How We Roll, Feb. 10: 710 tunnel bill, Caltrain electrification, Vermont BRT and more

Art of Transit: 


Things to listen to whilst transiting: “The Shattering of an All-American Town” on Fresh Air. Good podcast about Lancaster, Ohio, which was once a major player in the manufacture of glass products. Then came the corporate raiders and other issues and good jobs today are scarce.

Assemblyman Chris Holden of Pasadena introduces bill to kill 710 tunnel (SGV Tribune)

Attentive Source readers may recall that Caltrans and Metro are in the midst of the environmental studies for the SR 710 North project, with five alternatives under review to help improve traffic caused by the gap in the 710 freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena: a freeway tunnel, light rail, bus rapid transit, street and intersection improvements and the legally-required no bid option.

Holden’s bill, AB 287, would instead create an advisory committee to choose an option from among the Caltrans and Metro studies underway and possibly new options. Pasadena officials applauded the bill while Alhambra Councilwoman Barbara Messina told the Tribune that she felt betrayed by Holden, who she said once supported freeway completion.

Metro’s Measure R half-cent sales tax approved by L.A. County voters in 2008 does supply $750 million for the project — although that’s not nearly enough to build a multibillion tunnel. At this time, there is no other funding available.

Holden was a longtime member of the Pasadena City Council and was first elected to the Assembly in 2012. He was reelected in November and is currently serving his third and final term as he will be termed out in 2018. His district includes Pasadena and South Pasadena — both of which have opposed a prospective tunnel — but not Alhambra, which supports it.

As for the project, the draft environmental study was released in 2015 and responses are still being analyzed. Measure M did not provide any funding for the project.

Why the Vermont BRT should be rail (Urbanize LA)

In this post, Scott Frazier argues that the Measure M project to bring a bus rapid transit project to Vermont Avenue between Hollywood Boulevard and 120th Street would better serve the region as a rail line running south from the Red/Purple Line (which runs under Vermont Avenue between Wilshire and Hollywood boulevards). Steven also argues that in the Measure M process, the city of L.A. should have funded this project instead of others within city boundaries.

A trio of thoughts. One, these kind of questions about which projects to fund were largely settled in the run-up to Measure M. Two, I think bus rapid transit done right could be a boon to Vermont and get a project to a very busy bus corridor a lot sooner than rail. Three, M does supply money for a Vermont rail line, but that doesn’t begin flowing until the late 2060s. As for the streetcar money, that also doesn’t begin flowing until the late 2050s.

Steven raises another interesting point: he would like to see the city of L.A. help fund this, perhaps with money from Measure M’s local return pie. Hmm. Good luck, given the city spreads that money around. Even a short subway on Vermont would be a multibillion dollar project and going forward getting federal funding for even half of a project’s cost will likely be tough. So that’s a challenge.

All that said, this is a good post and it’s great to see our local bloggers digging into the data and kicking the tires on these things while they are still early in the planning process. Once construction begins, substantial changes to projects are rarely made.

P.S.: I’ll post more about the Vermont BRT project next week.

U.S. transportation department executive approved grant days before taking job with rail contractor (LAT)

The project is the electrification of the Caltrain corridor in the Bay Area — a key step to allowing high speed rail trains use the Caltrain tracks to reach downtown San Francisco. As part of the Obama Administration, acting FTA Administrator Carolyn Flowers (a former Metro executive, btw) approved the grant in January and then subsequently went to work for AECOM, which won the contract.

Fourteen Republicans are asking the $647-million contract to be delayed until the California High-Speed Rail Authority can be audited. Caltrain says the grant was vetted for two years before it was awarded. It’s a fair article although nothing wrong may have occurred. But, as the LAT notes, there has been no shortage of transportation officials moving between the public and private sectors and that, as reporters like to say “raises questions” about appearances.

