Transportation headlines, Friday, August 1

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: Nice pic taken last month on the Blue Line. Photo courtesy Matthew Grant Anson, via Flickr.

ART OF TRANSIT: Nice pic taken last month on the Blue Line. Photo courtesy Matthew Grant Anson, via Flickr.

The value of fast transit (Transport Politic)

As our very own Joe Lemon recently noted after a visit to the Twin Cities, the new light rail line connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul is a crawler, taking 48 minutes to an hour to travel 11 miles. Yonah Freemark, in this new post, writes:

Of course, the Twin Cities are hardly alone in their predicament. Recent transit lines elsewhere in the country feature similarly leisurely travel times. The new Houston North Line, for example, is averaging 17 mph. Los Angeles’ Expo Line is slightly quicker at 18 mph. Bus rapid transit and streetcar projects popping up virtually everywhere are often significantly slower. Only the Washington, D.C. Metro Silver Line, which will extend that region’s subway deep into the Virginia suburbs, will speed commuters along at an average of 32 mph. It will do so while only stopping at 5 stations, all of which will be located in the middle of expressways.

With speeds like those light rail lines or services like the Silver Line, it’s little wonder that it’s so difficult to convince people to get out of their cars in so many places. The fact of the matter is that services like this often do not provide much mobility improvement over the bus services they replace. That’s particularly true for large regions where too many destinations are simply too far away to be accessible by transit that averages such slow speeds.

The post goes on to note, very correctly, that the problem is that fast transit usually means putting transit on bridges or underground and that makes it prohibitively expensive at a time when there is only so much help the federal government in the U.S. will provide. As a result, less expensive and slower versions of transit get built.

Meet the worst transit project in America (Vox)

Writer Matthew Yglesias wags his finger at a streetcar line in Washington D.C. that’s under construction. Not only will it share a traffic lane with cars, the streetcar will likely block faster buses. This kind of slow transit project, Yglesias writes, not only harms the low-income riders who most rely on public transit (i.e. they’re stuck on transit instead of doing something else useful), but also creates a backlash against expensive transit projects that turn out to be of little use to motorists seeking an alternative to driving. Concur.

The missing link: exploring the Regional Connector transit corridor (KCET)

Nice summary of the neighborhoods and sights along the future Connector’s 1.9-mile route through downtown Los Angeles between Little Tokyo and the 7th/Metro Center Station. The Connector, as the name implies, will connect the Gold Line to the Blue Line and Expo Line. That will allow trains to run straight through downtown and should allow for faster rides and fewer transfers for most riders.

L.A. is working on a major zoning code revamp (L.A. Times) 

Good primer on efforts to revise the citywide code and, more importantly, the community plans that really dictate how neighborhoods look and what kind of development is allowed. This has been in the works for quite some time and looks like there are several years to go. At the end of the day, these plans will decide what gets built near transit.

Does Eric Garcetti have a big enough vision for L.A.? (Governing)

Very interesting profile on the mayor of Los Angeles, who is also the Chair of the Metro Board of Directors for the next 11 months. Garcetti makes a persuasive case that a back to basics approach is the best way to persuade people to believe in government again. Not much on transportation until the final graph. Excerpt:

Eric Garcetti wants to win big — he just believes that the way to do it is to bring the city’s fundamental management processes under control as a first step. Not until 2016 do most observers expect to see Garcetti himself put a controversial proposal before voters: That’s when he is expected to back an updated version of Measure R, the 2008 sales tax initiative that jump-started construction of the so-called Purple and Crenshaw subway lines.

 

The Metro Board has been discussing the possibility of a ballot measure in 2016 and the agency has asked local cities for their input. Nothing has been decided yet, including whether Metro would ask voters to extend Measure R or seek a new sales tax increase in order to accelerate projects and fund new ones. This is obviously one of the big storylines this blog will be following for the next two years.

Other actions taken by the Board of Directors today, including motion on Orange Line upgrades

Other actions taken by the Metro Board at their meeting today:

•The Board approved a motion by Board Members Paul Krekorian, Eric Garcetti, Michael Antonovich, Zev Yaroslavsky, John Fasana and Ara Najarian directing Metro staff to study potential upgrades to the Orange Line, including adding more articulated buses, grade-separated crossings, improved traffic signal priority and rail conversion. The motion also calls for the study of extending the Orange Line to Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena, where it would connect or offer a transfer to the Gold Line.

