By Steve Hymon, October 29, 2013
For a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZZVZqT5PdY
The annual conference on transportation issues in our area is taking place today in downtown Los Angeles.
The most interesting tidbit to burp out thus far: Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Board Member Eric Garcetti — in an introductory video (he is in D.C., lobbying for transportation funding — said that connecting Metro Rail to LAX is among his highest priorities and that another transportation ballot measure is possible.
So that’s intriguing to hear. I don’t have any more details and the Metro Board certainly hasn’t decided anything. Nor is there anything even on the table for their discussion.
But the juxtaposition of a ballot measure along with the airport project — a project with both public appeal and the need for a lot more funding — is worth noting. As is the Mayor’s statement that cities have been asked to submit desired projects, which suggests he envisions a ballot measure that could fund new projects.
Measure J, which narrowly failed last year, would have accelerated some Measure R projects but not funded any new ones.
As of now any countywide ballot measure would need two-thirds approval to pass. There were bills in the Legislature this year to lower that threshold to 55 percent but they were tabled and that discussion and vote won’t happen until 2014 at the earliest. The next two big elections in L.A. County will be in Nov. 2014 (governor) and Nov. 2016 (presidential); that’s key because passing transportation ballot measures with high thresholds often requires high voter turnout.
Metro Board Chair Diane DuBois also gave a speech at the conference about the need to upgrade Los Angeles County’s infrastructure and the challenges that go along with that. Here’s the text of that speech:
I’m here to tell you that we are aging.
Are you surprised?
But we’re not the only ones. Our world is aging. Our country is aging. Our cities are aging. And our infrastructure?
Our infrastructure is ready for AARP!
That’s why it’s particularly fitting that this year’s Mobility 21 Summit is focused on infrastructure, education and healthcare.
A healthy infrastructure is at the core of what we all do. And without it, we can’t expect to connect to the things that make a region a good and fair and comfortable place to live … with top-notch schools, excellent healthcare and access to jobs.
And yet, what have we done for our infrastructure lately? And what do we mean when we say “infrastructure”? Do we mean trains and buses? Do we mean bridges and streets? Is it okay to talk about freeways?
For many of us — supporters of mobility in this region — building out our public transit system is key to keeping gridlock at bay.
But we can’t forget the elephant in the room. We can’t forget our freeways. The simple truth is that despite our confidence in the importance of train, bus, bike and ride-share options — we know that in L.A. County, more than 70 percent of our commuters drive solo to work.
Even though I’m chair of the Metro Board, I actually understand this. In my district — the Gateway Cities District, just south of here — we’re pretty highway dependent. We’re crisscrossed by the I-5 and the I-710. So in my neighborhood, if we want to get somewhere fast, we generally hop in the car.
I love our freeways and I use them regularly. That does not mean I’m anti transit. On the contrary, I am a staunch supporter of our strong and developing public transit system. Because the way I see it, highways and streets and buses and trains are all part of the same solution. They are a mobility team. They are connected … which means we are connected to what’s essential: education, healthcare, plentiful jobs … and one another.
In a compact Eastern city, I would argue, it’s easier to build a comprehensive bus and rail network. But in a 1,400-square mile service area like L.A. County — and those of you from Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties know exactly what I mean — it’s nearly impossible to navigate life without a car … or occasional access to one.
In L.A. County many of our aging freeways were built in the 1950s and 60s. They were built for Lassie- and Ponderosa- and Lone Ranger-style traffic … and I don’t mean the Johnny Depp kind of Lone Ranger. I mean cars with fins cruising at 65 miles an hour. During rush hour.
We have a HUGE investment in those aging freeways and we must not forget them. They are a major part of our mobility infrastructure. Metro is doing everything it can to modernize and maintain our freeways. We have major highway widening going on in the I-405 Sepulveda Pass and, in my district, the I-5 leaving Orange County. But with a regional infrastructure deficit of $200 billion projected through 2035, it’s not easy to tackle all the corridors that need help.
As usual, it’s all about the money.
