Transportation headlines, Wednesday, March 12

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! 

Attorney convicted in stealing nearly $2 million in MTA money (L.A. Times) 

James Vincent Reiss defended Metro as a contract attorney in injury cases. Reiss had pleaded no contest to two felony counts of grand theft. Excerpt:

Karen Gorman, acting inspector general for Metro, said a State Bar of California investigation into problems with Reiss’ other clients in 2012 tipped off the agency to the potential for trouble, and officials immediately began auditing his cases.

“We aggressively began to investigate … and working with the district attorney’s office we were able to bring Mr. Reiss to justice for his crimes.”

According to a Metro lawsuit filed against Reiss’ law firm in January for suspected malpractice, forgery and negligence, Reiss cost the agency as much as $2.5 million.

In 2011, Reiss allegedly told the MTA that it had negotiated a $2.5-million jury award down to $1.765 million. But when the Metro board authorized the settlement and ordered that two checks totaling $1.765 million be written, Reiss kept the money, according to the suit.

 

Sentencing is scheduled for March 26. The Times reports that he is expected to receive 10 years in state prison.

Los Angeles to launch nation’s largest interactive trail network (Gizmodo) 

The app will help tie together the many walking paths and trails that criss-cross the city — and many of which are not commonly known to the masses. Even more interesting is that key content about the trails on the app (scheduled to debut next month) won’t be unlocked unless the user is actually on the trail. The app is being produced by the Interpretive Media Library, a collaboration between UCLA and California State Parks — and it’s novel enough to get the attention of U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewel, who was in town yesterday for a media event.

What yesterday’s Supreme Court decision means for rails-trails (Streetsblog Network)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 on Tuesday that land granted the U.S. government granted to railroads doesn’t necessarily revert back to government property after railroads abandon their tracks. The ruling has implications toward rail-to-trail projects planned for government land — the problem being the land may instead belong to someone else. The post is an interesting interview with Kevin Mills, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s senior vice president of policy and trail development.

As he says, the ruling may have a deeper impact in the Western U.S., where railroad land grants were more common than in the east. Pretty interesting stuff. I personally want to see as many rail-trail projects as possible; on the other hand, the original government land grants dating back to the mid 1800s were often seen as blatant taxpayer giveaways to privately run railroads.

Wharf extension push surfaces as Central Subway crews dig on (San Francisco Chronicle) 

Transit advocates, neighborhood groups and others are starting to advocate for the Central Subway project in San Francisco to be extended to Fisherman’s Wharf. The project is extending the city’s light rail system (partially via a subway tunnel) from the Caltrain commuter rail station to the intersection of Stockton and Washington in Chinatown — about a mile shy of the popular and heavily visited Fisherman’s Wharf.

There are no plans on the books to extend the tracks any further — nor are there funds (at least not yet). I think it will be very interesting to see if there is any kind of similar push here on the Purple Line Extension project, which will eventually have a terminus in Westwood in front of the VA Hospital, just west of the 405 freeway (as far as Measure R funded the project). I imagine there will be some people in Brentwood and eastern Santa Monica who will want the subway closer to their homes, just as I expect there will be people in Brentwood and eastern Santa Monica who will not :)

Four designs to cleverly re-invent the suburban parking lot (Co.exist) 

With enough large lots on Long Island to cover an area the size of Central Park several times over, four architectural firms were asked to imagine a way to keep some parking but also make better uses of the land. Here’s one of the drawings:

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Photos of the exploratory shaft being dug in preparation of Purple Line Extension construction

Click on any photo to see larger.

My colleague Dave Sotero and I had a chance today to visit the exploratory shaft being dug as part of the Purple Line Extension subway project. If you’ve been to LACMA recently, you may have noticed the big wall covered with Metro posters across the street. That’s the exploratory shaft.

It’s quite a feat. The shaft is already 65 feet deep and is being dug to learn more about soil conditions in the area and validate what is already known. The work is an important step in preparing for station excavation and tunneling for the subway.