As I’ve noted before, this is an unfunded project and that converting the Orange Line to rail is not in Metro’s short- or long-range plans at this time.Metro Board Member Paul Krekorian noted that only two of Metro’s 80 rail stations are in the San Fernando Valley, where nearly 20 percent of county residents live. He said that the Orange Line’s ridership demonstrates that Valley residents are willing to take transit. Metro staff said they will return to the Board this fall with more details on how they plan to proceed with the Orange Line study. Motion

An amendment to the motion by Board Members Pam O’Connor and Don Knabe directs Metro staff to develop protocols for adding unfunded projects to the long-range plan — a need brought in part by Metro studying future ballot measure that could potentially fund new projects. As the amendment notes, some Measure R road and transit projects remain underfunded or are facing higher expenses to build, adding to the difficulty of building projects that are not set to receive Measure R funds. Amendment

•A separate motion by Board Members Michael Antonovich, Ara Najarian, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Ara Najarian directs Metro to continue the planning process for expanding bus rapid transit to eligible corridors, including Vermont Avenue and a line connecting the Orange Line to the Gold Line. The motion asks for a report from Metro staff this fall with a staffing, funding and implementation plan on expanding BRT. Motion

In an amendment to that motion by Metro Board Chair Eric Garcetti, Metro was directed to make such BRT projects the first priority when Metro pursues federal Small Starts or Very Small Starts funding. The amendment also asked for a center-running alternative where feasible in the study of the Vermont and Burbank-Pasadena BRT.

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“Notice to Proceed” granted for construction of Regional Connector project!

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It’s official: there are now four Metro Rail projects currently under construction after the Metro earlier this week gave its contractors — the Regional Connector Constructors, Joint Venture — the official “notice to proceed” on building the line. Until recently, Metro never had more than two rail projects underway at the same time.

The Regional Connector will be a 1.9-mile underground light rail line that will connect the Gold Line to the Blue Line and Expo Line in downtown Los Angeles. With a scheduled opening of 2020, the Regional Connector will allow trains to run directly between Santa Monica and East Los Angeles on an east-west line and between Azusa and Long Beach on a north-south line.

That should pass along several benefits to Metro Rail riders: faster and more frequent trains through downtown Los Angeles; fewer transfers for most riders; three new stations in Little Tokyo, Civic Center and 2nd/Hope, and; eliminating the need to turn around every Blue Line and Expo Line train at 7th/Metro Center, where both lines currently dead end.

Utility relocations and other advance work on the project began last year.

The three other Metro Rail lines under construction are a 6-mile extension of the Expo Line between Culver City and downtown Santa Monica, an 11.5-mile extension of the Gold Line between eastern Pasadena and the Azusa/Glendora border and the 8.5-mile Crenshaw/LAX Line that will run between the Expo Line and connect to the Green Line south of the airport.

The Expo Line and Gold Line Foothill Extension projects are currently scheduled to open in early 2016. The Crenshaw/LAX Line is scheduled to open in 2019; it will eventually connect to a people mover to be built by Los Angeles World Airports to connect the Crenshaw/LAX Line and Green Line to terminals at the airport.

The Metro Board is also scheduled to consider awarding a construction contract later this month for the 3.9-mile first phase of the Purple Line Extension subway between the existing Wilshire/Western station and Wilshire/La Cienega. When work begins, there will be five Metro Rail projects under construction.

All five of these projects are receiving funding from Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by two million Los Angeles County voters in Nov. 2008. Measure R included funds for 12 transit projects and a number of highway projects, as well as money for operations and funds for smaller transportation projects in cities in Los Angeles County.

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, June 4

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! 

A 'CPR Block Party' was held by the EduLife Institute at five Metro Rail stations on Tuesday, including Union Station. The idea was to train as many people as possible in CPR, a very good cause. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: A ‘CPR Block Party’ was held by the EduLife Institute at five Metro Rail stations on Tuesday, including Union Station. The idea was to train as many people as possible in CPR, a very good cause. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

DTLA businesses semi-win lawsuit against Regional Connector (Curbed LA)

The U.S. District Court ruled last week that work on the project is allowed to continue but that Metro must amend the final environmental document to explain why the agency is using cut-and-cover tunneling methods — and not other methods of tunneling — on Flower Street between Fifth and Seventh streets. Here is Metro’s statement:

Metro is pleased the Court upheld its analyses and mitigation of the environmental impacts of the Regional Connector Project. In the one area that requires further environmental documentation to explain why alternative tunneling methods on lower Flower Street are infeasible, Metro will follow the Court’s directive to meet and confer with the Plaintiffs and to file a joint report by June 20, 2014 regarding Plaintiffs’ request for injunctive relief. Metro will continue to provide the public with information on the infeasibility of alternative tunneling methods for the lower Flower Street portion of the Regional Connector Project through the environmental review process.”

