To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Informational Material About the SR 710 Study Now Available at Local Libraries


April 3, 2013

The Latest Bleak Evidence That Crossing the Street Is Hazardous to Your Health


By Emily Badger, April 3, 2013



 The Latest Bleak Evidence That Crossing the Street Is Hazardous to Your Health

We stumble across a lot of depressing studies and stories at Cities about your chances as a pedestrian or cyclist of getting side-swiped by a passing car (in a bike lane, on a sidewalk, passing through an intersection). Today, though, just feels like a pile-on. First up, we have an alarming study out of New York City summarized in this morning's New York Times with this succinct conclusion:
Pedestrians struck by cars are most often hit while in the crosswalk, with the signal on their side.
That research, from the NYU Langone Medical Center, looked at 1,400 pedestrians and cyclists who were treated at Bellevue Hospital Center after suffering a collision. Forty-four percent of the pedestrians injured on the street (to distinguish them from the handful who were injured on a sidewalk) were using a crosswalk with the signal in their favor, suggesting that there wasn't much else they could be expected do to keep out the cross-hairs of car traffic. In contrast, 23 percent of the injured pedestrians were trying to cross the street mid-block, while only 9 percent admitted to crossing at an intersection against the signal.

That study had one notable caveat: Pedestrians who died and never reached the hospital were not included. One other detail made us raise our eyebrows: "As New Yorkers brace for contact," the Times' Matt Flegenheimer writes, "an unexpected factor may protect against serious injury: being overweight." (We're pretty sure, though, that obesity is not a good policy avenue to pursue here.)

This morning also brought a second study about the perils of crossing the street where you're supposed to. Researchers at Oregon State University have simulated driver behavior during one of the more risky maneuvers on the road: the left-hand turn into oncoming traffic. Some intersections have a dedicated green light for left-turning drivers. More often, though, they have to make a run for it whenever they can, darting through gaps in the oncoming traffic.

The traffic signals themselves vary widely from place to place in how these directions are given to drivers. And amid all these variables – the indecipherable signage, the multiple traffic lights, the oncoming cars – this study suggests that 4 to 9 percent of drivers never even pause to look if there are pedestrians in the way before pulling into the intersection.
Within the simulated environment, subjects were presented with combinations of approaches with zero, three or nine oncoming vehicles; pedestrians walking towards, away or from both sides; and a four-section vertical configuration or a three-section vertical configuration with a dual-arrow lens.
In all, drivers were exposed to 24 different left-hand maneuvers in the 45-minute simulation, as their eye movements were tracked. Not surprisingly, as the number of approaching cars increased, the amount of time drivers spent focusing on pedestrians declined.

The implications of this second study are more obvious: Cities might want to rethink how they design intersections with permitted left-hand turns. But both sets of research portray a troubling picture that pedestrians may not be safe even within the crosswalks designed for their safety.

Note: In California, pedestrians always have the right of way crossing the street but have to cross at street corners or in crosswalks. If you cross in the middle of the street, you might be slapped with a pricey jaywalking ticket. This law probably reduces pedestrian deaths considerably. However, when we Californians visit other cities or countries, we have to realize, that as pedestrians, we know longer have the right of way or the consequences can be disastrous. So many Californians visit Las Vegas and since many of us think of Vegas as an extension of Southern California, not all of us realize that Vegas does not give the right of way to pedestrians. I have been told that there is at least one pedestrian death a week in Vegas, probably someone from California.

China's Deadly Air Pollution Jumped 30 Percent This Year


By Philip Bump, April 3, 2013


China's Deadly Air Pollution Jumped 30 Percent This Year

China's air pollution problem — which contributed to 1.2 million deaths in the country in 2010 — has gotten sharply worse in 2013. And the threat isn't contained to China. But things are still as ugly as ever in Beijing.

The study linking air pollution to deaths in the country came out over the weekend. As The New York Times reported, the death toll comprised 40 percent of all of the global deaths linked to air pollution. Another way of expressing the damage done is that, had all of those who died due to the pollution lived natural lives, it would have comprised an additional 25 million years of existence.

One of the primary ways in which air pollution kills is the presence of small particles, generally released from burning fossil fuels and other industrial activity. The Lung Association explains how particulate matter kills. The particles are generally measures in two sizes: those smaller than ten microns in diameter and those smaller than 2.5 microns — far, far smaller than the width of a human hair. "Particle pollution," the Association writes, "can be very dangerous to breathe. Breathing particle pollution may trigger illness, hospitalization and premature death, risks showing up in new studies that validate earlier research."

