Construction notice: week-long closure of intersection of Lincoln & Colorado in Santa Monica begins Monday for Expo Line track work

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The good news is that construction of the second phase of the Expo Line continues to chug along at a speedy pace. The not-quite-as-good-news: the busy intersection of Lincoln Boulevard and Colorado Avenue in Santa Monica needs to be closed for a week to accommodate construction of the tracks along Colorado Ave.

Please help spread the word. The official notice from the Expo Line Construction Authority — the agency building the project — is posted above.

The second phase of the Expo Line is funded by the Measure R sales tax increase approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008. It is one of three rail projects receiving Measure R funding that are currently under construction (along with the Crenshaw/LAX Line and Gold Line Foothill Extension) with construction of two other projects expected to begin later this year (Regional Connector and Purple Line Extension). Metro has also 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.

Metro to publicly finance HOV toll lane project for Santa Clarita Valley

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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.

 

Update on release of SR-710 North study environmental documents announced

Here is the statement from Metro:

Metro today announced that release of the draft environmental impact report/environmental impact statement (EIR/EIS) for the State Route 710 North Study will be delayed. Metro is working with Caltrans on a revised schedule and will make an announcement as soon as it is confirmed.

Metro had hoped to release the draft environmental documents this spring but the work was delayed while the latest Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) regional travel demand computer model for analyzing the alternatives was calibrated and applied.

Metro was one of the first agencies to use the new 2012 model in a major project. Calibration and validation of the model was not completed until last year and the associated travel demand forecasting for all of the alternatives was not completed until February of this year. However, it has become apparent that additional time is required to complete the technical studies, which means that the release of the Draft EIR/EIS must be delayed in order to preserve the integrity of the environmental process.

Metro has been working with the community, technical consultants and Caltrans on various alternatives for addressing traffic and environmental impacts within east/northeast Los Angeles, the western San Gabriel Valley and the region generated by a 4 ½ mile gap in the original 710 Freeway design that exists between Alhambra and Pasadena.

The draft EIR/EIS will thoroughly analyze five alternatives – Bus Rapid Transit, Light Rail Transit, Transportation System Management/Transportation Demand Management, a freeway tunnel, and a No Build option.

Metro, Caltrans, local cities and private developers all are required to use the SCAG regional travel demand model as a basis for project planning. It predicts future (2035) traffic through a thorough analysis of projected travel patterns considering such factors as population and employment growth, goods movement, land use changes and other variables. Other critical analysis including air quality, a health risk assessment, noise and energy effects also depend on travel demand computer modeling.

Metro and Caltrans are fully committed to ensure that the public has a voice in the process. Detailed analysis for each alternative will be incorporated in the SR 710 North Study draft EIR/EIS. For updates on the revised schedule and project background, go to metro.net/sr710study or facebook.com/sr710study or follow on Twitter @sr710study.

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.

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Traffic alert: weekend closure of San Gabriel Avenue in Azusa this weekend for Gold Line work

From the Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority:

WHO:  Residents / Commuters / Business Owners in the City of Azusa.

WHAT: San Gabriel Ave at the railroad crossing (between Ninth St and Foothill Blvd) in Azusa will be fully closed to thru-traffic in both directions this weekend to allow crews to continue installing light rail track and signals. Following this closure, one more weekend closure will take place during the final weekend of April to allow for the completion of these grade crossing improvements, as part of the 11.5-mile Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension light rail project. Motorists and pedestrians will be detoured around the work area.

WHEN:

San Gabriel Ave at the railroad crossing (between Ninth St and Foothill Blvd): Two full weekend closures to complete the grade crossing improvements:

-        Friday, April 11 at 9:00 a.m. thru Monday, April 14, 2014 at 5:00 a.m.: San Gabriel Ave will be closed to thru-traffic in both directions between Ninth St and Foothill Blvd.

-        Friday, April 25 at 9:00 a.m. thru Monday, April 28, 2014 at 5:00 a.m.: San Gabriel Ave will be closed to thru-traffic in both directions between Ninth St and Foothill Blvd.

