Metro Board to consider beginning development of ballot measure for 2016

One of the items to be considered by the Metro Board of Directors in this month’s round of meetings: whether to begin the development process for a new ballot measure in November 2016 to pay for transportation projects. Nov. 2016 will likely be a big election with voters deciding the successor to President Barack Obama.

Extremely important: This IS NOT the Board deciding to go to the ballot with anything. Rather, this is Metro staff asking the Board to begin the process of developing a ballot measure which would be either an extension of Measure R or a new sales tax.

As the above Metro staff report says, the Metro Board eventually must decide which to pursue and whether to actually take a ballot measure to voters. Those decisions will come at a later date.

Measure R was approved by voters in 2008 and raised the sales tax by a half-cent for 30 years to pay for a plethora of transportation projects (here’s the list). The tax expires on June 30, 2039.

Existing tax versus new tax? Both have their pros and cons. Persuading voters to extend an existing tax that they are already paying is presumably easier than selling them on paying a new tax. On the other hand, a new tax may also widen the field of projects that could receive funding, attracting support from more people. As you’ll see, the staff report contains some recent polling results on that topic.

Of course, the ballot measure issue has been on everyone’s radar since Nov. 2012, when Measure J — an extension of Measure R — received 66.1 percent approval from county voters but lost because it failed to reach the 66.67 percent threshold. The Board has continued to talk about ways to accelerate Measure R projects. Any acceleration plan almost certainly would would require new tax revenues to supply the local funding that would presumably be matched with federal funding and loans.

RELATED:

Metro staff report looks at issues involving potential ballot measures

Mayor Garcetti says another transportation ballot measure is possible

Should the threshold for future transportation sales taxes be lowered to 55 percent?

Metro statement on final Measure J tally

Final Measure J results

Transportation headlines, Monday, November 25

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MTANov22Sunset (13 of 34)

ART OF TRANSIT: The sunset over Union Station and downtown Los Angeles on Friday as seen from the 25th floor of Metro headquarters. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: The sunset over Union Station and downtown Los Angeles on Friday as seen from the 25th floor of Metro headquarters. Can’t decide which version I like better — the bottom one was taken about three minutes after the top image. Click above to see larger. Photos by Steve Hymon/Metro.

This time it really would be a restructuring (L.A. Streetsblog)

Editor Damien Newton ruminates on different on different fare structures for Metro and what they may mean for people’s commutes. Note: there is nothing on the table officially and there won’t be until next year. At a Metro Board Committee meeting last week, Metro staff said they will be presenting the Board with several options. Please see this post from last week.

Paying for L.A. County’s transit future (L.A. Times)

The Times’ editorial board says it has “serious reservations” about any new transportation sales tax that Metro may pursue in 2014 or ’16 — in particular, the editorial says that next year is too quick to properly vet any type of proposal. Key excerpt:

In considering a new sales tax proposal, Metro leaders must consider transportation needs throughout the county, but in the end they should select the projects that deliver the greatest impact, even if they are concentrated in the city.

That’s why a 2014 ballot measure should be off the table, and 2016 would be a better target.

 

Here’s a recent Source post about a Metro staff report that looks at potential ballot measure to accelerate and/or fund new projects. Measure R was approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008 and staff are considering ways to either extend R past its expiration date of mid-2039 or possibly a new sales tax that could fund new transit projects.

Postcards from the West: Union Station bustles with film plots (L.A. Times)

A nice profile of Union Station and some of its considerable history by reporter Christopher Reynolds and photographer Mark Boster — check out Mark’s photos. Metro officials also say they’re still working to get restaurants into the old Harvey House and Union Bagel spaces, as well as add some other food offerings.

Auto correct (New Yorker) 

Very long and very good article on self-driving cars — this is a great read if you’re taking transit. Here’s the lead:

Human beings make terrible drivers. They talk on the phone and run red lights, signal to the left and turn to the right. They drink too much beer and plow into trees or veer into traffic as they swat at their kids. They have blind spots, leg cramps, seizures, and heart attacks. They rubberneck, hotdog, and take pity on turtles, cause fender benders, pileups, and head-on collisions. They nod off at the wheel, wrestle with maps, fiddle with knobs, have marital spats, take the curve too late, take the curve too hard, spill coffee in their laps, and flip over their cars. Of the ten million accidents that Americans are in every year, nine and a half million are their own damn fault.

A case in point: The driver in the lane to my right. He’s twisted halfway around in his seat, taking a picture of the Lexus that I’m riding in with an engineer named Anthony Levandowski. Both cars are heading south on Highway 880 in Oakland, going more than seventy miles an hour, yet the man takes his time. He holds his phone up to the window with both hands until the car is framed just so. Then he snaps the picture, checks it onscreen, and taps out a lengthy text message with his thumbs. By the time he puts his hands back on the wheel and glances up at the road, half a minute has passed.

The article goes on to explain the many different efforts underway to produce a self-driving car. Google seems to the most optimistic and is trying to develop the software and hardware it can sell to a traditional car manufacturer.

