By Ken Alpern, December 30, 2014
A WARNING AND A PLAN-While it's quite evident that the average taxpayer is "tapped out" and cynical towards raising more taxes, there does appear to be a reasonable likelihood that in 2016 we'll see a revisitation of extending the 2008 sales tax hike horizon of Measure R for decades. There would be no new sales taxes with this proposed "Measure R-2", but we'll have the ability to borrow from future tax revenues to fund projects quicker and at a reduced cost.
Transportation revenues are still in too short a supply for those of us who want more mobility and economic growth, and we're caught between conservatives (usually Republicans) who hate taxes and spending even on good measures and liberals (usually Democrats) who too often spend on transportation as an afterthought and in rather cost-ineffective ways.
But the need for mobility/transportation as a way to enhance our Economy, Environment and Quality of Life remains as strong as ever, while the ability to fund it remains as elusive as ever. To quote County Supervisor and Metro Boardmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, any countywide tax increase "... has to be regional, it has to be rational, it has to be equitable."
Perhaps we can utilize LA City Attorney Mike Feuer's expertise--or at least his example--of creating a transparent and equitable approach to how (as a former Assemblymember) he wrote Measure R, but it can be done.
1) In particular, a Measure R-2 has to have the priority and voter-draw of connecting LAX to Metro Rail and an Olympics in 2024.
To date, LA Mayor Garcetti has said and done a lot of things to bring Measure R-2 towards reality. Garcetti and the Metro Board worked with staff to create a new and expensive Metro station at 96th/Aviation (which, hopefully will be named something like "LAX Transit Center") and also worked with LA World Airports and the Board of Airport Commissioners to create a connecting LAX People Mover train to the central airline terminals.
These projects have moved forward with precedent-shredding speed, and when even conservative spending hawk County Supervisor Don Knabe wants a LAX/Metro Rail connection by circa 2020, it's safe to say that Garcetti's OTHER big effort of getting a 2024 Summer Olympics to L.A. is en route to becoming a reality.
People want results, and they want them NOW, so the ability of Metro to get out the entire airport/rail connection by 2022 (when the Crenshaw/LAX light rail line will connect the Expo and Green Lines, and when the Downtown Light Rail Connector will connect all four Downtown light rail lines) ensures we have a coherent countywide rail network...or at least its long-sought nucleus.
Any further priorities of rail expansion between here and 2024 involve projects already studied by the Metro staff, who studied both a northerly extension of the Crenshaw/LAX Line to the Wilshire Subway and a southerly extension of the South Bay Green Line to Torrance. For those who've seen a map on these projects, these two projects would create a north-south rail line from the Wilshire Corridor to Torrance ... and connect to LAX. (Photo)
It should be noted that such an emphasis on a LAX connection would differ from the original emphasis of Measure R to create a Wilshire Subway (which, of course, would also receive enhanced funding from a Measure R-2), but even Beverly Hills and other residents who are fighting over a Wilshire Subway route to Century City wouldn't argue over enhanced rail access to LAX. Ditto for the South Bay, which also wants better LAX access.
2) Keep the immediate and longer-range projects prioritized, no matter who's doing the teeth-gnashing.
While everyone wants THEIR road, freeway or rail project prioritized first, there are certain projects that have been studied more than others, and which are either geographically and/or politically geared to receive higher priority.
I've already mentioned the South Bay Green Line to Torrance, but for those who imagine it should link up with the Blue Line in Long Beach (a pretty good idea) it really can't reach beyond Torrance at this time, no matter which delightful visioning map displays it--such as that made by Neal Broverman of Curbed LA.
Broverman and others have the right idea, to be sure, but there's only so much money (particularly for unplanned projects) to go around. Like it or not, things have to be studied--and it's a lot easier to draw a line on a map than to make it a reality.
Ditto for creating that long-sought "Holy Grail" of LA Metro Rail projects--the 405/Sepulveda Pass Subway. That popular project will at least be a big $5 billion project, and is not likely to see the light of day until a similar amount is spent to get the Wilshire Subway to the I-405 freeway.
A more realistic and immediate Endeavour for the San Fernando Valley would be rebuild the Orange Line Busway to a light rail line now that the Busway has reached maximum capacity, and/or a previously-considered rail link between the San Fernando Valley to the Pasadena/Foothill Gold Line in the San Gabriel Valley. A "Valley to Valley" light rail line would draw far more voters than a Westside-focused Sepulveda Pass line.
(And this is from someone who's advocated for such a Sepulveda Pass Subway for years).
Finishing the eastern extension of the Foothill Gold Line to Claremont would, if the promise of a San Fernando Valley connection to the west were also prioritized in a Measure R-2, please voters from the western SFV to the eastern SGV... do the math, and this becomes pretty obvious a priority.
And we do have the ability to take advantage of the recent I-405 widening over the Sepulveda Pass to use a host of larger and more modern electric buses to link the Orange Line and the soon-to-be completed Expo Line via the new carpool lanes...and well before a 2024 Olympics. We've already got $1 billion from Measure R for that...even though most of us probably would prefer a rail line.