Note: Work hours will be 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. during these weekends. A full closure will not occur during the Easter holiday weekend.

WHERE: San Gabriel Ave at the railroad crossing between Ninth St and Foothill Blvd.

WHAT TO EXPECT:

-        The street and sidewalk will be closed to thru-traffic during this work. Detour signage and routes will be in place during the weekend closures to guide motorists and pedestrians around the work area.

-        Access to all local residences and businesses on San Gabriel Ave will remain open at all times.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

-        Visit www.foothillextension.org

# # #

About the Construction Authority: The Construction Authority is an independent transportation planning and construction agency created in 1998 by the California State Legislature. Its purpose is to extend the Metro Gold Line light rail line from Union Station to Montclair, along the foothills of the San Gabriel Valley. The Construction Authority built the initial segment from Union Station to Pasadena and is underway on the Gold Line Foothill Extension. The Foothill Extension is a nearly $2 billion extension that will connect Pasadena to Montclair in two construction segments – Pasadena to Azusa and Azusa to Montclair. The 11.5-mile Pasadena to Azusa segment is fully funded by Measure R and will be completed in September 2015, when it will be turned over to Metro for testing and pre-revenue service. Metro will determine when the line will open for passenger service. Three design-build contracts, totaling more than $550 million, are being overseen by the Construction Authority to complete the Pasadena to Azusa segment. The Azusa to Montclair segment is environmentally cleared and is proceeding to advanced conceptual engineering in 2014.

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.

Transportation headlines, Monday, April 7

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ART OF TRANSIT: Looking north to the San Gabriel Mountains from the bridge that will carry the Gold Line Foothill Extension over Foothill Boulevard in Azusa. Awesome photo by Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.

ART OF TRANSIT: Looking north to the San Gabriel Mountains from the bridge that will carry the Gold Line Foothill Extension over Foothill Boulevard in Azusa. Awesome photo by Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.

Move LA’s Measure R 2 proposal, including their rail fantasy map (Streetsblog L.A.) 

A look at the activist group’s “strawman proposal” for a half-cent sales tax increase they would like to see on the Nov. 2016 ballot; please note that Metro hasn’t decided to pursue such a tax yet although is surveying cities about their own desired projects. In any case, Move LA wants to see a 45-year sales tax increase with 30 percent of the funds dedicated to new rail and bus rapid transit projects — which they say would raise $27 billion over the life of the tax.

As Streetsblog notes, Move LA says their proposal is intended only to spur discussion and they include some projects for potential funding. Some are projects receiving seed money from the present Measure R (Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor, South Bay Green Line Extension) while others are new such as converting the Orange Line to a rail line, extending the Green Line to a junction with Metrolink in Norwalk, extending the Gold Line to San Bernardino County, extending the Crenshaw/LAX Line to Wilshire Boulevard, extending the Purple Line to Santa Monica from its future terminus at the West LA VA Hospital and extending the Eastside Gold Line Extension to both South El Monte and Whittier instead of just one of those.

If such a tax goes forward it will certainly be interesting to see how much is allocated to paying for new transit projects and which projects. As Move LA’s list shows, there are certainly some worthy candidates out there that would travel through many different parts of the county. And there are certainly parts of the transit network with holes in it. Stay tuned!

The real reason that mass transit fares are rising across the U.S. (The Atlantic Cities) 

Writer Eric Jaffe points out that several large agencies in the U.S. are currently pursuing fare increases (including Metro). And that’s not surprising: using data from a new federal report, Jaffe says that most agencies have seen the cost of providing bus and rail service rise substantially since 2000 while allowing fares to lag behind — often for good reasons (affordability, mobility, etc.). A lot of the cost appears not to come from employee salaries but rather the cost of employee benefits, which I’m guessing really means health care. It’s a national problem, Jaffe writes, and there doesn’t appear to be a neat solution on the near horizon outside of fare increases.

