metro's long-range plan.

There's a lot more detail in the Q & A that follows in the post. The absolute crucial details: the lanes would be managed to maintain speeds of at least 45 mph, the number of general traffic lanes would remain the same and the new lanes will add capacity to the freeway, especially when coupled with the new truck lanes being built on either side of the Newhall Pass.

There are two community meetings scheduled this month to discuss the project. The public can ask questions and provide feedback. Content at all meetings will be identical; please attend the location most convenient for you. All meetings are open to the public and we urge you to invite your friends and neighbors.

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013, 6-8 PM
Sports Complex – City of Santa Clarita
20880 Centre Pointe Pkwy
Santa Clarita, CA 91350
Served by Santa Clarita Transit Lines 5 and 6

Thursday, February 28, 2013, 6-8 PM
Rancho Pico Junior High School
26250 Valencia Bl
Stevenson Ranch, CA 91381
Served by Santa Clarita Transit Line 7

Below is the Q&A on the project with a lot more detail and there's a short Power Point on the project after the jump. I'm interested in your thoughts on the project, particularly if you live in Santa Clarita or elsewhere in northern L.A. County.

What exactly is the project proposing to do?

The project would use a public-private partnership to build one carpool/toll lane in each direction to the I-5 freeway for 13.5 miles between the 14 freeway and Parker Road. A private firm would be hired to help fund, build and manage the lanes and be paid back with toll revenue. That would allow the project to be completed by 2019 instead of 2040 or later.

This stretch of freeway includes some of the fastest-growing areas in Southern California — the city of Santa Clarita has gone from 79,000 people in 1979 to more than 201,000 in 2012 and is expected to add 50,000 more people in the next 30 years, not including growth in the unincorporated parts of the Santa Clarita Valley. Not surprisingly, traffic congestion in the Santa Clarita Valley and surrounding areas has worsened; the average one-way commute time of 32.7 minutes for Santa Clarita residents is among the highest in Los Angeles County.

The carpool/toll lane will be used for free by those in cars with three or more passengers. Buses, van pools and motorcycles would also use the lanes for free. Cars with two people will be able to use the lanes for free outside of peak hours — during peak hours they will be charged a toll. Single motorists will be charged a toll at all times.

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Metro's highway program ramps up for big year

Expanding the network of HOV lanes in L.A. County is a big part of Metro's highway program.

Metro issued a long news release today about its highway program — specifically the many projects either underway or in the planning stage.

As the release states, Metro’s highway program is often overlooked because of the agency’s transit programs. But the highway program is important. The most recent Census Bureau numbers show that almost 84 percent of workers in Los Angeles County drive to work.

Future transit projects may reduce that statistic. In the meantime, however, it also appears likely that given the sprawling nature of the county, its jobs and the affordability of vehicles and gas, people aren’t going to stop driving any time soon.

Here’s the release:

While public attention remains fixed on the dozen bus and rail projects mandated by L.A. County voters with the passage of Measure R, the half cent sales tax for transportation, Metro is working feverishly on a parallel track to accelerate its highway program.

This year that work will pay off as the agency launches an astonishing 18 new projects worth nearly $1.4 billion.

The goals are lofty but realistic, said Doug Failing, executive director of highway programs who joined Metro in 2009 following 30 years at Caltrans, most of the last decade as L.A./Ventura counties district director.

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The art of transit

photo by Mick ㋡rlosky, via Flickr

We haven’t featured a freeway for some time in “the art of transit.” But given the weather we’re about to experience, I thought this shot taken last October of the Golden State Freeway south of Santa Clarita was an appropriate choice. It was taken with an iPhone4, with some very nice Photoshop processing.

To submit a photo or photos of something transportation-related, post them to Metro’s Flickr group or email them to sourcemetro@gmail.com. The photos we’ve featured can be seen in these galleries on Flickr. Or click on the ‘art of transit’ below.