But that may not be easy. Many of the traditional car companies are also pursuing the technology but some — such as Mercedes — are concerned that drivers won’t buy it because they want to remain in control, particularly of vehicles marketed as performance oriented. In the meantime, some elements of self-driving have started to make their way into cars as safety features.

We recently ran a poll asking readers if they would still take transit even if they had a self-driving car. So far, 64 percent of those who responded said they wouldn’t be giving up their transit passes. Feel free to vote.

Urbanites flee China’s smog for blue skies (New York Times) 

This excerpt says it neatly:

More than two years ago, Ms. Lin, 34, and her husband gave up comfortable careers in the booming southern city of Guangzhou — she at a Norwegian risk management company, he at an advertising firm that he had founded — to join the growing number of urbanites who have decamped to rural China. One resident here calls them “environmental refugees” or “environmental immigrants.”

At a time when hundreds of millions of Chinese, many poor farmers, are leaving their country homesteads to find work and tap into the energy of China’s dynamic cities, a small number of urban dwellers have decided to make a reverse migration. Their change in lifestyle speaks volumes about anxieties over pollution, traffic, living costs, property values and the general stress found in China’s biggest coastal metropolises.

Take air quality: Levels of fine particulate matter in some Chinese cities reach 40 times the recommended exposure limit set by the World Health Organization. This month, an official Chinese news report said an 8-year-old girl near Shanghai was hospitalized with lung cancer, the youngest such victim in China. Her doctor blamed air pollution.

Check out the accompanying video; looks like some beautiful country. Any readers out there been to Dali?

Transportation headlines, Thursday, October 31

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: Nice throwback costume!

More transportation fixes in the works for Southern California (Daily News) 

Missed this one yesterday. The article reports on Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s video at the Mobility 21 conference and his statement that another transportation ballot measure for the county may be in the works. The key excerpt:

Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb said the mayor’s remarks at the Mobility conference were not an indication of support for an extension of Measure R, the voter-approved half-cent sales tax that’s currently paying for an array of rail, bus and highway projects.

[snip]

Robb said Garcetti was simply referencing recent actions taken by Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who also sits on the MTA board. Antonovich has been talking to local communities about what projects they want to see built under another ballot initiative. Antonovich, along with County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky also authored a motion approved by the MTA board on Tuesday to allocate $500,000 to help the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments develop a “Mobility Matrix” that would identify some of the Valley’s transportation needs.

“Cutting traffic is a priority for Mayor Garcetti and he is currently exploring all options to ease congestion for Angelenos,” Robb said.

MTA Chief Executive Officer Art Leahy, who also attended the conference, struck a skeptical tone when addressing a possible extension. “We will evaluate whether we do a Measure J again,” Leahy told the Daily News. “I don’t know if we will. It’s possible that would happen in either 2014 or 2016.”

As we wrote the other day, nothing is currently on the table. But there certainly seems to be discussions on how projects could be accelerated or new projects funded.

Metro construction boom brings opportunities (Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ website) 

A look at the business opportunity summit held at the African-American Museum on Monday. As the article shows, there is clearly an appetite for jobs among those who live near the upcoming Crenshaw/LAX Line. Excerpt:

Opportunity is exactly what Erika Bennett is seeking. She is hoping her company, Total Transportation Services Inc., a trucking company that transports cement and dirt to construction sites, will become one of the sub-consultants for the large firm that was awarded the Crenshaw contract, Walsh Shea Corridor Constructors.

“This is a good meet and greet,” she said, as she walked up to the Walsh Shea table and introduced herself to the executives for the company.

Other attendees, such as Matsimela McMorris, were simply looking for a job. McMorris, who has been unemployed for more than a year, applied for a position as a custodian with Metro. But at the event, McMorris saw other possibilities, including becoming a bus operator.

“It is really good to be able to come here and meet people,” he said. “Online, you can’t really tell people your story.”

 

Mayor’s office: top transportation department executive to resign (L.A. Times) 

The city’s Department of Transportation will be getting a new general manager. LADOT runs a large bus system and, of course, manages the thousands of miles of roadway (including the traffic signals) in the city of L.A.

It’s time to treat bike share as mass transit (The Atlantic Cities) 

The blog post argues that bike share fees should be tax deductible in the same way that commuter fringe benefits are.

Expo Line Phase 2 reaches the halfway point (Culver City Observer) 

A look at the announcement earlier this month that the six-mile extension between Culver City and downtown Santa Monica is halfway done. Next up: more track work!

Transportation headlines, Monday, October 7

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: A film/TV shoot at Union Station over the weekend. Photo from our Instagram feed.

Thousands get out of their cars and onto their bikes at CicLAvia (L.A. Times) 

Organizers estimate more than 100,000 people participated in Sunday’s event. Crowds looked healthy to yours truly. This is the final CicLAvia of 2013; officials at CicLAvia say they are hoping to have four events in 2014, including a possible April event along Wilshire Boulevard.

My three cents: I’d like to see the events get a little deeper into parts of the county too many people never visit. Specifically, I’d like to see Crenshaw Boulevard and Leimert Park included on a CicLAvia route.

