Transportation headlines, Monday, August 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! 

ART OF TRANSIT: The Blue Line headed south toward Compton. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: The Blue Line headed south toward Compton. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Gold Line Eastside project environmental document released (San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

Coverage of the release on Friday of the Eastside Gold Line Phase 2 environmental study.  As the article notes, the two light rail alternatives would extend the Eastside Gold Line from East L.A. to either South El Monte or Whittier. Metro staff at this time has not selected a preferred alternative — that will happen in November. Under Measure R, the project is not scheduled to be complete until 2035, but Metro is trying to accelerate funding for the project, including possibly through a sales tax ballot measure in 2016. Here’s our post about the study, with links to the document.

L.A. County Supervisor’s alternate bullet train route gaining traction (L.A. Times)

The California High-Speed Rail Authority seems to be considering a tunnel under the San Gabriel Mountains on equal footing with two earlier proposed routes along the 14 freeway — neither of which is very popular with communities such as Action, Agua Ducle and Santa Clarita. Bullet train officials say the tunnel-only option advocated by Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich — which would require 18 to 20 miles — of tunnels may actually prove cheaper than the 14 freeway routes, which also require extensive tunneling anyway. If you want to dream about traveling from Palmdale to Burbank in 15 minutes, read the article. The usual bullet train caveat: securing funding for the project — which aims to eventually connect L.A. and San Francisco — remains a huge hurdle.

Fault lines in L.A. over new subway construction (Breitbart News) 

The city and school district in Beverly Hills are touting a new study from their consultants that claims that there are not any earthquake faults that would prohibit a subway station under Santa Monica Boulevard. Metro is sticking by its stance that active faults make building a station under Santa Monica Boulevard unsafe and it’s better from a safety and planning viewpoint to put the Purple Line Extension station in the center of Century City, under the intersection of Avenue of the Stars and Constellation boulevard. Beverly Hills officials want the station under Santa Monica Boulevard because it would not require tunneling under part of the Beverly Hills High School campus. As you likely know, Beverly Hills has challenged the project’s environmental studies with a pair of state and federal lawsuits. The Superior Courts ruled in favor of Metro in the state case and Beverly Hills appealed. The federal suit is ongoing.

After earthquake near Napa, up to 100 homes labeled as unfit to enter (L.A. Times) 

The 6.0-magnitude temblor that struck early Sunday didn’t do much damage to major transportation infrastructure throughout the Bay Area — although there was certainly damage to homes and businesses and other key infrastructure.

Damage at the Lucero store in Napa. Photo by Matthew Keys via Flickr creative commons.

Damage at the Lucero store in Napa. Photo by Matthew Keys via Flickr creative commons.

Have Americans really fallen out of love with driving? (Fortune)

Consumer spending has risen steadily over most of the last decade — with a brief dip due to the Great Recession. But the number of miles driven by Americans has remained flat since late 2007 — even as the number of those with jobs has increased in recent years. What gives? The independent research firm Behind the Numbers suggests that driving less is a trend here to stay and is a combination of several factors including high gas prices, baby boomers growing older, millennials gaining in numbers (millennials are less interested in driving), more interest in transit and more desire by many to live in urban settings. Fortune is a little skeptical, saying that gas prices adjusted for inflation are not outrageous and millennials still don’t play much of a role in the overall economy.

My three cents: I’m certainly not a millennial (I’m 48) but I certainly don’t want to drive more or purchase more gasoline than is absolutely necessary. Nor do I like spending money on cars, which notoriously lose value very quickly. I think with good transit, biking and housing options in cities with good public spaces, driving will remain flat in America as along as it remains relatively expensive.

Here’s how easy it is to hack a traffic light with a laptop (Vox)

With permission from local authorities, hackers in Michigan were able to disrupt timing of traffic lights in an un-named city rather easily. Vox suggests that this is a security concern — and it is certainly illegal to tamper with lights. That said, in my neck of the woods (Pasadena), I’m not sure that the timing of traffic lights could be much worse, the reason other computer hacker targets inspire a little more fear.

