Metro Board meeting preview: several items — including project acceleration — could determine how billions of dollars are spent
By Steve Hymon, June 25, 2013
As it happens, the items are also indirectly or directly related so please allow yours truly to attempt to explain how the pieces of the puzzle fit together:
•ITEM 52 The Board will consider awarding a $1,272,632,356 contract to Walsh/Shea Corridor Contractors to build the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the 8.5-mile light rail line between the Expo Line and Green Line. The Board voted last month to add two optional stations to the project at Leimert Park and Hindry before the staff contract recommendation had been released.
As it happens, the cost of the contract was higher than expected, in part because of the cost of the new stations. That, in turn, has resulted in the overall cost of the project increasing to $2.058 billion. That also means that Metro has to put aside more contingency money — specifically, $160 million.
In order to cover that cost, staff has proposed moving some Measure R funds around: $47 million from the South Bay’s ramps and interchanges project, $47 million from the Airport Metro Connector project, $55 million from the Call for Projects for the Central Area and $10 million from the Wilshire Bus Lane project (an older project not to be confused with the peak hour bus lanes that are scheduled to fully open in 2014). STAFF REPORT
Please keep reading — much more after the jump!
•ITEM 70 The proposal to move the $160 million to the Crenshaw/LAX Line project has been controversial and has caused unhappiness among several cities, including some in the South Bay. As a result, four Board Members are now offering this substitute motion that would pay for cost increases on the Crenshaw/LAX Line and other projects with Prop C funds and/or borrowing against Prop C funds. Prop C is the half-cent sales tax increase approved by L.A. County voters in 1990.
Which brings us to
•ITEM 12 This item updates the cost of projects in Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan, adding more than $1.7 billion to those costs. Much of this — $750 billion — is for a project to keep Metro equipment and facilities in a state of good repair, a priority for Metro CEO Art Leahy. There is also money to cover increased budgets for a number of projects, including the the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project.
The main question here is how to pay for the increases and whether Metro could use Prop C or borrow against Prop C to cover these costs. STAFF REPORT
But wait! There’s another wrinkle. Metro Board Chair Michael D. Antonovich has also offered an amendment: he wants Metro staff to issue a report on changing the 405 project’s carpool lanes to congestion pricing/toll lanes to cover the cost over-runs on that project. His rationale is that Metro is seeking to accelerate the construction of new carpool lanes on the 5 freeway in the Santa Clarita Valley by making them toll lanes and Antonovich has said that he doesn’t believe it’s fair that one part of the county has to pay for new lanes while the other does not.
Still, the main issue here is the use of Prop C, which relates to….
•ITEM 10 This item is a financial strategy that Metro could use to accelerate Measure R projects. Here’s an earlier Source post (including the staff report) explaining the strategy, but the gist of it is that Metro would use an assortment of loans and bonds to accelerate the building of second- and third-decade Measure R projects.
Part of that strategy involves using Prop C to help pay back money that Metro borrows to accelerate road and transit projects.
If you’ve made it this far, then you can probably surmise that Board discussion will likely revolve around the cost of borrowing and whether Metro can afford to accelerate projects while also absorbing increased costs for the Crenshaw/LAX Line and several other projects. That’s the meeting in a nutshell.
In addition, there will be consideration of an amendment by Board Chair Michael D. Antonovich to change the expenditure plan to show the full costs of extending the Gold Line from Pasadena to Claremont. Measure R only funds the line as far as Azusa and project proponents hope that such an amendment would make it more likely that Metro would fund the Azusa-to-Claremont segment as part of any acceleration strategy. The challenge is that other Measure R road and transit projects are also not fully funded.
Bottom line: these are going to be long, technical discussions.
Another consideration, too, is that this is the final Board meeting for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and his three appointees (Board Members Jose Huizar, Richard Katz and Mel Wilson), all of whom have been pushing for project acceleration the past few years.
It’s still a big task. Extending Measure R for another 30 years received 66.1 percent of the vote last November in Los Angeles County and narrowly lost, while the State Legislature has discussed — but for now abandoned — efforts to decrease the voter threshold for such votes from two-thirds to 55 percent.