Staff report on Measure R second and third decade projects

Measure R 2nd/3rd decade update

The Metro Board of Directors is gearing up for its September meetings and agendas are now posted for Board Committees.

Of those, I thought the above Metro staff report above was the most interesting. It provides an update on the status of Measure R transit and road projects. It also explains a policy decision that the Board may make this month on moving ahead with the planning documents for a variety of projects due to be completed in the second and third decade of Measure R — i.e. the 2020s and 2030s.

On the transit side, this includes projects such as an extension of the Eastside Transit Corridor Phase 2 (a possible Gold Line extension), the South Bay Green Line Extension and a transit project to span the Sepulveda Pass, among others. There’s more info on metro.net’s planning page.

The item is scheduled to be discussed at the Board’s Planning Committee meeting this afternoon at 2:30 p.m.  If you have questions about any of the ongoing studies, I’ll try to answer them on the comments page.

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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Reminder: why Election Day matters in Los Angeles if you care about transportation

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Click above to find your polling place.

As you may have heard, there’s a runoff Tuesday in Los Angeles to elect the next mayor of the second-largest city in the nation — a city with about 3.8 million inhabitants and some well-known transportation challenges.

I ran the following post on March 4, the day before the primary election in Los Angeles. I’m running it again today as a reminder to vote in tomorrow’s mayoral election between Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel because whichever succeeds Antonio Villaraigosa will likely have a hand in many important transportation decisions, including project acceleration, the future of congestion pricing projects, the construction of five rail projects and possible changes in Metro’s fare structure in the future.

Look up your polling place here.

Metro is a county agency and is overseen by a 13 member Board of Directors who serve as the deciders on most significant issues. The Mayor of Los Angeles gets a seat on that board and gets to fill three other seats with his appointees.

A majority of the Metro Board — i.e. seven votes — is required to approve most items. Four of those seven votes are controlled by the Los Angeles mayor. That means that the mayor controls more than half the votes needed to approve items that have impacts across Los Angeles County and the region.

Here are some items that are likely to confront the Metro Board in the next four or so years, meaning they’re items likely to confront the lucky soul (if luck is the right word) who becomes the next mayor of the City of Angels and/or Parking Lots:

•There is the not-so-tiny issue of whether to accelerate the building of Measure R projects and, if so, how best to pay for it and which transit and road projects are included. The next mayor may also choose to use their bully pulpit to persuade Congress to adopt the full America Fast Forward program, which would greatly expand funding for transportation projects.

•Although Metro CEO Art Leahy has already said there will be no changes to Metro’s fares in the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1, he also said it’s an issue that will likely have to be revisited sooner rather than later in order to help Metro keep up with its expenses.

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Mayors across the United States show their support for America Fast Forward bond program to accelerate transportation projects

MayoralLetterAFFBonds4-30-13

The America Fast Forward initiative got a nice boost last week when the U.S. Conference of Mayors issued a letter (above) to Congress supporting Metro’s attempt to create a new class of bonds that could be used to accelerate transportation projects across the country, including Metro’s Measure R highway and transit projects. From Metro’s government relations staff:

A letter sent by well over 100 Mayors from across the United States is encouraging the United States Congress to back our agency’s America Fast Forward Transportation Bond initiative.

America Fast Forward Transportation Bonds represent a new class of qualified tax credit bonds that would, if enacted into federal law, significantly increase transportation infrastructure investments across the nation.

The correspondence was spearheaded by the Immediate Past President of the United States Conference of Mayors, Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Director Antonio Villaraigosa.

The letter secured strong bi-partisan support, including from Scott Smith, the Vice-President of the Conference of Mayors.  Mayor Smith is a Republican who is currently the mayor of Mesa, Arizona.

Please find here a copy of the United States Conference of Mayors letter to Congressional leaders in support of America Fast Forward Transportation Bonds.  For your review, please also find here a brochure that includes details on our innovative transportation bond initiative and an illustration on how the America Fast Forward Transportation Bond process would work.

Here’s a helpful pamphlet from Metro explaining how the bonds would work. Congress last year approved another part of the America Fast Forward initiative that expanded a program that offers federal backing of low-interest loans. The bond program is the other equally important part of America Fast Forward.