For all of the damage done in 2010 from pollution, 2013 could be worse. The Chinese government, which for years was reluctant to release pollution data, now suggest that particulate pollution this year has been 30 percent higher than the same period in 2012. Again, The Times:
Levels of the pollutants — nitrous dioxide and particulate matter that is between 2.5 and 10 micrometers in diameter, called PM 10 — appeared to have surged sharply in January, when they increased 47 percent over the same month last year, according to the report by The Economic Observer, a respected Chinese newspaper. The report cited as its source Chen Tian, head of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau. …

Mr. Chen said the main reason for the huge increase in two pollutants was high levels of emissions. Citing Mr. Chen, the report said “the emissions created by those living and producing in the city far exceed what the environment can take.”
The U.S. embassy in Beijing has a Twitter account, @BeijingAir, that releases regular updates on pollution in the city. (The account is widely credited with prompting the government to release its data.) Here are the readings for the past month:

Anything over 200 is considered "very unhealthy"; the air in Beijing exceeded that level 32 percent of the time. As the Lung Association notes, even brief spikes can be dangerous: "Deaths can occur on the very day that particle levels are high, or within one to two months afterward."

Early in February, the problem spread. Smog and soot pollution from China crossed the Sea of Japan and blanketed portions of that country for several days. Agence France-Presse reported on February 4 that "Air pollution over the west of Japan has exceeded government limits over the last few days, with tiny particulate matter a problem, said Atsushi Shimizu of the National Institute for Environmental Studies." Nor does it stop in Japan. Research conducted in 2007 and 2008 found that 29 percent of particulate pollution in California originated in Asia.

Making China's hazardous air pollution a problem for the rest of the world, as well.

Peggy Drouet: Here is my very similar photo of the same scene as above, I took in February 2010. The sky is gray and overcast but not of a brownish smog color (it had snowed the night before):

What CH2M Hill didn’t evaluate in their Air Quality Technical Memorandum?: The increase in the level of air pollution at the north portal of the proposed 710 tunnel. 

By Peggy Drouet, April 3, 2013

Appendix O: Air Quality Technical Memorandum

The local air quality readings were taken from “the air quality station closest to the project area ,” that is the Pasadena Air Monitoring Station, which they write is “representative of the ambient air quality in the project area.” The Pasadena Air Monitoring Station is located at 752 S. Wilson Ave., Pasadena,  2.6 miles from the where the north portal would be (I used Maranatha High School as my reference). The station monitors ozone, PM2.5, nitrogen dioxide, and CO. Since it doesn’t measure PM10 and sulfur dioxide, the pollution readings were taken from the Los Angeles Station, 1630 North Main Street, Los Angeles (approximately 7 miles from the north portal if you drew a straight line), and they write that its air quality trends are also representative of the ambient air quality in the project area.

From using data from these two stations, the following conclusions were made for F-7, the 710 tunnel:

“This alternative would increase the VMT [vehicle miles traveled ] and VHD [vehicle hours of delay] within Los Angeles County. As a result, the project alternative would have the following effect on the regional pollutants:

MSAT [mobile source air toxics] Emissions. When compared to the No Build Alternative this alternative would increase MSAT emissions within the County by 0.35%.

Criteria Pollutant Emissions. When compared to the No Build Alternative this alternative would increase the criteria pollutant emissions within the County by 0.01 percent.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions. When compared to the No Build Alternative this alternative would increase the average greenhouse gas emissions within the County by 0.04 percent.”

Just what we need: A tunnel that will increase these emissions, and if I am reading the above correctly, the tunnel will also increase the vehicle miles traveled and also the vehicle hours of delay—wouldn’t that simply negate constructing the tunnel if the SR-710 Study has been undertaken to reduce congestion and increase mobility?

To use the data from these two stations and then spreading the increase of air pollution over the entire study area—or the whole county as indicated in the Air Quality Technical Memorandum--is simply (purposely?) avoiding the issue of increased air pollution in the localized area of the proposed north 710 North portal.

To evaluate how much increase in air pollution would occur in the populated areas near the 710 tunnel north portal, wouldn’t it be a good idea to make a specific study of this important issue. Portable  air monitoring systems are easily available: for instance, the Portable EPAM-500 Environmental Particulate Monitor to measure PM10, OM2.5, PM1.0 of TSP (total suspended particulate) monitoring. This monitor doesn’t measure all the air pollutants that we would want measured, but perhaps there are additional portable systems available as well. At the very least, very important pollution measurements could be made.