 

And here is the court ruling:

Primary election results narrow candidates for Metro Board (L.A. County Registrar)

Each of the five Los Angeles County Supervisors are guaranteed seats on the Metro Board of Directors, the 13-member board that has the final say over agency policies, budgets and projects. In the two races to replace term-limited Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky, the field of candidates has been narrowed. In the first district currently represented by Molina, Hilda Solis captured more than 50 percent of the vote and won, according to unofficial results. In the third district represented by Yaroslavsky, Sheila Kuehl and Bobby Shriver were the two top vote-getters.

In the 33rd Congressional district, where the route of the Purple Line Extension under Beverly Hills High School was briefly an issue, the finalists are Elan Carter and Ted Lieu.

Union Station plans would alter and preserve (LAObserved) 

LAObserved editor Kevin Roderick moderates a panel discussion last week at the Los Angeles Public Library on the history and future of iconic Union Station. It’s appropriate: the station just celebrated its 75th anniversary in early May and this week new details were released by Metro on the emerging Union Station Master Plan, which seeks to preserve the historic nature of the station and add improvements to serve growing crowds of riders who use the station. Here’s a podcast of the event.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti paves the way for ‘Great Streets’ (Daily News) 

The mayor on Tuesday announced 15 sections of streets in the city — one per council district — that will get refurbished to attract more pedestrians. The Daily News talks to council members representing the San Fernando Valley and they’re in agreement something needs to be done to attract more businesses to the area. The project has an initial budget of $800,000.

Just how great will those great streets become? That’s the question that Joe Linton asks at Streetsblog LA. He is skeptical — but hopeful — believing it takes more than upgraded signs and shrubbery to make an area shine again.

Evaluating protected bike lanes in the U.S. (National Institute for Transportation and Communities)

This long and academic-minded report comes to the not-surprising conclusion that protected bike lanes in six cities evaluated attract increase bike traffic fairly quickly. And those who already bike, tend to bike more often using the routes.

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Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Kings and New York Rangers is this afternoon at 5 p.m. at Staples Center, one block from the Pico Station shared by the Blue Line and Expo Line. Have fun, Kings fans and welcome to the Best Coast, Rangers fans! Say your respective prayers. We like the Kings in five games.

 

Purple Line Extension secures $1.25-billion federal New Starts grant and $856-million federally-backed loan

Click above to see larger.

Click above to see larger.

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The signing of the funding documents this morning. From left, Metro Board Member Ara Najarian, Board Member Pam O’Connor, Metro CEO Art Leahy, Rep. Janice Hahn, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, Board Chair Diane DuBois, Rep. Grace Napolitano, Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky and Federal Transit Administration Chief Counsel Dorval Carter.

Officials from Metro and the Federal Transit Administration signed a pair of agreements this morning in Washington D.C. for a $1.25-billion federal grant and a $856-million federally-backed loan to build the first phase of the Purple Line Extension subway under Wilshire Boulevard. We’ll post video of this morning’s event later.

The agreements clear the way for construction activities to begin later this year on the 3.9-mile addition to the Purple Line, which currently terminates at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue. The first phase of the project will extend the line to the intersection of Wilshire and La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Three new stations will be included in the first phase: at Wilshire and La Brea Avenue, Wilshire and Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire and La Cienega.

The first phase of the project is scheduled for completion in 2023 with a project budget of $2.821 billion. The Metro Board of Directors is scheduled this summer to select a contractor to build the first phase. The subway is one of 12 transit projects funded in part by the Measure R half-cent sales tax increase approved by more than two million voters in Los Angeles County in 2008 (the measure passed with 67.93 percent approval).

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaking at the signing this morning in Washington D.C.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaking at the signing this morning in Washington D.C.