AFF Bonds Single Page

President Obama’s proposed budget calls for $130 million for two Metro projects: Purple Line Extension and Regional Connector

This page from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation booklet of budget highlights. Click above for the full document (pdf).

This page from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation booklet of budget highlights. Click above for the full document (pdf).

Some very welcome news via the proposed budget released today by President Barack Obama: the budget includes $130 million to help fund two of Metro’s big rail projects: the Purple Line Extension and the Regional Connector. The budget allocates $65 million to both projects.

This is the first time that both projects will actually receive federal money. The funds are extremely significant because they help supplement Measure R funds for two projects that are both very expensive and need additional funds. Although Congress still must approve the budget, historically these type of funds don’t change much during budget negotiations.

There’s another reason the money is important. The funds are the first payment for more federal dollars that will flow to both projects in future federal budgets via the federal New Starts program that helps local transit agencies pay for big, pricey transit improvements — such as new rail lines.

Formal agreements that detail the New Starts money are expected to be signed between Metro and the Federal Transit Administration later this year. The subway will be asking for $2.3 billion in New Starts money and has a budget of $2.4 billion for its first phase to La Cienega Boulevard. The Regional Connector will be asking for $671 million in New Starts money and has a budget of $1.3 billion.

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Notes from today’s Metro Board of Director’s meeting; Director Diane DuBois calls for staff report on fare restructuring

A few notes from today’s mostly uneventful meeting of the Metro Board:

•Board Member Vice Chair Diane DuBois offered a motion — approved by the Board — that Metro staff produce a report for the April meetings that looks at fare restructuring. She asked that the report include a variety of possible scenarios, including time-based fares, low cash fares, premium fares for premium services and other ideas that would fully utilitze the capabilities of TAP cards.

DuBois wants the report as part of the item to be heard next month on issuing a public notice to change the Measure R expenditure plan to accommodate a future project acceleration plan. “As we move forward with acceleration plans we have to make sure we are financial stable,” she said. “I know this is a very sensitive subject, but I also know we have to pay for what we do.”

As regular Source readers know, this is a subject debated frequently by readers on our comment board. I want to emphasize that the motion calls only for a report by staff next month; no action will be taken to actually restructure fares.

•Board Member Mark Ridley-Thomas complained about lack of diversity on the workforce performing utility relocation work for the Crenshaw/LAX Line. “The public comment this morning is not without basis,” he said, referring to speakers who complained about lack of opportunities to find work.

Metro staff said the contractor handling utility work has not fully complied with federal diversity law and that staff is meeting with the contractor to fix that. Metro is also trying to comply with federal rules that place limits on local hiring. In following public comment, longtime civil rights leader Pastor James M. Lawson, Jr., offered a strong rebuke of the Board and urged them to do more to create jobs for the black community.

•Glendale Ara Najarian announced that he was successfully re-appointed to the Metro Board of Directors. He said that he and fellow Board Member John Fasana have spoken and pledged to work together on the many issues they share and agree on.

•The Board voted to authorize Metro to enter into an exclusive negotiation agreement with the nonprofit A Community of Friends to develop 53 units of affordable housing — including some supportive housing — on vacant Metro property at 1st and Lorena in Boyle Heights. Supportive housing is providing apartments for people who have been homeless or others who need help living independently; there will be services staff to help provide for tenants.

Board Member and Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar complained there was not adequate public outreach for the project and that the development had substantially changed with a reduction in retail space. Board Member and Supervisors Gloria Molina and Mark Ridley-Thomas both said that the developer has done good work in their districts.

A Huizar motion to deny the project and begin with a new RFP failed.

Here’s the staff report on the project.

Metro Board to consider change to Measure R expenditure plan as part of latest project acceleration effort

UPDATE: The item will be considered at April’s meeting of the Metro Board of Directors.

In 2010, the Metro Board of Directors approved the 30/10 plan, the idea being to build 30 years worth of Measure R projects in the next decade. Although it hasn’t yet worked out, that policy is still very much on the books — and Metro staff are still trying to advance Measure R road and transit projects.