This is how I would do a study to estimate the increase in pollution at the 710 tunnel north portal:

  1.    Count the number of cars now using the part of the 710 north freeway that has already been built—from California Blvd. to the connectors to the 210 north, the 210 east, and the 134 west.
  2. Measure the air pollution now being emitted from these cars. Divide those readings and obtain an average pollution reading per car. 
  3.  Use the Bluefax system to determine how many of these cars that are using this section are coming from any of the 110 freeway offramps.  This section will be closed to those cars and the drivers will have to find alternative street routes to get from the 110. The cars that we are mostly concerned with are those that presently use the Del Mar and California onramps onto this section as their new alternate route will be, going north, to continue on Pasadena Avenue, then to turn left on Colorado Blvd. to reach the Orange Grove Blvd. ramps to the 210 and the 134.  The route along Pasadena  Avenue borders Pasadena’s Old Town, which will get a good dose of new air pollution from the 710 tunnel north portal area and also from the additional cars on Pasadena Ave.  How cars will reach the 110 going in the southern direction can be left for now. 
  4.   Since very few trucks are now using the North 710 section now in place, a per truck, including ones using diesel  fuel, will have to be taken from another study most likely previously made.
  5.   Estimate how many cars and trucks will be exiting the 710 North Portal and use the pollution readings obtained from numbers 2 and 4 to determine new pollution readings adjusted for car/truck ratios, and then add on the pollution readings for the cars from number 3.  One estimate I remember was for 100,000 vehicles per day.

Any other suggestions?

EDITORIAL: Scuttle plans for California ‘bullet’ train


 The Press-Enterprise, April 2, 2013


A new government review of California's bullet train plans does not provide any reason to believe the project's finances are realistic.

Even the most careful business plan cannot make imaginary financing more real. A new federal review of the economic projections surrounding California’s “bullet” train project also notes the absence of dependable funding for the rail line. That fiscal concern — which is hardly new — should signal legislators to brake this project to a halt, before it turns into a massive boondoggle.

The Government Accountability Office last month released a report on the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s estimates about costs, revenue and ridership for the bullet train. The review gave the rail agency’s projections generally passing marks, though the report said the agency could improve. The ridership and revenue estimates need further updating and refining. And the GAO could not determine whether the rail authority’s cost estimates were reliable. Those issues are crucial; as the report noted, cost and ridership projections have tended to be overly optimistic in high-speed rail projects elsewhere.

Bullet train backers seized on the report’s findings as vindication for the train plans. But that attitude ignores the document’s skeptical assessment of the rail line’s financing. The rail authority envisions a $68.4 billion line linking Los Angeles and the Bay Area by 2029, with trains traveling at speeds of up to 220 mph. But the agency is about $54 billion short of the money needed to complete the project, and depends on the improbable infusion of more than $38 billion in additional federal tax dollars over the next 15 years.

That plan would require an average of more than $2.5 billion annually from the federal government during the rail line’s construction — an amount larger than federal government’s average annual expenditures on public transit or Amtrak since 2008, the GAO says. Congress shows little interest in providing more funding, an understandable outlook with Washington running $1 trillion yearly deficits and facing enormous long-term fiscal challenges.

The rail agency has $5.9 billion to build the first stretch of track between Bakersfield and Merced, but after that, any funding is mostly wishful thinking. Just starting high-speed travel depends on the unlikely prospect that the federal government coughs up $20 billion to extend the Central Valley line to the San Fernando Valley. No ridership projections, reasonable or otherwise, can compensate for a capital financing plan that verges on fantasy.

Taxpayers are all too likely to end up with an isolated stretch of track in the lightly traveled Central Valley. But even if the state manages to complete the line, California will have poured billions of dollars into a project that meets no pressing public need. The state’s real transportation challenges are goods movement, urban/suburban traffic congestion and upkeep of the state’s existing infrastructure. A high-speed rail line would not address those issues.

The GAO report specifically said it was not addressing the project’s merits. But legislators should do exactly that — and concede that taxpayers have better uses for their money than a costly project the state does not need and cannot afford.

Graffiti on Gold Line Bridge

Metro says it will remove the graffiti and find a way to deter future vandals. 


By Natalie Ragus, April 3, 2013

It has been less than four months since construction workers put the finishing touches on the Gold Line Bridge, and vandals have already defaced one of the bridge's distinctive abutments with graffiti.

The graffiti is visible to motorists traversing east on the 210 Freeway.
Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority spokesman Rodrigo Gonzalez says the agency became aware of the problem Monday.

"The Construction Authority is not only going to clean it up, but we're also trying to come up with solutions to prevent [future vandalism]," Gonzalez said.

It is unclear how much it will cost Metro to repair the damaged abutment.

Streetfacts #2: Americans Are Driving Less


By Charles Eckerson, Jr., April 2, 2013


We continue our Streetfacts series by looking at the data on driving in the U.S. Beginning in 2005, per-capita driving has declined every year. That's not a blip, it's now an 8-year trend.