The gas tax is the single most important source of transportation funding for the federal government. But as everyone in this room knows, the gas tax is not keeping pace. In fact, the purchasing power of the gas tax has dropped 28 percent since 1997, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
Vehicle fuel efficiency is up and that’s a good thing. But connected to that efficiency is the consumption of less gas … which means less tax money to support public transit and highway projects. At the same time, construction costs have taken off, meaning that the funding we do collect buys less infrastructure than ever before.
As the gas tax loses value, government is turning to other taxes — like voter-approved sales taxes. That leaves the burden for freeway improvements to local agencies like Metro and OCTA and SANBAG.
Does this sound familiar?
In 1992 Metro estimated that it would shoulder 27 percent of the costs for 24 years of L.A. County freeway improvements … with the rest of the money coming from federal and state funding.
But in the newest estimates, starting this year and lasting for the next 24, Metro expects to shoulder 55 percent of the burden! In 24 years the funding source has done nearly a 180 shift — from state and federal support to local sources.
Metro and other transit agencies are stepping up to the plate — as are our taxpayers, who have voted time and again to tax themselves for mobility. But we simply don’t have the money we need to deal with all these issues. We need federal and state help to continue to build out our transit system infrastructures and take care of our existing streets and freeways.
Just a few weeks ago, a national transportation analysis said the roads in greater Los Angeles are the most deteriorated in the United States — costing Southern California drivers more than 800 dollars a year. This estimate referred to the cost of repairs, tune-ups and tires, as well as faster depreciation from the damage.
That’s one example of where we’re falling short. Here’s another:
In the Gateway Cities District, we have two of the largest ports in the world. We love the Ports of L.A They bring us — and our country — a lucrative connection to the world: Goods from Asia. Goods that then are carted all over our country. Tax dollars. And thousands of jobs. We love the concept of thousands of jobs — direct and indirect — that spill out across our country! I like to think of us as helping the entire nation.
But those assets have a downside for us locally: Crumbling roads, broken by the constant pounding of loaded 50-ton trucks. Safety issues created by trucks and cars sharing the same lanes … at the same time. Unhealthful emissions as the trucks travel back and forth, 24/7.
A 2005 USC study concluded that children who lived within a quarter mile of a freeway were 89 percent more likely to have asthma than those living a mile away. The closer they lived to freeways, the higher the asthma rates. I’m sorry to say that that is just one study in many to conclude that air pollution from freeways is connected to worse health for nearby residents.
In L.A. County, we’re working to improve this danger along the I-710 Freeway, leaving the Ports of L.A. — our most heavily traveled goods movement corridor. We’re planning the addition of truck lanes to keep cars and trucks separate but equal. At the same time we’re studying creation of a zero-emission corridor — one in which hybrid-electric trucks could receive power in much the same way light-rail trains do currently. At least one study released last year says a demonstration test of this plan could be possible in the next few years.
But our mobility infrastructure plans also need to consider the future economic health of our ports.
This afternoon some of you will discuss the amount of investment it will take to keep the Southern California goods movement infrastructure competitive. The Panama Canal is being modernized. The Suez Cana could be next. And the estimated magic number needed to keep So Cal goods movement infrastructure competitive is 60 billion dollars. 60 billion! That’s so much money. But are we going to sit back and wait to see if we lose business when the other canal options are available? We will lose business if we sit back and wait.
But where will the money come from?
We must convince Congress to update the gas tax and perhaps create an infrastructure bank that those of us in Southern California — self-help people that we are! — could use to leverage the transportation taxes our voters have been generous and far-sighted in supporting.
We must educate the public about the importance of infrastructure and explain how it impacts them all day, every day in personal ways. As you have heard, it can mean tumbling bridges and crumbling roads. But it also can mean air pollution caused by trucks and cars stopping and starting just feet from our windows. It can mean bad roads that cost us an average of 800 dollars a year for additional car maintenance. It can mean the difference between driving to work and taking a train or a bus … because there is a train or a bus there to take us. And it most certainly means jobs now, when we need them most.
We must remind the public that they are aging — or should we say maturing? — and that some day soon we may all depend on public transit as the path to the doctor, the hospital, to yoga class … this is, after all, Southern California.
We’re aging. Our infrastructure is aging. But in Southern California, we will continue to work toward shoring up and creating an infrastructure that we can hand off to our kids, our grandkids and the generations to come so that they can create a 22nd century mobility we can only dream of.