Plan circulating to extend transit sales tax (Daily News)

Actually, no real news here — just shows how little attention is paid to news concerning the Metro Board of Directors. As part of the acceleration strategy adopted by the Metro Board in June, the Board asked staff to investigate when it might be best to return to voters and ask for an extension of the Measure R half-cent sales tax due to expire in mid-2039. That was basically an acknowledgment that any project acceleration attempts would likely need Measure R revenues past 2039 unless the federal government completely changes course (and reopens) and starts showing local transit agencies with millions of interest-free dollars.

That’s kind of doubtful.

Part of that conversation included a request by Board Member Michael D. Antonovich to poll local Council of Governments to ask what they wanted to see included on such a ballot measure. That said, it’s from certain yet whether there will be a Measure R extension and how such a ballot measure may be structured. It remains very far from certain that such a ballot measure would expand the list of projects funded by Measure R or increase funding for any particular project. 

With deadline looming, three states must help fund Amtrak or risk losing service (Governing) 

California, Illinois and Indiana have until Oct. 16 to reach a funding agreement deal with Amtrak. For all the fuss raised by some members of Congress over Amtrak, the fact is that states pay a good chunk of the bills for rail service.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, August 7

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.

Transit riders could be victims as unions fight pension reform (Daily News)

This editorial doesn’t mince words about the ongoing dispute that could cost Metro $2.2 billion in federal grants, including money for operations, maintenance and the Purple Line Extension and Regional Connector. This story in the LANG newspapers yesterday explains it well — basically unions have complained to the U.S. Department of Labor that pension reform in California violates their collective bargaining rights. In turn, the Department of Labor is holding federal grants for Metro and some other transit agencies in California.

Excerpt:

The Teamsters and other unions representing California transit workers argue that the changes in government employee pensions passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year violated their collective bargaining rights. They’re backing a bill introduced in January to exempt about 20,000 transit workers from the changes. The bill, by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, a Democrat from Watsonville, is in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

That bill should be defeated and the unions’ complaint withdrawn, freeing the grant money and removing the threat of service cutbacks and fare hikes.

Imagine how many hard-working Southern California commuters the unions and their allies in Sacramento would be willing to inconvenience if the 2012 pension reform were really something to complain about.

Excellent point. If Metro has to reduce service or projects, many workers of all stripes will likely suffer.

A tip to Metro at 7th/Metro Center: signage needed for your wheelchair passengers (L.A. Streetsblog) 

The Hope Street exit at 7th/Metro Center does not have an elevator — meaning that passengers who use wheelchairs may exit through the gates and then be stuck in a dead-end exit that does not allow them to reach the street. The only solution would be to pay to re-enter the station in order to reach the elevators or to use the help phone to gain re-admission.

I have passed along the story to Metro officials this morning who say they are aware this is a situation that needs to be corrected.

Beverly Hills Council to review all Metro construction permits (Beverly Hills Courier) 

Three members of the City Council, including Mayor John Mirisch, told city staff that they don’t want any work permits granted for Metro unless approved by the Council — which is an unusual step for a construction project. The first phase of the Purple Line Extension will run to the border of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills at Wilshire and La Cienega boulevards. “I don’t think Metro should get a free ride,” [Councilmember Nancy] Krasne said. “Let’s extend the same courtesy to them that they’ve extended to us. When they want something, they can come in and ask for it.”

The city of Beverly Hills has sued Metro in both state and federal court, alleging the environmental study for the project was flawed. The city and the Beverly Hills Unified School District, which has also filed two suits, is trying to stop the second phase of the project from tunneling under part of the Beverly Hills High School campus.

Small paper in Beverly Hills has a big voice (L.A. Times)

Meanwhile, the L.A. Times profiles Clif Smith, the publisher of the Courier and asks questions about whether the Courier plays fair when it comes to covering local news. The Courier’s coverage of the subway project is briefly discussed.

Getting to know new Metro Board Chair Diane DuBois (L.A. Streetsblog) 

Damien Newton interviews Lakewood Councilmember DuBois, who has served on the Metro Board the past three years. Key excerpt:

When I sat down with DuBois last week, it was clear that under her leadership the Metro Board would focus on what needs to be done to keep the momentum moving towards building a transit system that works for all of Los Angeles County. While she looks forward to a future where Los Angeles County has an “extraordinary multi-modal transit system,” she also recognizes that many of Metro’s most exciting projects are currently slated to be completed decades from now.

“A lot of the things we have on the books, I’ll not live to see,” she replied.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do right now. Will there be another Measure J, the just missed effort to extend the sales tax to promote a better bonding atmosphere? “I would think so, we came too close.” In the meantime, she believes that Metro staff can be better utilized to keep projects moving through the pipeline.

“We have a very ambitious Measure R program,” DuBois says of the projects being planned and built in-part because of a county-wide sales tax passed in 2008. “In order to do that (get all projects constructed on time,) we’ve placed a lot of pressure on our employees…and that’s created some tension in the organization. I want to make this a kinder and gentler place to work.”

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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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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