The reason? Neither the state of the economy nor changes in gas prices offer a satisfactory explanation. Social preferences and demographic shifts seem to be playing a role. Young people today are less likely to own a car or have a driver's license than young people several years ago. At the same time, America's growing population of seniors are no longer in their peak driving years.

Whatever the combination of factors, people are riding transit, walking, and bicycling more. Even magazines like Motor Trend are examining the shift away from cars.

The upshot is that we need to start making smart transportation investments that align with the new reality: Americans are driving less.

Comments to the article:

  • Joe R.  

    The really big drops will come as the current generation in their 60s to 80s dies off and the millenials enter 30s and 40s. Chances are the children of the millenials will drive even less than them. Long before the majority of the voting age population doesn't drive we'll start to see big changes. Legislators unfortunately are still slow getting the message-namely that people are practically begging for non-car options, even those who have cars and licenses, now that gas shows no signs of ever dropping much under $4 a gallon.
    • Daniel Winks Joe R.  

      Gas will NEVER go down in price, and a large number of economists think a rapid, near exponential, rise will occur in the next 5-10 years. OPEC countries have a vested interest in lying about their reserves, and Saudi Arabia is thought to have barely 1/10th the oil they claim. When they run out (which will happen very quickly, as they'll pump at full speed until the last drop, to help hide their lies), prices will skyrocket. Combine that with a much greater world-wide demand and it's not at all unlikely that sub-$10/gallon gas will be a distant memory in just a few short years.
      Sadly, you're right about the legislators. They'll continue sticking their heads in the sand while we waste billion after billion on freeways and roads that will be sitting empty in 20 or 30 years.

  • Larry Littlefield  

    Hey Motor Trend, don't worry the automobile is not over. It will just go back to what it was before WWII.
    A toy for rich people, a recreational vehicle for the middle class, and primary transportation only for people in rural areas.
    Serious everyday metropolitan transportation will be by bicycle, walking, transit, carpools, or avoided altogether thanks to the internet.
    That is hardly inconsistent with a magazine like Motor Trend. In fact, driving wouldn't be as miserable if it took place primarily off peak on country roads.

  • Avatar
    Ian Turner
    The comments on that Motor Trend article are fun.
  • Ben Kintisch  
    Great, simple video. At the same time our city planners are noticing this trend, the folks in the state DOT's are missing the boat, and still plowing ahead with auto-centric road expansion projects. So short-sighted.

  • Trajko Papuckoski  
    Maybe part of the impact is due to more companies letting people work from home and more video conferencing taking place as technology & broadband improve as a subsititute to travelling.

  • Avatar
    Many of the missing passenger and vehicle miles are related to housing construction bust in the suburbs and exurbs. The shift to urban areas from suburban and exurban areas have a smaller effect.

    My comment, not posted: I simply drive less because I can do much shopping on the Internet and don't have to run around town to go to store to store to store to find what I want. 
 First 100 Days Report to the Community

From Sylvia Plummer, April 3, 2013
Assemblymember Chris Holden is holding a "First 100 Days Town Hall Meeting". 

This is an opportunity to discuss issues that affect our district - from transportation to business to education; bring your questions and ideas.    There will be cookies and coffee. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

5:30 pm  -  7:00 pm

41st Assembly District Office
600 N. Rosemead, Suite 117, 
Pasadena,  91107

An RSVP is requested: 626-351-1917

Help Support Jose Gardea for Los Angeles District 1 Councilmember

From Sylvia Plummer, April 3, 2013

Jose Gardea understands Highland Park and is against the 710 Tunnel.  He's needs all the support we can give him.  If you cannot come to this fundraiser, consider sending a little money anyway. Tell your friends and family to be sure and vote for Jose on Tuesday, May 21.  Highland Park can make the difference in this election.
Friday, April 5 from 6-8 pm
4671 N. Figueroa in Highland Park

Join us at a home of splendid architecture overlooking the Arroyo Seco
and Debs Park from the front porch, and views of the iconic Southwest
Museum, filled with great art and artists. A wonderful evening!

If you are
unable to attend, I highly encourage you to send a check this week for
any amount since your contribution will be matched 4:1 for all
donations received by April 6th.  For each of your $10, the value
becomes $50 to the campaign -- unbelievable value.

Feel free to pass this invitation along as well!

Event transportation logistics:
Gold Line:  Southwest Museum station, exit to Figueroa and turn left;
go about 1/2 block to the mural and up the stairs
Bus:  81 Line stops for Sycamore Grove Park
Auto:  park on Figueroa by Sycamore Grove Park, at the crosswalk, walk
through the mural and up the stairs.