Dan Walters: bullet train faces withering set of issues (Sacramento Bee)

The political columnist concludes his column by asking whether construction should even begin on a project this year that may never have the funds to complete a link between L.A. and San Francisco or even the San Joaquin Valley. He also neatly lays out some of the current issues on the table, many involving legal challenges as to whether the project fulfills requirements in a 2008 bill that allowed the bond measure to go to state voters. Obviously this bears watching with one interesting but little publicized side issue: if the bullet train project hits more obstacles what happens to the part of the state bonds to help local projects connect with the bullet train? Both L.A. and San Francisco are using some of that money to fund local projects (the Regional Connector, to be specific).

What the Internet thinks of the world’s subways (Mashable) 

Fun pros and cons of 10 big subway systems around the globe (Los Angeles’ is not included) as gleamed from online reviews. Warning: the language used is not always delicate.

Court rules for Metro in state lawsuits brought by Beverly Hills over subway extension

A Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Metro on Wednesday in state lawsuits brought by the Beverly Hills Unified School District and the city of Beverly Hills alleging that the environmental studies for the Purple Line Extension project were flawed and needed to be redone.

To put it in plain English: Judge John A. Torribio upheld the studies and denied the requests that they be redone, a task which could have potentially cost Metro millions of dollars and delayed construction of the project. The judge found that Metro’s decision to place a station at Constellation and Avenue of the Stars in Century City was based on “substantial evidence” and that the station location meets the project’s goals of increasing mobility in the region.

Metro issued this statement about the ruling:

“Metro is pleased that our in-depth, multi-year environmental review process was found valid by the Superior Court.  We look forward to working with all the communities along the alignment, including Beverly Hills, to fulfill our commitment to deliver this regionally significant and beneficial project for the taxpayers of L.A. County.”

The dispute involves Metro’s plans to tunnel under the Beverly Hills High School campus in order to reach the approved Century City station at the intersection of Avenue of the Stars and Constellation Avenue. The station location was selected by Metro for three reasons: to locate a station closer to the heart of Century City, generate higher ridership for the new line and to avoid an active earthquake fault  zone that runalong Santa Monica Boulevard as determined by seismic and geotechnical studies by Metro and its contractors.

The Constellation route meant that the subway would have to tunnel under part of the Beverly Hills High School campus. School District and city officials complained that could damage the school and/or prevent them from building an underground parking garage, among other issues. After a final Metro Board hearing on the matter in May 2012, Metro determined that it was safe to tunnel beneath the campus, the tunnels would not prohibit any new development, noise and vibration levels would be within federal limits, old oil wells in the area do not present an unmitigable risk to tunneling and the project would not prevent the campus from being used as an emergency evacuation center.

Both the city of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills Unified School District have also filed lawsuits against the Federal Transit Administration, alleging violations of the National Environmental Policy Act. The FTA is helping fund the Purple Line Extension and approved the environmental studies for it. Those lawsuits are still in court.

Local funding for the 8.5-mile Purple Line Extension was approved as part of the Measure R half-cent sales tax increase that was supported by 68 percent of Los Angeles County voters in 2008. The project is being built in three phases: phase one is from Wilshire & Western to Wilshire & La Cienega, phase two extends the project to Century City and the third phase extends tracks to two stations in Westwood — one at Wislhire and Westwood and the final one near the Westwood/VA Hospital, just west of the 405 freeway.

Advanced utility relocation for the first phase of the project is underway and the FTA is expected to soon announce a funding agreement for that part of the project. The Metro Board of Directors is scheduled to select a contractor to build the project this summer with construction starting in late 2014. The first phase is currently forecast to open in 2023.

