Thanks to everyone who took our poll on the biggest transportation stories in 2012. As the above chart demonstrates, the verdict was pretty clear: the opening of the first phase of the Expo Line was the big to-do in the minds of many readers.
My take on a few of the year’s big storylines:
•Perhaps the biggest overall story of 2012 was the unceasing expansion of transit in Los Angeles County. The first phase of the Expo Line opened, the Orange Line Extension opened, the new El Monte Station opened, the Crenshaw/LAX Line went out to bid, the pace of construction quickened on both the second phase of the Expo Line and the Gold Line Foothill Extension and the environmental studies were completed for the Regional Connector and Westside Subway Extension — with early utility work now underway for both.
Four years after the passage of Measure R, it’s pretty clear that L.A. County is serious about transforming itself and building a transit network to compliment its sprawling road network. It has been a long time coming — and it’s great to see.
•The loss of Measure J was no doubt a significant news story. The ballot measure to extend Measure R another 30 years was obviously backed by Metro staff, the majority of the Metro Board of Directors and 66.1 percent of Los Angeles County voters. But it needed two-thirds of the vote to pass — which everyone knew ahead of time — and wasn’t quite able to reach the finish line.
A few thoughts on this:
1) Given that there are still more than 26 years left in the Measure R program, it’s hard to see the loss of J as soul crushing or the last word when it comes to trying to accelerate transit projects. If the Metro Board chooses, there will certainly be chances in the future to propose another Measure R extension.
2) The loss of J has spurred a public conversation about the two-thirds threshold needed to pass such local transportation measures and at least one state legislator has proposed lowering it to 55 percent.
There is no doubt the two-thirds threshold requires transportation ballot measures to include a long list of projects in order to get the votes needed to pass. My question about the 55 percent threshold: would it make it possible to do more targeted transportation measures – i.e. a measure with only transit projects or road projects?
I know there were transit-minded folks who voted against J because they didn’t like it sending money to road projects (the opposite is also probably true) and wanted to see money spent on existing Measure R projects as well as new ones — for example, Blue Line upgrades.
Spreading the money around makes sense politically and is fair, at least from a geographic perspective. But it also means not all projects are fully funded or lack the dollars they need to build the ideal version of them.
3) I think a few years from now we’ll better be able to judge the State Legislature’s decision to fund the first segment of the state’s bullet train project without having yet secured the tens of billions of dollars needed to build the rest of the line.
I suspect many people feel like I do that high-speed rail would greatly benefit California but worry that the version of it written by elected officials in the state and approved by voters will prove to be far too expensive to implement. If so, would those dollars have been better spent making Amtrak faster, closing the gap in Amtrak service between Los Angeles and Bakersfield or on urban transit that city-dwellers rely on day in and day out? We’ll see.
4) The ExpressLanes opened on the 110 and the world has not ended. The most interesting thing about the new toll lanes is that they weren’t very controversial and there was nowhere near the fuss raised about them that one would expect in the region that put the ‘free’ in ‘freeway.’ Obviously we’re still less than two months into a year-long demonstration project and there’s still a lot of data to be crunched as to how the ExpressLanes are impacting overall traffic flows on the 110. But the ExpressLanes on the 110 are a start and how they perform on the 110 and 10 (slated to open in early 2013) will likely dictate whether the region embraces congestion pricing as a useful strategy in the future.
5) I completely zombied out and forgot to include “Metro adds late-night weekend hours” on the poll. I know that was a big thing for many readers and also showed that Metro is earnestly trying to give people a reason not to have to drive everywhere.
6) The phasing out of paper tickets from Metro ticket machines at rail and Orange Line stations was, I think, a welcome development. As many of you know, the conversion to TAP for Metro and other local agencies has been a long, expensive saga that is still ongoing and there’s a lot more work to be done (i.e. making the taptogo.net website user-friendly, which it definitely is not). On the plus side, I think many people now find TAP something easy and convenient to use most of the time. I do.
The big stories of 2013?
The obvious one is the progress on the five Measure R projects — Expo 2, Foothill Extension, Crenshaw/LAX, Regional Connector and Westside Subway. Up north, we’ll be watching to see when/if shovels will be hitting the ground for the high-speed rail project.
In D.C., the big story will be whether Congress — and, in particular, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives — can come to any kind of agreement on a future transportation bill that would help local transit agencies build big projects. A federal loan program was expanded for the current transportation bill that expires in 2014 and Metro, as part of its America Fast Forward program, will be seeking to continue the loan program and add a bond program that could supply billions more federal dollars.
We’ll also be looking at ridership both locally and nationally. If the latest job figures are an indicator, both California and Los Angeles County are finally on the rebound from the Great Recession and that hopefully means more people going to work each day. Over the last year, Metro bus ridership has held steady and rail ridership has grown — a trend that will hopefully continue.