Ara Najarian is re-elected!!

From Sylvia Plummer, April 3, 2013

Last night Ara Najarian was re-elected to the Glendale City Council.  
Ara was easily the top vote getter for one of the 3 open seats.

Changing of the guard at San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments


By Steve Scauzillo, April 2, 2013


 SGVCOG Executive Director Andrea Miller


Can the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments shake its bad boy image?
Andrea Miller thinks so.

Since taking over a month ago, the executive director has launched a wide-ranging re-branding campaign with the goal of reversing the 31-city regional body's image from negative to positive. She hopes to change the SGVCOG from what some perceive as a superfluous institution tainted by scandal and shrouded in secrecy, to a necessary, problem-solving force run with integrity and bathed in the light of public scrutiny.

"People have expressed their interest in insuring that we are transparent. That is something they should expect from the COG," Miller said.

The SGVCOG is working hard to distance itself from former Executive Director Nick Conway, 60, who led the agency for 17 years until Oct. 31 when he was fired and the SGVCOG ended its relationship with his company, Arroyo and Associates, of Alhambra. Miller and the COG are attempting to ride the high road, a difficult task, since it must be done as Conway's trial on felony conflict of interest charges unfolds shortly in Los Angeles Criminal Court. If the trial is like the preliminary hearing, it could spill dirty laundry about contracts managed by Conway for the COG, something Conway's attorney said is as much the responsibility of the COG Governing Board as Conway's.

For starters, Andrea Miller began an interview by saying she does not consult with Conway.
"I don't know the man. I do not feel the need to have Nick hanging around me," she said.
COG's divorce from Conway began shortly after Conway was charged by the District Attorney's Public Integrity Division last summer and the COG put him on leave, said Fran DeLach, who transformed the COG and helped to hire Miller in the eight months he spent as interim executive director.

"It is a governmental entity that is totally open now. We've made it more transparent," DeLach said.
In practical terms, DeLach oversaw a transformation. No longer is Conway involved, nor his company. In fact, the COG hired away four employees from Arroyo and made them COG employees, the first ever in its history. Andrea Miller is the fifth employee.

"The old way of doing things is no longer the norm. We've shaped a new model where we are free of the potential of conflict of interest," DeLach said.

Many, such as Walnut Councilman Tom King, said the COG run by Conway and his private firm was an inherent conflict. The crux of the DA's case hinges on whether Conway personally benefitted from COG contracts and grants, including one from Edison International.

The new SGVCOG looks more like the Gateway Cities COG, which has an independent executive director. Miller was hired sort of like a city manager to run a city. She received a two-year contract and will earn a salary of $175,000 per year.

The city manager model was not lost on DeLach, who served as city manager in Covina and Azusa, nor on Miller, who served as city manager of La Mirada for eight years and most recently, acting city manager of San Bernardino. DeLach also strengthened the role of the City Managers' Technical Advisory Committee made up of city managers from Azusa, Alhambra, Covina, Glendora, Rosemead, San Dimas, San Gabriel and West Covina. The TAC for the last several months has been examining whether the Alameda Corridor East - an underpass building agency that has collected $1.5 billion and spent $478 million on six grade separation projects - should split from the COG and go out on its own.

"I enjoyed using the city managers at a higher level and I included them in a more significant way," DeLach said.

Miller wants to shore up the sagging membership - Walnut and Baldwin Park are withholding fees until they see improvements - by visiting each city council and speaking during the public comment period. She's been to Industry, South El Monte, Diamond Bar, Temple City and Claremont, to name a few.

"She's making a point of not only meeting with the city managers but with the city council members, too," said Claremont City Councilman Sam Pedroza, who heads the Energy and Environment Committee of COG. "She is coming in with a fresh pair of eyes,"

Miller has put the agency on the social media landscape by opening a twitter account under @SGVCOG. She also launched the inaugural newsletter "Valley Voice" and posted it on the agency's website. "The need for greater transparency and openness in conducting the SGVCOG's business has been a resounding message," she wrote in the "welcome" message.

DeLach said he and Miller helped form the 2013-14 budget which Miller said "will definitely be in the black." It comes before the governing board April 18. DeLach said the agency struggled with its budget this year after paying out $50,000 to open government activist Gil Aguirre for attorney's fees after settling a lawsuit over a COG violation of the state's open meeting law. COG also paid $155,000 to Conway to sever his contract. It also hired four support staffers, plus Miller, and paid for DeLach's services.

"There are some (member) cities that may have concerns. I want to allay those," Miller said. "I hope we continue to provide value, so those cities see the value in their COG membership. "

She said COG will work on regional issues such as water quality, energy conservation and transportation. With strength in numbers, it can lobby for federal and state grants as a region more successfully than as 31 separate cities.