Quite a few fossils have already been found, including clams, sand dollars and parts of the cone and seeds for digger pine trees. While we were there, in fact, a rock was found that appears to have a sea lion skull within it that is perhaps two million years or more old. Metro is working with the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits to identify and preserve the fossils found.

We’ll post lots more about the shaft soon. In the meantime, Channel 7 should have a segment on the work being done as part of tonight’s newscast. See KABC 7′s story here. 

Photo by Dave Sotero/Metro.

Kim Scott, Director of Paleontology for Cogstone, a Metro project consultant, holds a rock that appears to contain the skull of a sea lion, perhaps two million years or more old. It was unearthed Tuesday afternoon during excavation of the exploratory shaft for the Purple Line Extension subway project. Photo by Dave Sotero/Metro.

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, March 5

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! 

Obama’s budget is a populist wish list and an election blueprint (New York Times) 

The $3.9-trillion budget for fiscal year 2015 is designed to draw contrasts with Republicans and gets rid of comprises the President made last year, the Times reports. More than half the budget would go to mandatory spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, interest on the federal debt) and about $1.2 billion is spending directly controlled by the President and Congress. Excerpt:

Mr. Obama again proposed to overhaul the corporate tax code, by ending various business tax breaks and using the savings to reduce the maximum 35 percent tax rate for corporations. With about $150 billion in additional one-time revenues that businesses would pay in the transition from one tax system to another, Mr. Obama would finance half of a $302 billion, four-year plan for work on highway, bridge, rail and mass transit projects, as he first suggested last summer.

The budget, as we posted yesterday, also includes $100 million apiece in New Starts funding for the Purple Line Extension and the Regional Connector projects.

And some Twitter commentary from Yonah Freemark of the excellent Transport Politic blog:

Recent trends in bus and rail ridership (Transport Politic) 

Speaking of Yonah, here’s an interesting post about bus service and rail service — and which may contribute more to overall ridership gains by transit agencies around the country. As the post explains, there are limitations to the data, but some number-crunching indicates that rail seems to have a better chance of building ridership than does bus service. “Riders respond when they’re offered better service!,” writes Yonah, who also points out that we don’t know how bus rapid transit would attract more riders because there aren’t that many BRT projects in place.

I think there’s one other issue here: rail is pretty easy for new riders to figure out. Bus service in many metro areas — including ours — can be complicated with dozens of bus lines, each running on multiple streets, with different service frequencies and sometimes different fares and line names that seem to be random numbers. It’s not intuitive, yet overhauling bus service in many areas is a massive chore likely to upset as many riders as attract new ones.

Apple’s CarPlay: the smart car wars are getting serious (Washington Post)

Apple’s operating system will be running the mapping-texting-music playing systems in Volvos, Mercedes and Ferraris — and the hardware/software giant has agreements with other vehicle manufacturers. “Cars have long been pegged as the next major battleground for consumer tech companies looking to bring their smart technologies to more parts of consumers’ lives,” the Post says. Hmm. I remember the Days of Yore when I was excited to get a Subaru with a jack for my iPod.

Graphic: New Starts funding for Metro over the years — and finally on the rise again!

New Starts Appropriations Graph

The above graphic is certainly worth a look. It shows the amount of federal New Starts money received by Metro on an annual basis since 1993. New Starts is a federal program that helps local transit agencies pay for big, expensive projects and most of the money shown above went to the existing Red/Purple Line subway and the Eastside Gold Line.

The graphic is also missing a critical piece of good news. President Obama’s proposed transportation budget for fiscal year 2015 (which begins Oct. 1, 2014), which was announced today, includes $100 million for the Regional Connector and $100 million for the Purple Line Extension. If the budget is approved by Congress, the $200 million in New Starts money for Metro would be the most received in any given year.

The $100 million for the Regional Connector is part of the eventual $670 million in New Starts money that the project will receive. That was the big news a couple of weeks ago when Metro and the U.S. Department of Transportation finalized the New Starts deal. A similar deal for $1.25 billion in funding for the Purple Line Extension project should also be completed soon. Both projects are also drawing on funds from Measure R, the local sales tax increase approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008.

Stepping back, let’s look at the big picture. The Connector and Purple Line Extension also plan to use federally-backed TIFIA loans that will help Metro get lower interest rates than if they borrowed money for construction at market rates. That’s significant because it shows the degree to which the federal government under President Obama is getting involved in helping local areas build transit. It may not all be grant money — i.e. money Metro doesn’t have to pay back — but the loans still help Metro take on less debt and thus spend less on already pricey projects.

The loans are part of Metro’s America Fast Forward [AFF] proposal that has found its way into President Obama’s proposal for a multi-year transportation funding bill. AFF would expand the loan program and also create federally-subsidized bonds that local agencies could use when building projects. And that’s what I want readers to understand: the loans, the bonds, the New Starts money and Measure R combined — that’s the big kahuna here, folks. Those four things together give Metro the resources to build the expanded transit network many readers here want.

Finally, and on a very related note, I wanted to pass along a thank you from Metro officials to President Obama and Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein for helping Metro secure the federal funds and advocating for expanded transit funding in Los Angeles and other cities across the nation.

Both parts of America Fast Forward initiative are in President Obama’s proposal for four-year transportation bill!

Earlier today in Minnesota, President Obama announced his proposal for a four-year transportation spending bill that would include both parts of Metro’s America Fast Forward initiative. If Congress was to vote the bill into law — and that’s a big ‘if’ — that could be a boon to Metro and other transit agencies around the nation that would have new financial tools to use when building big, pricey transportation projects.

Photo: Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Photo: Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

America Fast Forward includes two components. The first is a federally-backed loan program called TIFIA that is designed to give agencies access to loans with interest rates lower than can be found on the open market.

The second part is a bond program described in the graphic below. In a nutshell: those who invest in transportation bonds receive federal tax credits instead of interest, a good way for investors to lower their tax burden and a good way for transportation agencies to save on interest costs.

america-fast-forward-bonds

The hope at Metro is to potentially use a combination of TIFIA loans, America Fast Forward bonds, some federal New Starts money (New Starts is a grant program in which the federal government matches local funds to help build big projects) and Measure R tax revenues to accelerate transit projects — in particular the second- and third-decade Measure R projects. Some of those projects: an extension of the Eastside Gold Line, the Airport Metro Connector, the South Bay Green Line Extension and the second and third phases of the Purple Line Extension.

Of course, it should be noted that President Obama’s bill proposal is just that — a proposal.  Transportation bills are designed to guide spending over several years but they have been contentious in Congress in recent years. A four-year bill that expired in 2009 was temporarily extended more than 10 times before Congress in 2012 voted to approve a new two-year bill, which expires at the end of September.

So we’ll see — getting bills approved by Congress is never an easy task. Nonetheless, the fact that President Obama has included both parts of America Fast Forward into his proposal is good news for Metro and officials I spoke with here today expressed their extreme gratitude for the President’s recognition of the program.

Click here to see the entire bill proposal on the White House website.

Federal government approves $670-million grant and $160-million loan for Regional Connector

Officials from Metro and the Federal Transit Administration signed a pair of agreements Thursday that will provide a $670-million federal grant and a $160-million federally-backed loan for the Regional Connector light rail project. The total budget of the project is $1.37 billion.

A media event with public officials is being held at 10 a.m. next to the Gold Line’s Little Tokyo station. We’ll post photos and video later today.

In practical terms, the agreements clear the way for construction to begin later this year on the 1.9-mile underground light rail line in downtown L.A. that will tie together the existing Blue Line, Expo Line and Gold Line with tracks between 7th/Metro Center and Little Tokyo. When the project is complete — forecast for 2020 — passengers on those lines will be able to travel through downtown without having to transfer to another line.

The project will also allow trains to run more frequently through downtown. Blue Line and Expo Line trains currently must turn around at 7th/Metro Center, a time-munching maneuver.

Utility relocations on the project are already underway with construction expected to begin later this year after the Metro Board of Directors selects a contractor to build the line. Metro already has three light rail projects currently under construction — the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Expo Line and the Gold Line Foothill Extension. The first phase of the Purple Line Extension of the subway is also expected to sign funding agreements with the federal government later this year, allowing the Metro Board to select a contractor to build that project.

That means that within the next calendar year, Metro could have an unprecedented five rail projects being built simultaneously that will add about 29 miles of rail to the existing 87-mile Metro Rail network. All five projects are also receiving significant funding from Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by 68 percent of Los Angeles County voters in 2008.

The Connector is the first Metro project to receive a federal New Starts grant since the Eastside Gold Line, which opened in 2009. New Starts is a federal program designed to help local transit agencies build expensive transit projects.

The loan is coming from the federal TIFIA program, which helps local areas secure low-interest loans that are cheaper than loans found on the open market. The TIFIA program is part of Metro’s America Fast Forward initiative that was expanded in the most recent federal multi-year transportation bill. Metro is seeking to have the program renewed and expended in the next bill, which Congress is expected to debate this year.

The Connector was originally envisioned as a rail project that would run at street level through downtown. Public opinion, however, swayed Metro to put the line underground, which increased costs but will also provide faster travel speeds and eliminate the need for a rail undercrossing at Alameda Street. The increased cost is the reason that federal funding is crucial for the project.

map_corridor_reg_conn_eng

The news release from Metro is after the jump.

Continue reading

Here’s the presentation from Thursday’s community meeting in Beverly Hills about construction of the Wilshire/La Cienega station for Purple Line Extension

Metro held two community meetings on Thursday in Beverly Hills to explain upcoming work on the first phase of the Purple Line Extension that will run for 3.9 miles between the Wilshire/Western station and the new Wilshire/La Cienega station.

The Beverly Hills Courier covered the meetings but their article did not fully or correctly explain the work that will take place.

•The Courier reported that “The Metro reps said that, first, Metro will dig a massive open hole for the La Cienega station. That hole will remain open for at least seven years, covered by steel plates. The station will be built under the plates then covered over.”

That’s not exactly right and to clarify: Surface construction on the Purple Line Extension will occur at the three new station sites along Wilshire Boulevard — at La Brea, Fairfax and La Cienega, as well as at Western in order to connect the extension to the existing Purple Line.

In between these locations, long stretches of Wilshire will be undisturbed as tunneling takes place completely below ground. As shown in the presentation posted above and the slide below, Wilshire will remain open for motorists throughout most of the construction.

presenation2

However, there will be lane closures on Wilshire for two activities — the utility relocation that is occurring now and future pile installation.

During utility relocation, two lanes of traffic will be maintained during the daytime with possible full or partial closures of Wilshire at night at the station locations.

During pile installation, work will take place behind a K-rail with two lanes of traffic open in each direction. For both activities, sidewalks and driveways will remain open.

In order to install the decking, sections of Wilshire will be closed over a series of weekends, with the closures beginning late Friday night and reopening before the Monday morning rush hour — at which time the street will return to full use.

Once the decking is complete, station construction continues below ground and beneath the concrete decking with access to the underground station box provided from construction staging sites that are located off to the side of Wilshire. This work will take place for approximately five years while Wilshire Boulevard remains fully open to traffic. This is not different than Red Line construction in Hollywood, when Hollywood Boulevard remained fully open while the Hollywood/Highland station was built — as shown in this page from the meeting presentation:

BH Community presentation 2014-2-13 FINAL

•The Courier’s story made two other errors. In response to questions from the audience and in conversations with the reporter, Kasey Shuda — the Construction Relations Manager for the project — explained that Metro would reimburse the city of Beverly Hills for any lost parking meter revenue during the time that work crews are blocking parking spaces on the street. She never spoke about parking garages, as the Courier reported.

Also, a question about the water table was answered by Scott McConnell, the project’s Director of Construction Management. He explained that Metro employs various techniques to keep water out of the tunnels and stations including gaskets, tunnel liners and pumps. Any water removed is treated if necessary and then released into the sewer or storm drain depending on what is appropriate. Metro staff also explained that the underground subway will not raise the water table in the area.

Aside from media stories, it’s important to understand why these meetings were held in addition to the regular community outreach meetings that Metro hosts for the project, most recently on Jan. 29.

Metro has a “Master Cooperative Agreement” with the city of Los Angeles that governs how Metro and the city will work together during subway construction, including each parties’ responsibilities, timelines and how Metro will reimburse the city for its time. Metro is hoping to also get such an agreement with Beverly Hills.

The meetings held Thursday were done at the request of the Beverly Hills City Council when they deferred action in January on two pending permits from Metro. The agency believes that an agreement with Beverly Hills will help the agency deliver the project as promised and simplify the permit approval process so that Metro, the city and area residents and businesses will know what to expect while construction proceeds.

permits

First of 18 new traction power substations delivered today

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A noteworthy construction milestone was reached today when the first of 18 new power traction substations was delivered to the Gold Line Foothill Extension and the Expo Line projects.

The first of the substations — which transfer electricity to the overhead wires — was delivered to the Foothill Extension in Duarte near the interchange of the 210 and 605 freeways, as shown in the above photos.

Both projects are now more than 50 percent complete, construction on the Crenshaw/LAX Line is now underway and utility relocation and other prep work is ongoing for the Purple Line Extension and Regional Connector projects. All the projects are receiving funding from Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by 68 percent of Los Angeles County voters in 2008.

Reminder: Metro hosting community meetings this Thursday to discuss ongoing and future work on Wilshire/La Cienega station

SubwayMtg1

Subway Mtg2

Metro is holding a pair of community meetings on Feb. 13 to discuss utility relocation and other work that needs to be done in preparation for construction of the Purple Line Extension’s Wilshire/La Cienega station.

Metro has a “Master Cooperative Agreement” with the city of Los Angeles that governs how Metro and the city will work together during subway construction, including each parties’ responsibilities, timelines and how Metro will reimburse the city for its time.

Metro is hoping to also get such an agreement with Beverly Hills. In the meantime, the Beverly Hills City Council has required that they review each permit request. The Feb. 13 meetings are being held to help inform the public about the work that needs to be done.

Metro to hold two meetings for Purple Line Subway Extension on Thursday, Feb. 13

Metro is holding a pair of community meetings on Feb. 13 to discuss utility relocation and other work that needs to be done in preparation for construction of the Purple Line Extension’s Wilshire/La Cienega Station:

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) will be hosting two meetings on February 13 for those who live and work near the future Wilshire/La Cienega Station of the Purple Line Extension.  Individuals who live and work along Wilshire between La Cienega and San Vicente, as well as on La Cienega, Hamilton, Gale, Tower and San Vicente are especially encouraged to attend.

The meetings, requested by the City of Beverly Hills, will provide information about construction of the station at Wilshire/La Cienega that is part of Section 1 of the project.  Section 1 will add three new stations as it extends the Purple Line from its current terminus at Wilshire/Western for 3.9 miles to Wilshire/La Cienega.  Pre-construction activities for the first section are currently underway and construction is expected to start later this year.  Topics to be discussed include:

  • What to expect during pre-construction and construction
  • Advance Utility Relocation schedule for 2014
  • How to stay informed
  • Mitigation measures

Content at the meetings will be identical so members of the public should choose the meeting that is most convenient for them.

Thursday, February 13, 2014
12:15 p.m.
8383 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 800
Beverly Hills, CA
Please bring your lunch. Soft drinks will be provided.
Presentation will begin promptly at 12:30 p.m.

6:00 p.m.
La Cienega Community Center, Home Room
8400 Gregory Way
Beverly Hills, CA
Parking is available across the street at the La Cienega Tennis Center, 321 S. La Cienega Boulevard.
Presentation will begin promptly at 6:15 p.m.

Special accommodations are available to the public for Metro-sponsored meetings. All requests for reasonable accommodations must be made at least three working days (72 hours) in advance of the scheduled meeting date. Please telephone the project information line at 213.922.6934 or California Relay Service at 711.

For more information about the Purple Line Extension Project, visit metro.net/purplelineext.  Follow the project on Facebook at Facebook.com/Purplelineext or on Twitter at Twitter.com/purplelineext.