3) Whenever possible, connect Metrolink and MetroRail.
Reality check! How many Westsiders, Downtowners and South Bay residents even know what Metrolink or "commuter rail" really is?
There is no Metrolink in the Westside (although the Expo Line comes darned close), and that must end. Arguably, the dream of using the Harbor Subdivision Rail Right Of Way between Union station and LAX connection must see the light of day. Such a project to directly connect LAX and Union Station would also allow a southern/eastern second Downtown Rail Connector to benefit the Eastside as well as the Westside.
But that's nowhere on the planning horizon, while a Metro Eastside Light Rail Extension project is being planned that has no shared stations between that project and Metrolink (or at least not on the maps I've seen so far).
There are two popular Eastside Gold Line Extensions--to the I-605 freeway along the SR-60 freeway, and via a series of streets to Whittier--but without a coherent Metrolink connection, it's less likely that an Eastside citizenry will be too bullish about more funding any more than a Westside/South Bay/Downtown will be too thrilled once they realize that the aforementioned Metro Rail/LAX link does NOT have a planned DIRECT link to Downtown.
Metrolink and Metro need to be operating in synchronicity, not in separate universes. Similarly, the eastern Metro Green Line Gap in Norwalk must be explored with Metrolink to connect LAX and the growing Metrolink/Metro Rail networks with Orange and Riverside Counties (maybe all three counties can share the cost of building it).
We can't fix all this by 2016, but at least we can talk about Major Investment Studies in 2015 to show the voters and taxpayers that our elected leaders understand that simple thing called COMMON SENSE.
4) Whenever possible, link roads and freeways to rail and bus rapid transit.
Speaking of COMMON SENSE, is it too hard to suggest that LA County is big, and has an urban core that requires freeway and road linkages to mass transit that includes ... PARKING?
Perhaps instead of giving the cold shoulder (or perhaps a more harsh gesture) to taxpaying motorists, we can remember that the Expo Line is as close to a Metrolink as the Westside will have in years. And if the Expo Line is an alternative to the I-10 freeway, isn't parking critical to allow motorists the ability to ditch their cars and access the urban core...or are they not allowed access to the rail line they paid for?
Furthermore, is it too much to ask for freeway-close proposed Eastside Gold Line stations near the I-5 and SR-60 freeways to have parking and easy access to and from our freeway system?
In addition to the aforementioned Metrolink connections to Union Station and LAX and the proposed Metro Eastside Gold Line Extensions, there are growing Bus Rapid Transit lines from the South Bay and eastern portions of LA County (the Silver and Bronze Lines) that-- as with the aforementioned Sepulveda Pass Busway--are very good short-term (if not only) options to using our carpool lanes to benefit more commuters.
5) First-rate buses, perhaps with special paint and PR, are vital to immediate mobility when rail can't be planned and afforded at this time (or if rail just won't work).
Bigger, cleaner and more attractive buses are increasingly being considered for widespread use and for purchase by Metro. Creating "Expo Connector" bus routes on Lincoln, Venice and other major roads that intersect the Expo Line is just common sense.
Ditto for revisiting cheaper Downtown Trolley alternatives. Rail is nice, and rail is cool...but one size does not fit all roads and thoroughfares. When capacity is too high for buses (as with the Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley), rail is necessary to be considered, but it can't always be done--nor should we always try to do it.
6) Freeways and roads matter, as do bicycle, bus and pedestrian amenities.
Measure R-2, as with Measure R in 2008, can and will fund a host of freeway improvements. The I-5 needs widening between the I-605 and I-710 freeways, and the 101 freeway needs widening and restriping from Downtown to the Ventura county line. Tens of thousands of taxpaying commuters would benefit each and every day from these and other endeavors, and they don't deserve to be ignored.
A realistic bicycle network that enhances mobility for both motorists and bicyclists, and which doesn't put bicyclists' lives in danger, is overdue.
Building modern bus shelters (and not just benches) with LED announcements of oncoming buses and which provide dignity to bus commuters, is overdue.
Devoting industrial county land to permanently create quarries to make the materials for roads and sidewalks affordable is overdue.
Maintaining operations and maintenance of our transportation systems is overdue for dedicated funding, as is raising developer funding for more transportation if they want variances (especially parking!)
7) Every federal and state dollar towards freeways and rail projects in LA County gets enables us to take on new issues.
Whenever Washington gives us money for a major rail or other transportation project, we can move our priority list on to the next project on our long-range "wish list".
Money denied from anti-transportation Republicans is as much a threat as is money diverted by misguided Democrats to a California High-Speed Rail that excludes precious transportation dollars to the exclusion of all other vital freeway and other rail projects.
We can't have it all, and we do have to prioritize. But by remembering COMMON SENSE and POLITICAL/VOTER WILL we can get more, and figure out the priorities that allow the voters to say "YES" when it comes to new or extended funding.
The time is right, and the time is NOW, in 2015 to do what's smart and what's right in order to ensure a popular and voter-approved "Measure R-2" in 2016.