"It is more critical now, with the decline of redevelopment and federal and state revenues also declining," Miller said. "There needs to be a regional voice. "

California high-speed rail costs soar again -- this time just for planning


By Mike Rosenberg, April 2, 2013

SACRAMENTO -- While much of the squabbling over California's high-speed rail project has focused on its huge construction price tag, the cost to taxpayers just to plan the bullet train is also soaring.

California rail leaders said Tuesday it will cost an extra $97 million in office and field work to design the rail line, which has famously seen its construction cost double to $69 billion since voters approved it five years ago. The extra state and federal funds set aside for planning will wind up in the pockets of private consulting firms, including some that earn billions of dollars in annual revenue.

Rail officials say much of the latest increase is because of delays to the project's aggressive timeline and the need to study alternative plans aimed at appeasing concerns of communities along the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles rail corridor.

For instance, the California High-Speed Rail Authority board Thursday is set to approve an extra $38 million for mega-firm URS to work on clearing state and federal bureaucratic hurdles required before construction can begin in the Central Valley this summer. That $158 million effort dates back six years and was supposed to be done by now, but has been delayed because residents between Fresno and Bakersfield have asked the state to study different locations to lay tracks, a time-consuming and costly endeavor.

Rail officials say the new pre-construction planning budget of $878 million, while an increase of 12 percent, is still within the limit approved by voters in 2008.

"Spending a little more time and a little more money up front can have huge benefits" over the long run, said rail authority CEO Jeff Morales, noting that the planning expense was still only about 1 percent of the overall project cost. "The overwhelming majority of all the funds will go toward (construction) that people can see, touch and ride."

But opponents say the continued price increases are a sign of more problems to come once the expenses go from millions to billions of dollars when the first 29 miles of construction starts near Madera as soon as July.

"I think we're just going to burn through the money without ever really seeing a project," said Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, who's tried and failed repeatedly to halt the project, which has a $50 billion funding shortfall. "The money is burning a hole in our pocket and we're just spending it, and everybody is taking a piece of the pie."

In addition to the extra $92 million in consulting costs, Gov. Jerry Brown's administration this week asked the Legislature to approve another $4.8 million for the rail authority staff. Most of the money will go toward filling 44 new positions, along with $826,000 to raise the salaries of existing staffers and $631,000 for extra office space.

"It's going to be very hard to hold costs down for such a big project," said state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee. "It's always disappointing when you hear that scarce resources are being expended that you didn't anticipate."

In all, more than half a billion dollars has already been spent on design contracts for six firms working on the project, while the rest of the consultants' money is expected to be doled out through 2017. A much smaller but growing amount of money has been spent on staff at the rail authority, a relatively trim agency that relies mostly on consultants for planning work.

In a related development, the Brown administration on Monday asked lawmakers to approve a $26.2 million loan from a state public transit account to fund high-speed rail planning from July though June 2014.

That money will be needed while the rail authority deals with a lawsuit it filed two weeks ago that is literally aimed at the entire world, in which anyone can sign up to oppose the use of state bond funds for the bullet train -- a strategy the state is using to deal with all legal opponents at once.

 The rail authority says it can't issue bonds during the case and needs the money to pay its bills for the time being -- and will pay back the funds after the case is resolved.

Infrastructure Gap? Look at the Facts. We Spend More Than Europe


By Paul Roderick Gregory, April 1, 2013


 Government spending

Big government advocates seek to substitute “infrastructure” for the “s” (stimulus) word. President Obama’s State of the Union address called for $40 billion to fix the nation’s roads and bridges and also called for a federal infrastructure bank.  On April 29, he called for an additional $4 billion of infrastructure spending. $40 billion here and $4 billion there, and soon you have some real money.

 To convince a wary public to spend more with trillion dollar deficits, big government advocates must gin up a national infrastructure emergency that threatens safety, jobs, and well being. Public spending lobbyists are ready to oblige with D+ report cards for  “aging and unreliable” roads, bridges, and ports. Big government advocates substitute scare tactics for the facts that our infrastructure is as good as Europe’s and that we spend more than the European Union on public investment. If we spend as much or more and have inferior infrastructure that is a political failure of untold proportions for which someone should pay.

President Obama used Miami’s port as a backdrop for his pitch for more $4 billion more in infrastructure spending.  Gone are grandiose plans for massive stimulus to boost output and employment on Keynesian steroids. Instead the President is repackaging stimulus as infrastructure spending. Obama’s speech was timed to the newly-released American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2013 infrastructure report card. Its D+ rating rang the alarms that our roads, bridges, water and waste treatment, rail, dams, and airports are crumbling and unsafe.

