On Transportation: April 4 column

Can the high-speed rail project build new tracks over and under Tehachapi Pass in the next decade?

HIGH-SPEED RAIL PLAN: The revised plan that was released Monday proposes to build 300 miles of high-speed rail track between Merced and the San Fernando Valley by 2021. It’s nice to see the initial segment of the project expanded to Los Angeles County, but there’s an obvious question here: Even if funding can be found, can 300 miles of high-speed rail be built in a decade?

For the sake of comparison, the 11.5-mile Gold Line Foothill Extension began construction last year and is scheduled to be complete in late 2015. The 6.6-mile second phase of the Expo Line also began last year, with work scheduled to be finished in late 2015, with a contingency date of 2016. Neither line is completely grade separated although some significant bridges need to be built for both.

Can 300 miles of high-speed rail line be built in a decade? Sure. But it’s going to take a lot of effort and a dedicated funding source that has yet to be determined. In my view, the lack of such a funding stream is the biggest challenge with the project — and it creates the kind of uncertainty that will allow opponents to keep throwing rocks at the project.

By contrast, the passage of the Measure R sales tax increase by Los Angeles County voters ensured that there’s enough money to build a long list of road and transit projects. And I think that has been instrumental in building public support — because for projects such as the Westside Subway Extension, the Regional Connector, the Crenshaw Line, the Gold Line Foothill Extension and Expo Phase II are no longer hypothetical exercises. They’re going to happen.

STADIUMPALOOZA: In the past week, the Dodgers were sold for more than $2 billion, which reignited speculation that the new owners would want to maximize their investment by adding an NFL stadium in Chavez Ravine.

To quote Tina Fey, what the what?

If you already have a baseball stadium that’s off the beaten path, why would anyone add a football stadium to the same location? Yes, the Dodger Stadium Express that Metro offers is nice and has been successful. But the fact remains that Dodger Stadium sits on top of a hill disconnected from downtown L.A. and everyone, including Metro, has to drive to get there.

As I’ve written before, and if I was the king, Los Angeles’ baseball stadium would be in downtown proper near transit and businesses. And if I was to ascend to the throne, I’d take the time between feasting and song to ensure that any football stadium built in the city would also be in downtown proper.

Photo by Steve Hymon, via Flickr.

On a related note, AEG is scheduled to release a voluminous draft environmental impact report on the stadium on Thursday that the company says cost $27 million to produce. If you are a mother or father, this would be a good time to put down your iPad, turn to your child and tell them that becoming an environmental law attorney is an excellent path toward extreme prosperity.

Let’s review some fun facts. The proposed football stadium would be located between the 110 freeway and Staples Center on property that is currently occupied by part of the Convention Center. So what exactly is being impacted? Beats me. The property has been paved over many times in its history, is currently encased in concrete and most certainly is not the Yosemite Valley.

Yes, it’s important to explain and plan for obvious impacts for any large project. AEG should explain traffic impacts and mitigations. They should have to explain where the water and electricity is coming from to power Farmer’s Field. The same applies to large transportation projects.

But common sense needs to take over at some point. Because if the EIR is taller than what you’re actually proposing to build, then something’s probably not right.


URBAN NATION: The Census Bureau recently released data on metro areas. Media tended to focus on one statistic: that the L.A. metro area is more densely populated than the New York metro area.

Interesting, for sure. But density is a measure based on average population over vast land areas and there’s still nowhere in the L.A. metropolis that is nearly as dense as Manhattan in the heart of the New York metropolis.

My favorite statistic is shown in this map of the 10 largest metro areas by population in the U.S. If you add the actual numbers, there are 73,403,877 people living in those 10 areas. In other words, almost one in four Americans live in one of the top 10 metro areas.

Factor in the many smaller metro areas and that’s a pretty good argument for investing federal dollars into urban transportation. Because, as a businessman might say, that’s where the customers are.

THE HEADLINE I WANTED TO WRITE: “Go Metro to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.” Bruce and the band play the Sports Arena — a short walk from the Expo Line — on April 26 and 27. I have a ticket on the floor for the show on the 27th.

And the Expo Line opens on the 28th.

Completely and utterly predictable.

8 replies

  1. Fun fact – The Convention Center was built on land that was previously the maintence yard for the Los Angeles Streetcar System.

    On the football stadium, it would make sense for the baseball stadium to be in Downtown and the football stadium to be in Chavez Ravine. Since football games are generally played on Sunday – traffic is not as big an issue. Also, since football patrons like to tailgate, Chavez Ravine makes sense.

    If Farmers Field isn’t built, I’d expect the next push to be for a new Dodger Stadium in Downtown and Chavez Ravine to hold the football stadium, but we’ll see. They are just not many places in Downtown that are suited for a large stadium.

  2. One advantage that the high-speed rail project will have over the Purple Line or the Gold Line extension is that it won’t have to deal with as many NIMBYs.

    There will still be NIMBYs, and the NIMBY complaints will be just as ridiculous. But the problems and the solutions outside of Hanford in the San Joaquin Valley will be considerably different from the (alleged) problems in Beverly Hills or in the very suburban San Gabriel Valley.

  3. The great thing about a Central Valley-to-LA initial segment is that it’s sorely needed now. Currently the fastest way to take Amtrak from the Bay Area to LA is via the San Joaquins route to Bakersfield, and then on an Amtrak bus from there to LA. So even if HSR is abandoned after this segment is built, we would still have the ability to use the track for Amtrak service and get passengers into LA a lot quicker than the other options.

  4. The idea that HSR through the Tehachapis would be completed by 2021 is totally ridiculous. As a comparison, I refer you to the Gothard Pass tunnel currently being built in Switzerland, a country with a long history of train tunnel construction. Source: Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gotthard_Base_Tunnel)

    The Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT) is a new railway tunnel beneath the Swiss Alps, expected to open in 2016. With a route length of 57 km (35.4 mi) and a total of 151.84 km (94.3 mi) of tunnels, shafts and passages, it is the world’s longest rail tunnel, surpassing the Japanese Seikan Tunnel.

    After 64 percent of Swiss voters accepted the AlpTransit project in a 1992 referendum, tunnel construction began in 1996. Drilling operations in the eastern tunnel were completed on 15 October 2010 and in the western tunnel on 23 March 2011. AlpTransit Gotthard Ltd. will hand over the tunnel to Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) in operating condition in December 2016.

    If everything continues on schedule, it will have taken the Swiss 24 years from the beginning of tunnel construction to opening. Even if the CHSR project finished in that time frame and began construction next year (neither of which are likely), that would make the finishing date 2037.

  5. Why can’t they just build shops restaurants and living spaces at dodger stadium? Build a branch of the gold line from chinatown station that has a junction at bishop road and goes up to the stadium. There can be a Universal city walk up there with multiplex cinema, shops, restaurants, nightclubs, there can be some nice bars up there with a view of Central City! There’s tons of space and cheaper to develop up there rather than prime city center area!

  6. The key to gaining more funding for HSR is to take the opposite approach and reduce tax payer burden. No one wants to live or start a business in CA if cumilative tax rates are as high as 20-30%. People don’t buy things and businesses move away from California if too much restrictions are in place. CA should look the other way to lower business taxes to bring jobs back here. Lower taxes, bring jobs back to CA, hopefully the whole railcar manufacturing industry, jump start consumer confidence and it’ll do wonders to bring funding to the CAHSR plan.