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, April 2

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A tunnel under the Sepulveda Pass? It might be yours for 25 cents a day (L.A. Times) 

Kerry Cavanaugh looks at the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor project through the prism of a possible transportation sales tax increase that Metro is exploring for 2016. Measure R dedicates about a billion dollars for the project, but some of the early options for the project — including both a road/toll tunnel and rail tunnel — would require a public-private partnership, cost billions more and probably require some public money. Excerpt:

Yet the possibility of easing the most congested corridor in the nation is so tantalizing that Los Angeles voters might just be willing to tax themselves again to build it, right? That’s what transportation advocacy group Move LA is certainly hoping. Last week during a conference focused on developing a new half-cent sales tax increase proposal, Move LA organizers made the Sepulveda Pass tunnel a key focus of the discussion.

Move LA is pitching the sales tax measure for the November 2016 ballot, with a eye toward raising $90 billion over 45 years. The group estimates that it would cost the average county resident about 25 to 30 cents a day. This would be on on top of the existing Measure R half-cent tax increase for transportation.

After the loss of Measure J (a 30-year extension of the Measure R tax, which voters narrowly rejected) in 2012, Move LA and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority are approaching the ballot measure cautiously. They’re trying to build more county-wide consensus on needed transportation projects, with the incoming Metro board president, Mayor Eric Garcetti, promising a more “humble Los Angeles city” as he courts the San Gabriel Valley and South Bay cities that rejected Measure J.

As Kerry writes, the prospect of a good transit project across the Sepulveda Pass has always seemed to be a “distant dream.” So true. If there is a ballot measure in a couple of years, it will be very interesting to see what, if any, role this project plays in it. On a related note, here’s a study from 2012 that shows some of the different concepts initially explored for the Sepulveda Pass project.

L.A. could clash with L.A. County on transit tax measures (L.A. Times) 

Reporters Laura Nelson and David Zahniser ask a good question: if the city of Los Angeles pursues a sales tax increase this November to pay for street repair, how will city voters respond if Metro (a county agency) pursues the aforementioned ballot measure in 2016? It’s especially tricky considering the city of of L.A. is, of course, by far the largest city in the county and no county measure would likely pass without major support from city voters. The few people willing to talk on the record say that pursuing sales tax increases in both 2014 and ’16 is a poor idea but elected officials from the city of L.A. declined comment.

Koreatown to become next luxury market (GlobeSt.com)

The real estate site’s article is bullish on the prospects for K-town, saying there will be more multi-family housing and one of the big attractions for the area is its quick transit connections to downtown L.A. and Hollywood. The words “cosmopolitan” and “luxury” are tossed around in the article; the word “affordable” does not make an appearance.

L.A.’s interchanges are beautiful — if you’re not stuck in traffic (Southland-Gizmodo)

Nice photo spread on some of our bowl-of-spaghetti freeway interchanges, with a couple of sweet aerial shots of the four-level 110-10 junction in downtown.

Study ranks metro areas by sprawl (Governing) 

If there’s anything new here, it’s the assertion that more compact and connected metro areas offer more economic mobility. Makes sense. Not entirely sure why it required a study. About to send your child to graduate school? My three cents: perhaps a plant identification guide, map of the Pacific Crest Trail and a good lightweight backpack would be a better investment — if, that is, enlightenment is the goal.

America’s zippy new trains still lag behind those in Europe (Wired) 

A short and depressing reminder that train travel in the United States — the same country known for its big, wide open spaces — will mostly remain a 79 mile per hour or under affair with a few exceptions.

Transportation headlines, Monday, March 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! 

Happy REAL opening day, baseball fans and Metro Riders. Above, the first game at Ebbetts Field.

Happy REAL opening day, baseball fans and Metro Riders. Above, the first game at Ebbets Field.

Transit riders assail proposed Metro fare hike at public meeting (L.A. Times)

Coverage of the four-hour hearing on Saturday over the proposed fare increase. As the story notes, most of the comments received were along the lines that the increases were too much. There was no support for the second option, which involves creating different fares for off-peak and peak hours. There was limited support for the first option, although some people said that transfers should be included for two hours, not 90 minutes as Metro proposes. Without an increase, Metro officials said they would have to cut one million hours of bus service and lay off 1,000 employees, according to the Times.