At least the President reminded us in Miami that we have had the good fortune of four years of enlightened stimulus spending under him:
“Now, over the last four years, we’ve done some good work. Construction crews have built or improved enough roads….to circle the globe 14 times and upgraded enough (rail) to go coast to coast and back. We’ve repaired or replaced more than 20,000 bridges. We’ve helped get tens of thousands of construction workers back on the job.”
If our roads circled the globe 50 times would we get a B+?  Teachers reserve D+ for students who make no effort other than to show up. D+ brings to mind backwater countries of Latin America and Asia. D+ is a national disgrace for a once great country! How could we have let it get so bad?

The Society of Civil Engineers (Failure to Act Studies) gives its price tag for restoring a first-world infrastructure. It would take $1.7T to correct our current infrastructure deficit and an extra $160 billion a year – or $1.1T — to meet our infrastructure needs through 2020.  Our civil engineers do not tell us the effect of almost $3T in additional spending on the deficit. We should focus on the positive side. After all, what is it worth being able to drive across bridges without fear of plunging to certain death? (By my calculations our bridge failure rate is one in three hundred and fifty thousand).

Even though we do not have the $1.7T for current needs and the $1.1T for later, we would be penny wise and pound foolish not to borrow and spend, say our civil engineers.  The $160 billion extra over each of the next seven years would alone raise GDP by $3.1T (a three to one return) and add 3.5 million jobs! What a bonanza!

We have not seen such optimistic numbers since the young Obama administration promised huge returns for the first stimulus. Should we put again put caution aside? A word of warning: The web site of the Society of Civil Engineers shows it to be a lobbyist for infrastructure spending. Asking the civil engineers how much infrastructure spending we need is akin to asking defense contractors how much we should spend to keep America safe. I doubt if the big government people would like that.

The U.S.’s fourteenth place ranking in the World Economic Forum’s infrastructure index scarcely bespeaks a national scandal. Luxembourg and Canada rank just above the U.S., and Austria and Denmark rank just below.  None of these countries are exactly slouches in the infrastructure category. Among the twenty largest countries, the U.S. ranks second only to Canada.  The World Economic Forum index also shows that U.S. infrastructure beats the European Union average by a wide margin! How can that be with the high speed rail and the gleaming Autobahns of the European Union – the envy of our transportation bureaucrats?

Consider another hitch. OECD infrastructure experts find that Europe has too much supply of roads and rail relative to the demand. Yes, they have trains departing every few minutes, but half empty, and do Germans really need five different Autobahns to drive from Munich to Frankfurt? The same OECD experts find that the U.S., Canada, and Australia have built about the amount of infrastructure that fits the demand.

Well, if all else fails, our big government spenders at least can show that we spend little on infrastructure relative to countries that have good infrastructure. We can really catch the U.S. with its pants down by looking at its miserly infrastructure spending.

Get ready for a surprise.  According to OECD statistics, the United States spends 3.3 percent of its GDP (2006-2011) on infrastructure investment versus the European Union’s 3.1 percent. With roughly equal GDPs, the United States actually outspends the Europe Union – our model of infrastructure perfection.

If we spend as much or more than the European Union on infrastructure, we should have better or equal results. In both the United States and Europe, public investment and procurement are political processes characterized by waste, politics and corruption. If we get less bang per buck from our infrastructure dollar than do our European colleagues, our problem would be not too few dollars but too much waste and corruption.

In his Miami pitch for more infrastructure spending, the President stated: “We’ve got to do it in a way that makes sure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.” Does he know something the people do not?
Could it be that tax payer dollars were not wisely spent in the past?  Could the unions, crony capitalists, and lobbyists have collected at taxpayer expense?

That would be as hard to believe as Claude Rains’ surprise that there was gambling in Casablanca.

Infrastructure bank would fund more than just roads and bridges


By David Tanner, April 1, 2013

President Obama’s “Rebuild America Partnership” includes a national infrastructure bank that would fund a lot more than just roads and bridges. If it comes to fruition, an infrastructure bank would lend money for intermodal projects, ports, pipelines, power grids and schools.

The president announced details of his infrastructure plan during a visit to the Port of Miami on Friday, March 29. He first unveiled the plan during his State of the Union speech earlier this year.

The Port of Miami site is significant because of a $663 million tunnel being built to reroute port traffic away from downtown. Nearly 4,500 trucks use downtown roads each day to access the port according to a project overview. Construction began in 2010, and the tunnel could open in May 2014.

Obama touted the public-private agreement that is fueling the tunnel project, adding that “we can do this all across the country.”

