The Metro Board of Directors on Thursday approved a strategy for accelerating second- and third-decade Measure R transit and road projects by a 9 to 3 vote.
Among the 'yes' votes was outgoing L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who has spent much of his second term pushing for the acceleration of Measure R projects and trying to secure federal funding to do so (The 'no' votes came from Board Members Michael D. Antonovich, John Fasana and Don Knabe. Gloria Molina was absent for the vote).
The strategy doesn't guarantee any project will be built quicker and is reliant on Congressional approval of the America Fast Forward program that both Villaraigosa and Metro have advocated for. America Fast Forward would provide Metro and other transit agencies access to hundreds of millions of dollars in federally-backed loans and interest-free bonds. Getting Congressional approval will be an uphill battle.
Still, the plan is intriguing if for no other reason than contemplating the alternative: having to wait until the late 2020s or the 2030s for several transit projects to be complete. The example most often cited is the Purple Line Extension, which would serve the second-largest job base in L.A. County but won't be complete to Westwood until 2036 under current funding schedules.
An acceleration plan could get it to Westwood by the mid-2020s and mean that the project could be built at once instead of in fits and starts for the next 20-plus years.
Other projects that could be accelerated include the Eastside Gold Line Extension, the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor, the South Bay Green Line Extension and the West Santa Ana Branch Corridor. Some will need other funds outside of Measure R to be completed.
Please see this earlier post for a more thorough explanation of the acceleration plan, which relies on Measure R revenues as well as Prop C revenues to pay back loans. Prop C is the half-cent sales tax approved by county votes in 1990 and would be used after Measure R expires in mid-2039.
As part of the plan, the Board also approved a motion by Board Members Richard Katz and Pam O'Connor that also asks Metro staff to report back within six months with a recommended ballot initiative “for the November 2014 or November 2016 election that, if approved by the voters of Los Angeles County, would enable acceleration of all Measure R highway and transit projects.”
That's not a huge surprise. The acceleration plan was built assuming that Measure R will expire, as scheduled. The expiration made putting together a plan much more difficult — and is the reason Prop C is needed. It remains to be seen whether such an initiative could help fill funding gaps in some Measure R transit and road projects.
The Katz and O'Connor amendment specifically excluded the 710 North project from the acceleration plan. One of the alternatives for that project is a freeway tunnel connecting the 710 in Alhambra to the 210 in Pasadena and is enormously controversial in the San Gabriel Valley, with some cities supporting it and some very much against.
An amendment by Antonovich to include updated financial information on completing the Gold Line Foothill Extension to Claremont failed with four votes for and seven against.
Proponents of the unfunded Azusa-to-Claremont segment argued they weren't asking for Measure R funds to pay for the $1-billion project but hoped that including the updated info might help secure other funds. Measure R is paying for the Pasadena-to-Azusa segment of the project that is under construction. There were other related financial issues decided earlier in the day that had threatened to derail the acceleration plan. Among them:
•The Board approved Item 12, which raised the budgets of several Measure R road and transit projects and set aside $750 million for a state-of-good-repair project. The total amount of all the projects came to more than $1.5 billion.
•The Board also approved a substitute motion for Item 70 that would use Prop C funds instead of Measure R funds to pay for cost increases on the Crenshaw/LAX Line. Several cities — including Los Angeles and some in the South Bay — complained that Metro was taking funds they wanted for other purposes. Metro's side of the argument was that it was trying to keep all costs within Measure R.
Supervisor Gloria Molina spoke at length that she didn't believe the Board was acting wisely — and that the Board was encouraging the agency to borrow more money than it should to pay for cost overruns. “You're on the way to bankrupting the future,” she said.