By Ken Alerin, July 29, 2013
ALPERIN AT LARGE - There's often a big difference that keeps coming
up between being declared "pro-train" and "pro-transportation": it's a
shame there ever has to be a difference, but count me in as part of the
latter in that I love a train...when it makes good cost-effectiveness
and impacts on our Economy, Environment and Quality of Life to build or
upgrade a rail service.
Like it or not, there are times when proposed train lines are awesome
new options for mobility, a point that is all too often dismissed by
political conservatives (and by many Republican leaders). Like it or
not, there are times when proposed train lines just are not
cost-effective and make terrible investments, a point that is all too
often dismissed by political liberals (and by many Democratic leaders).
Hence, we have some political leaders who decry the automobile as
nothing short of the anti-Christ, and others who decry trains as nothing
short of the anti-Christ. And most of us are left wishing our
political leaders were a bit more flexible.
Yet having better access to major urban centers means having
alternatives to driving (file this under "D For Duh!", especially for
tourists), and having better access to rural areas, like our national
parks, means having good road access (file this again under "D For
Duh!", especially for tourists).
Not all of us have commutes that lend themselves to either automobile
or train access or alternatives, and I've met conservatives who love
buses and trains and liberals who would never use buses and trains.
Again, most of us are left wishing our political leaders were a bit more
This is our reality, as is the reality that the construction and
growth of Los Angeles' major communities and surface streets were
historically tied to where our train lines (Red and Yellow Cars, etc.).
Now, our communities' economic life-blood is often tied to the location
of our freeways, and therefore building new train alternatives to
driving needs to consider where our freeways are most congested.
So when we talk about new train lines and operations, political
partisanship needs to be compartmentalized from whether it makes good
Example #1: The Desert XPress
I know I'll get yelled at by my more conservative friends, but
despite the fact that I'm NOT a big fan of this project's biggest
supporter, Senator Harry Reid, I always felt that this was one of more
cost-effective and ideal plans to start California High Speed Rail.
Ditto for the Santa Barbara to San Diego corridor.
But it's dead for now, as it should be.
This project, which is to my understanding a high-speed rail/Metrolink compatible rail line between Las Vegas and Victorville,
lost its funding officially by outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray
LaHood because of its failure to adhere to a "Buy American" policy, but
really did so because of pressure from a House and Senate that's
focusing on budgets.
This is a $5 billion project that was originally supposed to enjoy
private sector support, but increasingly was reliant on federal loans
(i.e., the taxpayer). Furthermore, the western terminus was in lonely
So it's dead for now, but I still believe that having this option is
by far superior than the MagLev and other crazy schemes that are by far
more expensive, and with the understanding that this could have, and
should have, been planned with a Palmdale connection, it's my hope that
someone considers this option for the future after more urgent
transportation needs are met.
This project's failure is similar to that of the problems facing our
California High-Speed Rail project--I still consider this to be a big
bait-and-switch scheme, with a $33 billion price tag suddenly tripling
and with private investment suddenly disappearing, but I remain a
supporter so long as it adheres to only a small middle-California
high-speed rail but focused now on higher-speed rail for our successful
Caltrain and Metrolink networks.
I honestly do question the legality of Governor Brown's change-order
for our California High-Speed Rail, but also honestly believe that while
Californians need more road and rail projects before this current plan,
it will lay down the future for a lot more passenger and freight
Time will tell whether we all got ripped off by our California
High-Speed Rail project, and whether it, too, should have died like the
Desert XPress...or whether posterity will thank us for this first step.
Example #2: The Foothill Gold Line
As with the Pasadena Gold Line,
which is enjoying speeds and ridership levels heretofore unthinkable
after its humble start, this will be a great investment that the City of
Los Angeles needs to show more love.
The San Gabriel Valley really wants this line, and if we want to fund
our own City lines we need to recognize that this line will not only
benefit those currently wanting an alternative to the I-710 and I-210
freeways to Downtown, but also to allow more investment and growth along
those corridors lying outside our City limits.
I've no doubt that the Pasadena-to-Irwindale/Duarte extension of the
Pasadena Gold Line, currently under construction and moving forward
rather well, will be of benefit not only as an alternative to the I-210
or Metrolink to Downtown, but to folks wanting to commute to Pasadena
(newsflash, Angelenos: not everyone wants or needs to travel
Somehow, some way, we need to position the proposed extension of the
Foothill Gold Line to Claremont much higher than it's been to date,
because San Gabriel Valley and Inland Empire commuters and political
leaders of both parties really want it...and we'll never pass an
extension to Measure R without this fought-for line.
Example #3: The Expo Line
While Metro is making some great investments in both rail cars and
mitigation for affected Crenshaw Line merchants it is also studying ways
to develop more gates for Expo Phase 1 stations .
Ridership on this line has already reached projections years, if not
decades, ahead of schedule, and it's no doubt that an Expo Line that
reaches the beach in 2015-16 will allow us to access different parts of
the City and County of Los Angeles in ways heretofore dreamed
Yet problems remain with respect to parking, signage, and its
Downtown links with the Blue Line--all of which Metro is aware of, but
is potentially limited by fiscal constraints. One can only hope that
more employers and commuters will be allowed tax advantages for
encouraging Expo Line and other mass transit use, and one can only hope
that more developers will be required to fund this system.
...and again, like a broken record, I'll argue that the stupid,
NON-transit-oriented idea at Exposition/Sepulveda/Pico was a duping on a
major scale by Alan Casden and his team of hucksters and developers, at
the expense of Zev Yaroslavsky, Antonio Villaraigosa, the Expo
Authority and Metro Boards and all of us taxpayers alike.
I doubt I'm the only one who awaits Metro and LADOT action on
creating a parking/bicycle/bus/rail-friendly Westside Regional Transit
Center on the publicly-owned Metro land near/under the 405 freeway to
truly create the geographic and unique opportunity that exists at this
Exposition/Sepulveda/Sawtelle/Pico site, because the Expo Line is as
close to a Metrolink alternative that I-10 commuters will ever see in
So we've got the Desert XPress (which is DOA for now because of a
lack of private investment) and the Foothill Gold Line (partially
completed only, despite the enormous amount of private investment that
awaits it) and Expo Line (also partially completed only but at least
scheduled and en route to completion, with as of yet squandered private
It's my belief that all of these lines should be built, at the right
time, and under the right circumstances, but until the right connection
of political and private investments are made their construction and
funding will be herky-jerky and annoy taxpayers and planners alike.
Maybe this herky-jerky nature is also human nature...and maybe it's
something that our new Expo and Metro Boards can confront and resolve to
the mutual benefit of taxpayers, commuters and investors alike.