Here’s the full Caltrain statement. Excerpt:

The Electrification Project is an opportunity to increase the capacity of the system and transform the way Peninsula residents experience transit. Caltrain is already the mobility option of choice for over 65,000 daily riders. By connecting our communities with more service to more stations and reducing travel times, electrification will make Caltrain even more attractive, equipping the system to accommodate more riders and providing significant relief to drivers on our busy local streets and roads and our increasingly congested freeways.

Attentive Source readers know that some folks on our comment board have over the years said it would be wise to electrify the Metrolink trains to also expand capacity.

Quasi-related: from Caltrain’s Twitter account:

Priced out: big cities are getting too expensive for low-income residents (Trulia’s Blog)


As a result, these lower-income residents have opted to move to less expensive areas of the country. In some cases, even those able to afford these expensive cities are leaving too.

Maybe one more reason for dips that we’ve seen in transit ridership around the country, including in our region.

Joyous Africans take to the rails, with China’s help (NYT)

The new rail line in Ethiopia will greatly reduce travel times. China Railways built it and, as the NYT notes, this is just one of the rail projects they’re involved with around the globe. Excerpt:

Having constructed one of the world’s most extensive and modern rail networks at home, China is taking its prodigious resources and expertise global. Chinese-built subway cars will soon appear in Chicago and Boston, Beijing is building a $5 billion high-speed rail line in Indonesia, and the Chinese government recently christened new rail freight service between London and Beijing. Another ambitious system in the works, the 2,400-mile Pan-Asia Railway Network, would link China to Laos, Thailand and Singapore.

Los Angeles, too. The Metro Board in December awarded a $178.4-million contract to China Railways to build 64 new subway cars for the Red/Purple Line with options to purchase another 218.

And finally…

I can’t wait for screening devices that can reveal damaged souls. Feet apart and hands in the air!

6 replies

  1. “Measure M project to bring a bus rapid transit project to Vermont Avenue between Hollywood Boulevard and 120th Street ”

    When is the construction of the rapid transit bus project schedule to begin?

  2. For now, would Vermont commuters consider the Silver Line, just a few blocks east, if you were to advertise it and possibly increase capacity?

  3. Ive thought of Vermont south for a few years now. That article is so good its silly that Metro is doing BRT. In theory it works, but enforcment is bunk. A Redline extension has so much value that its silly that it isnt a priority. Hollywood to Santa Monica while skipping DTLA is a huge selling point. Pico and Venice blvd can share a station the size of Pershing Sq. Olympic could be an option, and maybe Adams. The numbers don’t lie on how much congestion there is. I really want to see this and West Santa Ana in my lifetime. All the way to the green line in my opinion is uneccessarry this century lol

  4. Steve — At least you included a Caltrain statement on the fact that this electrification project is badly needed irrespective of the CAHSR project, The Times’ writer conveniently left this fact out. Caltrain needs this project to expand its service and run longer trains. Now if only Metrolink had the ridership to justify electrification.

    I personally feel that the Amtrak LA-San Diego segment should be electrified for use not only by Amtrak (using dual-mode locomotives) but also by Metrolink and Coaster. New Jersey Transit uses Bombardier dual-mode locomotives which can take AC power from overhead wires. Metro North and the Long Island Rail Road use dual-mode units powered from a DC third rail (under-running on M-N and over-running on the LIRR).

    As for the SR710 tunnel, even though I support building rail transit systems, those opposed to the tunnel conveniently leave out the fact that motorists who would use the tunnel will come to and from all over the LA area, and thus a transit-only solution is short-sided and won’t by itself solve this problem. I think that a toll road is the only viable option.

    Finally, I agree that additional study is needed to determine if the Vermont Corridor justifies rail, such as a branch off the Red Line to Expo and USC. Remember, the V-Car was one of the last survivors from the Yellow Car System and used 2-person crews to the very end to speed boarding.

  5. When we could see Metrolink to get modernization and electrification like the Caltrain does as a part of high speed rail project?