The first part of a new acceleration strategy will come before the Metro Board at its monthly meeting on Thursday. In particular, Metro staff are recommending that the Board approve a public notice of a planned change to the Measure R expenditure plan that would allow second- and third-decade Measure R projects to begin receiving funds this decade.

If approved, the proposal would then be vetted by a three-judge panel that provides oversight for Measure R. After the judges release their findings, the plan is for the Metro Board to vote on the new dates for the expenditure plan and a new acceleration plan at the Board’s May meeting.

And what will the acceleration strategy be this time around? I don’t know the details beyond what’s in the staff report issued last week (the report is below). The report shows that Metro is looking at assembling funds from a variety of sources — Measure R, America Fast Forward loans and bonds (30/10 was renamed America Fast Forward in 2011) and possibly revenues from Prop A and C, the half-cent sales tax increases approved by L.A. County voters in 1980 and 1990, respectively.

So stay tuned. As always there’s a lot of balls in the air, particularly at the federal level, where Metro is trying to lock down New Starts money for the Westside Subway Extension and Regional Connector while also getting getting Congress to fully adopt and fund the America Fast Forward plan.

Reminder: why Election Day in Los Angeles matters if you care about transportation

Click above to find your polling place if you live in the city of Los Angeles.

Click above to find your polling place if you live in the city of Los Angeles.

As you may have heard, there’s a primary election Tuesday in Los Angeles to elect the next mayor of the second-largest city in the nation — a city with about 3.8 million inhabitants and some well-known transportation challenges.

So even if you get all scratchy and/or break out in hives during campaign season, I’m here to kindly remind you to vote because there’s a lot at stake. Strike that. There’s tons at stake. Look up your polling place here.

Here’s why. Metro is a county agency and is overseen by a 13 member Board of Directors who serve as the deciders on most significant issues. The Mayor of Los Angeles gets a seat on that board and gets to fill three other seats with his appointees.

So let’s do some math! A majority of the Metro Board — i.e. seven votes — is required to approve most items. Four of those seven votes are controlled by the Los Angeles mayor. That means that the mayor controls more than half the votes needed to approve items that have impacts (hopefully always very positive!) across Los Angeles County.

Here are some items that are likely to confront the Metro Board in the next four or so years, meaning they’re items likely to confront the lucky soul (if luck is the right word) who becomes the next mayor of the City of Angels and/or Parking Lots:

•Although there’s nothing currently on the table, there will likely be a discussion in the next four years about Metro’s fare structure — all large transit agencies have to confront the fare issue at regular intervals. If you’re one of the readers who has left countless comments on this blog calling for distance-based fares, then this might interest you.

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Obama Administration endorses America Fast Forward bonds program

 

Some outstanding news today: President Obama has endorsed the America Fast Forward bonds proposal as part of his plan to improve the nation's infrastructure. The White House fact sheet is below and here's the update from Metro's government relations staff:

This morning, the White House released a fact sheet concerning President Obama's “Plan to Make America a Magnet for Jobs by Investing in Infrastructure.” This fact sheet contains a 7-point plan, which includes a provision to enact America Fast Forward Bonds.The document also includes a provision to implement the newly expanded TIFIA program (part of our Board-approved Federal Legislative program), which was included last year in MAP-21's America Fast Forward section. Our Government Relations team will continue to work with the Obama Administration (both at the White House and USDOT) and both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives to advance our Board-approved Federal Legislative Program. Please also find here a brochure on our America Fast Forward Transportation Bond initiative that was previously shared with all Board members.

America Fast Forward (AFF) is an initiative by Metro and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to expand transportation funding in order to accelerate projects here in Los Angeles County and around the nation. AFF has two parts: the first is an expanded federal loan program that Congress adopted last year; it features government-backed low-interest loans.

The other part is a bond program that would provide very low-cost bonds to transportation agencies in exchange for tax credits to those who sell the bonds. The above graphic explains it best.

As the White House notes, the AFF bond program is modeled on the Build America Bonds that were part of the stimulus bill in 2009 to help revive the country's economy. The White argues that AFF bonds would attract new capital for transportation projects and would better distribute funds throughout the U.S.

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