 

Transportation headlines, Thursday, May 15

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! 

Metro outlines light rail extension plans for Eastside Gold Line (San Gabriel Valley Tribune) 

The draft environmental study for the Eastside Transit Corridor Phase 2 project is due to be released this summer and Metro this week provided some updates on two of the light rail alternatives under study. Excerpt:

The Washington Boulevard route, which would go through Montebello and Pico Rivera, ending in Whittier, would be 9 1/2 miles long, carry an average of 19,900 passengers a day, with a travel time of 17 to 22 minutes from East Los Angeles.

The other proposed option that parallels the 60 Freeway, would be 6.9 miles long, carry an average of 16,700 passengers a day, with a travel time of 13 minutes.

 

This is a Measure R-funded project that isn’t scheduled to open until the mid-2030s under the current expenditure plan. There is a possibility the project could be accelerated if funding is found to advance the schedule for this project and other Measure R projects — a big task.

Nonetheless, elected officials and stakeholders along both routes are pushing for a route that would serve their communities.

Here’s the current project map:

Eastside_Phase2_Project_Map

 

And here’s an interactive map that allows you to see what is near the proposed station locations.

Standoff on roadway repairs becoming highway cliff (L.A. Times) 

The Highway Trust Fund is on the verge of running dry while lawmakers in D.C. continue to battle along partisan lines over a multi-year transportation funding bill. “Failure to agree on new funding sources will put at risk more than 112,000 highway projects, 5,600 transit programs and nearly 700,000 jobs, the White House warned,” the Times reports. One proposal in the Senate would be for a six-year bill that continues to keep funding at current levels — below increases proposed by President Obama.

Three things I like about Bike Week and two things I don’t (Streetsblog LA)

Joe Linton likes new facilities that have opened recently, events and photos of politicians riding bikes. But he also thinks L.A.’s Bike Week should take place in fall or winter for better weather. And he wishes it lasted more than a week, fearing the marginalization that sometimes goes with celebrating something for a short period of time each year.

Muni axes seats on SF trains to create more space (SFBay)

Some seats have been removed on light rail trains in San Francisco to create more room for riders to stand. Muni has a light rail car shortage and needs to create more capacity on its heavily-used trains.

It’s not always a bad thing if rents rise with transit growth (The Atlantic Cities) 

A follow-up to a previous article on Atlantic Cities about what happens when new transit projects lead to gentrification. That, in turn, can push people out of neighborhoods they can no longer afford.

Writer and transit blogger Yonah Freemark points out that new transit doesn’t necessarily mean relocation. And it can impact neighborhoods in good ways. Excerpt:

The desirability of living near transit reflects, in part, the fact that better transit options allow households to reduce transportation costs by replacing car trips with cheaper public transportation trips. Sometimes residents can eliminate car use entirely. So if families redistribute their costs from transportation to housing, they should be able to afford more expensive rents or mortgages. The average car owner spends about $9,000 a year on the vehicle, versus roughly $900 to $1,300 for an annual unlimited transit pass. A complete switch from private automobile to transit could leave a family up to $700 for additional monthly housing spending.

Higher housing values around transit also usually translate into more development in those areas. That’s a good thing for locals. Regions that emphasize growth around public transportation lines produce more livable communities. The more growth that is concentrated in areas near transit, the less it will be shuffled out to exurban, car-dependent communities — where commute times and transportation expenses are high, public services are expensive to provide, and ecological impacts are considerable.

In particular, he points to proactive efforts in Minneapolis to keep affordable housing intact near a future light rail project. The key word there is ‘proactive’ — with Freemark urging cities to think about preserving affordability well before the ribbon is cut on new transit lines.

Using incentives and insight to end rush hour (The Atlantic Cities) 

More on efforts to use data from fare card swipes to learn more about how people actually use transit systems — and how that information can be used to incentivize people to travel outside rush hour to avoid system crowding.

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