Utility relocations are already underway on the first phase and a 75-foot-deep exploratory shaft has already been dug across the street from LACMA in order to validate and learn more about soil conditions in that area. A number of fossils were found, identified and preserved during the excavation of the shaft.

The second phase of the project will extend the line to Century City in 2026 and the third phase to Westwood in 2036. Metro continues to explore ways that the second and third phase of the subway project and other road and transit projects may be accelerated from their original Measure R timelines.

The federal New Starts program is providing the $1.25-billion grant; the money will be appropriated to Metro on a year-by-year basis by Congress. The New Starts program helps local transit agencies build large and expensive transit projects.

The $856-million loan is coming from the TIFIA program that helps provide low-interest loans backed by the federal government to build new infrastructure; TIFIA helps reduce interest costs. The TIFIA program was expanded by Congress in 2012 to include transportation projects and is part of Metro’s America Fast Forward initiative to expand federal funding for transportation projects.

Metro also secured a $670-million New Starts grant and $160-million TIFIA loan earlier this year to help fund construction of the Regional Connector, a 1.9-mile underground light rail line that will connect the Blue Line, Expo Line and Gold Line in downtown Los Angeles to speed trips throughout the county and to downtown.

Here’s video of Metro CEO Art Leahy talking about the significance of today’s announcement:

The news release from Metro is below:

Delivering on the Promise of Measure R

L.A. METRO RECEIVES  AGREEMENTS FOR NEARLY $2 BILLION IN FEDERAL GRANTS AND LOW-INTEREST LOANS FOR PURPLE LINE EXTENSION PROJECT

Los Angeles, Calif. – Marking an historic vote of confidence in Metro Rail subway construction in Los Angeles, The L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) today joined federal, state and local elected officials to announce the receipt of a $1.25 billion Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) from the Federal Transit Administration to help pay for the first nearly four-mile, $2.821-billion segment of the long-awaited Metro Purple Line Extension Project toward West Los Angeles.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Transportation simultaneously granted Metro a low-interest loan of $856 million from a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) Loan to complete the funding package for the first phase of the project. Combined, the nearly $2 billion in project commitments represent the single biggest federal transportation investment in the history of Los Angeles County.  The remaining $821 million in project funding includes Measure R, City of Los Angeles, and other existing local and federal funds.  

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Transportation headlines, Wednesday, May 7

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! 

Just a reminder, there’s a reason they haven’t begun digging the 710 tunnel (Streetsblog L.A.) 

The foremost reasons are that the environmental review process is still far from complete and the more expensive alternatives under study for the SR-710 project — in particular a tunnel or light rail line — are not fully funded. But Streetsblog editor Damien Newton says the real reason is lack of any kind of broad-based support for such a project. He also takes another shot at tonight’s Zocalo Public Square forum on the 710, intimating that it will be a Metro-sponsored rally for 710 expansion although conceding that “it’s possible that tonight’s discussion will take a different turn.” One correction: The event at MOCA in downtown L.A. is free and is near the Red/Purple Line’s Civic Center station and numerous Metro bus lines. It’s only $9 for those who choose to drive and to park at Disney Hall.

MTA may have tough time getting federal rail money past House GOP (L.A. Times) 

Republicans in the U.S. House are proposing spending cuts to the federal New Starts program that helps local agencies pay for large transit projects. That could impact $200 million in next year’s federal budget for Metro’s Regional Connector and Purple Line Extension projects. Excerpt:

Raffi Hamparian, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority director of federal affairs, said county officials would work to increase the amount when the House committee acts on the bill in coming weeks or to win approval for a higher amount from the Senate, where Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) sits on the Appropriations Committee.

“It may be that the Senate is going to come in with a solid number that fully funds the program, and we don’t have a problem,” Hamparian said. “But the bottom line is, a low number adds uncertainty, and we don’t like uncertainty.” [snip]

“We’re determined to get these projects built, on time and on budget,” Hamparian said. “Los Angeles County voters have repeatedly stepped up to fund these projects, and we look forward to Congress meeting us halfway to get these great American infrastructure projects built.”

L.A.’s plan to make Figueroa a ‘complete street’ makes sense (L.A. Times)

The editorial backs the city of Los Angeles’ plans to put four miles of Figueroa on a road diet between downtown L.A. and Exposition Park, meaning that two traffic lanes could be lost and replaced, in part, with protected bike lanes and other improvements to help pedestrians and bus riders. Businesses, including USC, have pushed back. The Times says that’s a bad idea and that transferring some of the improvements over to Flower Street (which runs parallel to Figueroa) would be a bad idea.