The Port of Miami Tunnel will not be tolled, but tolls remain a principal funding method for many public-private partnerships.

Rebuild America calls for $10 billion in startup money for the infrastructure bank. The fund would attract private sector investment by guaranteeing loans for projects of regional or national significance.

Projects financed by the infrastructure bank will not be limited to roads, bridges or tunnels for road traffic.

“It’s a partnership with the private sector that creates jobs upgrading what our businesses need most – modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children,” Obama stated while in Miami.

Highway users – including truckers, who pay fuel taxes, tolls and other user fees to operate on America’ infrastructure – are concerned about the project-specific nature of the national infrastructure bank in an era in which the Highway Trust Fund does not have enough money to last through 2014.

“We certainly appreciate the president’s continued focus on infrastructure issues,” said Ryan Bowley, director of legislative affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “He’s brought a lot of attention to the challenges we’ve faced out there. But what we need from the perspective of highway users is a long-term solution to the funding shortfall that the Highway Trust Fund is going to have in the years to come.”

Bowley said highway users have a reason to be concerned that they’ll be asked to pay more for infrastructure in the future, but the money may not stay with highways.

“Whenever you lump a bunch of other infrastructure areas together under one big umbrella, highways run the risk of being a piggy bank out there,” Bowley said.

He cites New York as an example. Toll payers in the Empire State fund subways, canals and other infrastructure. New York toll payers also fund economic development. including the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site.

“Unless it’s done right, you run the risk of one area, such as highway users, subsidizing another area,” Bowley says.

So far, President Obama’s proposals for a national infrastructure bank as well as infrastructure bonds and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER program do not use federal Highway Trust Fund dollars. TIGER stands for Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery. It uses general funds.

The federal TIFIA loan program, also touted by the president during his speech in Miami, is administered through the Highway Trust Fund, however. TIFIA stands for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. It has been on the books for 13 years, but got a funding boost in the latest highway bill known as MAP-21, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century.

Neither TIGER nor TIFIA are required to fund highways. Both have been used to fund rail and intermodal projects.

Lastly, another part of the president’s plan stemming from MAP-21 is the issuance of America Fast Forward bonds, modeled after the Build America Bonds program of 2009. A White House press release says the Build America Bonds helped support $181 billion for public infrastructure since 2009.

Big Rig Collision Spills Milk, Causes Traffic Jam On SB 5 Freeway In Valencia


April 2, 2013

 (credit: CBS)

VALENCIA (CBSLA.com) —A collision between two big rigs Tuesday evening caused a traffic jam and spilled gallons of milk on the southbound 5 Freeway in Valencia.

 The big rigs, one which carried 80,000 gallons of milk, crashed on the freeway near the Magic Mountain Parkway off-ramp.

All four lanes were initially blocked, but one was later cleared.

The other three lanes are expected to remain shut down until at least 12:30 a.m.

California Highway Patrol officers are on the scene.
Caltrans was called to clean up the spill.

Does Giving Out High Fives Make Riding the Subway Fun?


 By John Metcalfe, April 1, 2013


 Does Giving Out High Fives Make Riding the Subway Fun?


Are you about to shoehorn yourself into an overcrowded subway for an hour-long ordeal of track delays and strangers' elbows in your gut? You are? High five!!

OK, so most people heading to work in the morning probably aren't in the mood to give skin to a weirdly costumed dude outside the subway entrance. He'll be left grievously hanging, and might even get a poke in the eye-hole. But at quittin' time, the operator of Milan's "High Five! Station" must be slapping palms left and right (and let's not forget down low, too).

The Italian who staged this lighthearted public intervention is one tripped-out dude. His Facebook fans seem to enjoy him for that, with one guy asking about "High Five!": "Antuan Original non avevi smesso con la droga?" ("You hadn't stopped with the drug?") Fra Biancoshock refuses to be called an artist, much less a "street artist." He also "does not exist," according to his website, which lays out the philosophy underpinning his jabbing at urban norms:
My "experiences" are not showcases to promote my activities, they do not require any description: They are simply opportunities to communicate and provoke reactions from common people. I'm talking about all those who, although with little or any artistic education, still want to be surprised and moved by something that was left on the street for all to see.
The purpose of the "High Five! Station" is opaque. But in a past intervention the, er, creative entity known as Biancoshock has shown a heartfelt desire to help commuters overcome the boredom of public transit. Thus his "Antistress For Free" piece at a Milan bus stop, involving sheets of bubble wrap that people idly pop while waiting the bus. Next up: Fist bumps at the ferry terminal?

For the history books, this isn't the first high-five-random-people endeavor undertaken by humankind. This prankster tried it as well last year, although he was kind of mean about it: