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.

map_corridor_reg_conn_eng

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.

Transportation headlines, Monday, March 17

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Buildings slated for tear-down were rich part of Little Tokyo’s history (L.A. Times) 

Nice article about the brick buildings on 1st Street between Alameda and Central that Metro must demolish to build the Regional Connector’s new Little Tokyo station. One of the buildings dates to 1898 and the once well-known Atomic Cafe was on the site. Senor Fish, one of the current occupants, is moving to 7th and Mateo in downtown L.A. The article concludes with this nice quote:

“That’s the thing about L.A. It constantly tears itself down,” [Sean Carrillo, one of the Troy Cafe owners] said. “The building has been here a long time. It’s a great building. And it’s done its job.”

Can L.A.’s streets be great? Deputy Mayor Rick Cole opines (The Planning Report)

The answer is yes, says Cole, although the city doesn’t have big amounts of money to spend on making the city’s streets more pedestrian, transit and bike friendly. The more likely solution will involve the city putting some seed money into streets that lure private investment.

Muni route overhaul speeds up, with route changes ahead (S.F. Chronicle) 

San Francisco’s city buses and trains average eight miles per hour for a variety of reasons — frequent traffic signals, stop signs, traffic and operating on busy streets. The agency is in the midst of trying to create more bus lanes, increase train speeds and create different levels of service (express, rapid, frequent, etc.). But some residents complain that will lead to less service in their neighborhoods, thereby betraying the Muni’s mission to bring transit to every corner of the city.

Although the particulars may not mean much to readers here, the story hits on some themes that are universal to transit planners. Namely, what’s the best way to serve a big city?

Should cities reject bad transit until something better comes along? (Next City)

Provocative last graph:

Those promoting certain transit plans often argue that it’s either now or never: Best not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. But Zurich has shown that holding out for better, more cost-effective projects that leave money for more expansive networks can sometimes be the best decision. Or, at least, not a totally irredeemable one. The key — whether in Zurich, New Jersey, Austin or elsewhere — is making sure that something better does indeed happen.

The post never really answers the question posed in the headline. But it offers a few interesting examples that suggest that perhaps it’s better to do something right than get it wrong and suffer through the consequences.

Biking by the numbers (San Francisco Bike Coalition) 

The cost of one mile of protected bikeway is $455,000, according to the Coalition — far less than one mile of roadway, bridge or subway. The idea is to counter criticism that new bike infrastructure costs too much. It’s sort of a no brainer that bike infrastructure is, in fact, relatively cheap when it comes to transportation spending. That said, the more troublesome criticism that bike advocates likely will have to deal with is the allegation that some bike infrastructure is not being used much compared to vehicle lanes and transit. My own three cents: if a bike lane is not being used much, I want to know why and what can be done to get people to use it.

Mayor Garcetti’s news release on $200 million in federal funding in next year’s budget for Metro projects

Here’s a news release from the office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on the good news in President Obama’s recently-announced budget for the next fiscal year:

GARCETTI ANNOUNCES FEDERAL FUNDING IN PRESIDENT’S BUDGET; URGES CONGRESS TO PASS MULTI-YEAR FEDERAL TRANSPORTATION BILL

LOS ANGELES–Mayor Eric Garcetti announced today that President Obama’s FY 14-15 budget contains $200 million for critical Los Angeles transportation projects — $100 million each for the Regional Connector and the Westside Subway Extension. He also urged Congress to take immediate action to pass a multi-year Federal surface transportation bill.

“Especially in these tough economic times, you have to prove to Washington that you’re going to deliver real results,” Mayor Garcetti said. “This funding represents the White House’s recognition that our transit program will spend money wisely, create thousands of jobs, and make a real difference for L.A. commuters. Now, it’s time for Congress to act and pass a multi-year Federal surface transportation bill.”

The President’s proposed budget funding follows Los Angeles’ recent win of a $670 million Federal New Starts Full Funding Agreement Grant for the Downtown Regional Connector, which brings together the city’s various rail lines to make transfers convenient, dramatically improving the rider experience.

The Westside Subway Extension project will extend the subway from the current Wilshire and Western station terminus 3.9 miles to Wilshire and La Cienega. The subway project will create 25,000 jobs.

 

The funding in the budget is from the federal New Starts program, which helps local transit agencies pay for expensive transit projects. The deal for Regional Connector funding from New Starts was finalized last month and the agreement for the Purple Line Extension should be soon completed. New Starts money is awarded by the government over several years, thus the $100 million in next year’s budget for each of the projects.

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, March 5

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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.

@Metrolosangeles Twitter Tuesday, February 25 edition

You know the drill: To get our attention, tweet us at @MetroLosAngeles tag to your tweets and subscribe to our feed if you haven’t already. For specific complaints and customer service, please use the Customer Comment Form on metro.net.

I’m trying something a little different this week — putting most of the tweets in chronological order (going backward) instead of categorizing them. It’s kind of interesting to juxtapose the musings, compliments and complaints. And here goes…


Video from this morning’s Regional Connector event

Here’s our original post along with the Metro news release.

And here’s the FTA’s news release.

And the non-government view of things? Here’s the L.A. Times article.

Transportation headlines, Thursday, February 20.5

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! 

ART OF TRANSIT: Mid-day traffic constipation on the 101. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: Mid-day traffic constipation on the 101. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Metro to connect $670 million for downtown rail connector (L.A. Times) 

Coverage of today’s announcement that after years of negotiations, Metro and the Federal Transit Administration have signed a grant for $670 million in New Starts money and a federally-backed $160-million loan for the Regional Connector project. The Times reports that wi-fi may be available in the Connector’s stations — which is nice to hear given the project’s $1.37-billion price tag :)

Free wi-fi now available on the Sprinter, in addition to the Coaster (Mass Transit Magazine)

Speaking of wi-fi, it’s now available on trains in north San Diego County. Before you email me the Obvious Big Relevant Question: Metro is working in the next two years to install equipment that will allow our customers to get a cell phone signal in underground Metro Rail stations.

Is California’s Congestion Management Program at the end of the road? (The Planning Report) 

This is a wonky but important article. The gist of it: Metro has studied replacing the current state program — which many see as bureaucratic and ineffective — with a program that would impose fees on new development to pay for transportation improvements. Twenty-two cities in L.A. County already have the impact fees (and they’re common elsewhere in the country), but they’re controversial nonetheless, with opponents arguing that such a fee would greatly harm the local economy and are redundant. Still, the issue is likely to return to the forefront soon and Metro will be involved, as we’re the agency that would collect the fees.

Elon Musk: autonomous driving just a few years away (Bloomberg News) 

The Tesla founder says his company will be a pioneer in self-driving cars and we’re only a decade away from widespread adoption of cars that can largely (and safely, say proponents) guide themselves. In other words, Musk will be able to go online and complain about the 405 project and hype his hyperloop thingy while his Tesla drives itself blissfully through West L.A. traffic.

Houston Metro rail line ridership exceeds expectations (Metro Magazine)

The 4,200 daily boardings on the 5.3-mile extension of the Red Line are ahead of the 2,600 boardings that were expected. So here’s the lesson for any Younglings out there thinking of spending some of their parents hard-earned dollars on a degree in transportation planning: when your ridership model burps out expected ridership numbers, always choose the low one in order to earn an “exceeds expectations” article. Now, go take the $20,000 I just saved you in college tuition and spend the money instead on backpacking Europe and falling in love with a Estonian boy/girl who can’t understand a damn thing you’re saying but will provide you with free snowboarding lessons and tasty pizza.

And here’s the FTA news release on the funding agreements for the Regional Connector

Public officials with a rendering of the Full-Funding Grant Agreement for the Regional Connector. Photo by Juan Ocampo for Metro.

From left: Former Metro Board Member Richard Katz, Rep. Xavier Becerra, Santa Monica Mayor and Metro Board Member Pam O’Connor, L.A. Councilmember and Metro Board Member Paul Krekorian, Metro Board Member Jackie Dupont-Walker, FTA Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan, Duarte Councilmember and Metro Board Member John Fasana, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, L.A. Mayor and Metro Board Vice Chair Eric Garcetti, Supervisor and Metro Board Member Mark Ridley-Thomas, Lakewood Councilmember and Metro Board Chair Diane DuBois, Supervisor and Metro Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles Councilmember and Metro Board Member Mike Bonin and Metro CEO Art Leahy. Photo by Juan Ocampo for Metro.

From our friends at the Federal Transit Administration:

LOS ANGELES – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) today celebrated the signing of a $670 million construction grant agreement to help build the Regional Connector light rail transit line in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. The two-mile rail segment will connect three existing transit lines, offering thousands of area residents more efficient and convenient access to jobs, education, and other ladders of opportunity. FTA Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan took part in the signing event along with Senator Dianne Feinstein, Congressman Xavier Becerra, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, Mayor Eric Garcetti, and other state and local officials.

“LA’s Regional Connector will help make this city and region a better place for tens of thousands of Angelenos by ensuring that public transit not only works for everyone, but that it works better than ever,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “This Administration is committed to ensuring that every American has access to ladders of opportunity that lead to success—and access to public transportation is essential to making that happen.”

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) will use FTA’s grant funds to build an underground connection between the existing Metro Gold line in Little Tokyo and the Exposition and Blue light rail lines, which currently terminate at Flower and 7th Streets. The grant also includes four new light rail vehicles to augment the existing fleet. The project will reconfigure Metro’s three existing LRT lines into two lines, one primarily running north to south, and one east to west. The project reconfiguration will eliminate the need for riders to make cumbersome transfers from light rail to the Metro Red or Purple Line subway system, and then back onto light rail, to reach their destinations.

“The Regional Connector will improve the quality of LA’s light rail service by offering a one-seat ride that cuts travel times from Long Beach to Azusa and from East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley to Santa Monica,” said FTA Deputy Administrator McMillan. “The traffic gridlock of Los Angeles has been the roadblock for many residents who need better, more reliable access to the jobs and educational opportunities offered across the metropolitan area, which is why we are proud to be a partner in the greater transit vision for the future of the Los Angeles region.”

LACMTA estimates the Regional Connector will open in 2020 and initially handle roughly 60,000 trips or more each weekday. In addition to the $670 million that FTA has committed to the project through its Capital Investment Grant (New Starts) Program, LACMTA will receive $64 million in other U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) funds and a loan of up to $160 million from the DOT’s Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovative Action (TIFIA) loan program. The remainder of the roughly $1.4 billion project will be funded with state and local resources.

In addition to the Regional Connector, the FTA is advancing two other major transit expansion projects in the Los Angeles metropolitan area: the Crenshaw/LAX light rail transit corridor project and Section I of the Westside Purple Line Extension. The $2 billion Crenshaw project, which broke ground in January, is funded in part with a $545.9 million TIFIA loan and approximately $130 million in other FTA and DOT funds. DOT has approved a TIFIA loan of up to $856 million for the Westside project, which is also in line to receive funding through FTA’s Capital Investment Grant Program later this year.