How tolls could prevent a U.S. transportation crisis (The Atlantic Cities) 

With the federal Highway Trust Fund in perpetual crisis mode, Eric Jaffe writes that it’s encouraging that President Obama is proposing to allow states set tolls on their portion of the interstate system to pay for maintenance. The proposal would also allow some toll money to be used for public transit. My three cents: the interstates have been toll-free for so long that it’s going to be a mighty tough sell to get this past Congress and to get states to go for it, even if they have the permission to set tolls.

U.S. House subcommittee proposes deep cuts to federal funding for transit projects

This is the latest chapter in what has been an annual debate on what the federal government should be spending on helping local areas build and maintain transportation infrastructure. It’s important to Metro because the federal government has been — and hopefully will continue to be — a funding partner on a variety of projects, including the Crenshaw/LAX Line (with a $545.9-million federally backed loan), the Regional Connector (a federal New Starts grant and loan) and the Purple Line Extension (a $1.25-billion New Starts grant for Phase One that is near to being finalized and an $856-million loan).

Here’s the latest update from Metro’s government relations staff:

Earlier today, the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development released the outlines of its Fiscal Year 2015 spending bill in advance of the subcommittee’s markup set for tomorrow.

While the outline of the bill does not list specific projects slated for funding, it does give spending levels for transportation programs which benefit our agency. The bill sets the spending level for the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants (New Starts) program at $1.69 billion which is $252 million less than the funding provided last year.

Additionally, the House transportation bill cuts TIGER grant funding from $600 million this year to $100 million in Fiscal Year 2015. Further, the House bill would, if enacted into law, not allow TIGER grants to be used for mass transit and passenger rail projects.

Our Government Relations staff have been and will continue working with members of both the Senate and House Committee on Appropriations to ensure that the $100 million allocated in the President’s Budget for each of our New Starts projects (Downtown Regional Connector and Purple Line Extension) is fully funded when the House and Senate adopt their final transportation spending bill later this year. Our staff will also work to ensure that the TIGER grant program is fully funded and that mass transit and passenger rail projects continue to be eligible for grants under this program.

 

Metro Board approves $927-million contract for construction of Regional Connector project

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A $927.2-million contract to build the Regional Connector light rail project was awarded to Connector Constructors (a Joint Venture between Skanska USA Civil West California District, Inc., and Traylor Bros. Inc.) by the Metro Board of Directors on Thursday.

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 Board also approved a motion by Board Member Don Knabe authorizing Metro CEO Art Leahy to add an upper level and pedestrian bridge at the Connector’s 2nd/Hope Street Station to better connect the station to Grand Avenue (2nd/Hope is down hill from Grand) and to secure funding for it, including an elevator and/or escalator. The motion asks for the upper level and bridge be incorporated into scope and project budget. Here is an earlier Source post with more renderings of what a second level and bridge may look like.

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This is the 2nd/Hope Station as originally planned.

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This is a Metro rendering of a possible upper level and pedestrian bridge to the new Broad Museum that the Metro Board wants added to the project. The idea is to bring the station up to the level of Grand Avenue.

The $1.42-billion project is partially funded by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008. The Regional Connector is also being funded by a $670-million federal New Starts grant and $160-million federally-backed TIFIA loan.

The Board also approved Item 77C in closed session today involving a property acquisition from the Los Angeles Times at Broadway and Spring. Metro Board Chair Diane DuBois said terms of the agreement will be released after the deal is finalized.

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.

Here is the Metro staff report on the contract:

The news release from Metro is after the jump:

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Preview of tomorrow’s Metro Board of Directors meeting; a look at some interesting items

The Metro Board of Directors meets on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at Metro headquarters for their regular monthly meeting. The agenda is posted above and below is some of the more interesting items on the docket:

•Item 17,

">a motion by Board Member Paul Krekorian asking Metro staff to report on whether increased revenues may come from digital billboards on Metro properties and more ads on buses and at other facilities.

•Item 41, a motion by Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky asking Metro to continue studies for an express bus line between Westwood and the San Fernando Valley that would use the 405 HOV lanes.

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