Transportation advocates back half-cent sales tax (L.A. Times)

Coverage of the Move L.A. conference on Friday in which the pro-transit group discussed a possible half-cent sales tax increase for the 2016 ballot that help fund more transportation projects in L.A. County. Excerpt:

Metro has not yet decided to put a measure on the ballot. But with as much as $27 billion in added tax money to spend on rail projects, advocates said, the agency could build a light-rail link to Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport, convert the San Fernando Valley Orange Line busway to rail and extend the Green Line near LAX to sweep through South Bay cities and connect with the Blue Line in Long Beach.

“What we’re doing here is trying to figure out what wins,” Move L.A. Executive Director Denny Zane said.

[snip]

Guaranteeing projects across the county may be a political necessity, but it doesn’t always serve passengers the best, said Lisa Schweitzer, a USC professor who studies transit funding. She said transit-using communities with the potential for highest ridership, a common measure of success, tend to be clustered in the core of the county.

[snip]

“In order to get those areas interested in transit, you have to gold-plate it and sugarcoat it” with high-profile projects such as the Westside subway extension, which appeal to residents who typically drive their own cars, Schweitzer said. “But you can’t win without them.”

Two things worthy of your consideration here: 1) the current Measure R put about $13.8 billion toward a dozen transit projects over its 30-year lifespan, and; 2) some of those projects — such as the Airport Metro Connector and the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor — may need more funds to get built.

My point: a second sales tax, if Metro pursues it, is not a free pass to build every project on everybody’s wish list!!! :)

Tree removal along Crenshaw Boulevard has residents stumped (L.A. Times) 

Crenshaw Boulevard is expected to lose about 175 trees to accommodate construction of the Crenshaw/LAX Line, leaving some residents unhappy in the wake of the 71 that were taken down to accommodate moving the Endeavour between LAX and the California Science Center in 2012. Metro has said it will plant two trees for every tree lost, although there is skepticism that new trees will truly replace the mature pines that are in Crenshaw Boulevard’s median, particularly in Park Mesa Heights.

The Endeavour moving north through Park Mesa Heights in 2012. The light rail line will run along the median at right, where the trees are located. Photo by Steve Hymon.

The Endeavour moving north through Park Mesa Heights in 2012. The light rail line will run along the median at right, where the trees are located. Photo by Steve Hymon.

Westside Subway neighbors worried about night-time construction noise (L.A. Times) 

Metro is proposing some night-work work. But important to remember: the work is NOT for the duration of the first phase of the Purple Line Extension, as the sub-headline suggests. Excerpt:

Subway construction won’t be accomplished without din, dust, vibration and street closures, Metro officials say, but 24-hour work will last for only a few weeks, said Dennis Mori, executive officer of project management. After an initial period of digging and pile installation, he said, tunneling itself will be less disruptive. Of course, there will be the nighttime rumble of trucks hauling away 1.1 million cubic yards of dirt.

“While we take community concerns very seriously, there is simply no such thing as ‘immaculate construction,’” Metro spokesman Dave Sotero said. “Some community groups appear to be sending a mixed message: ‘Yes, we support the subway, but don’t touch anything, and don’t inconvenience us in any way.’”

San Antonio police chief tells Lyft to quit operations (Government Technology) 

The city’s police chief says the problem is that Lyft’s drivers are not permitted as a taxi or limo drivers per municipal laws. Lyft says its drivers have insurance and go through background checks.

10 reasons why Beverly Hills homeowners are opposing bike lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard (Curbed LA)

A review of the controversy over widening Santa Monica Boulevard to accommodate bike lanes. The widening would cause some grass to be removed on the north side of the street. The post includes city diagrams to see what is being proposed. Lots of debate in the comments.

Watch a fun video explaining why the Riverside-Figueroa bridge should become a park (Curbed LA)

The old bridge is being replaced. The city of L.A. intends to tear it down while some activists say the old bridge should host a park. My three cents: the most important project in that area needs to be getting the L.A. River bike path into downtown L.A.