By Ken Alpern, January 6, 2014
GETTING THERE FROM HERE-My recent CityWatch column on transportation resulted in a pleasantly and surprisingly high number of questions and interest in revisiting transportation planning, funding and construction in 2015-16.
In short, we're on the cusp of a host of new transportation initiatives, but it's the Funding, Planning and Political Consensus that prevents us all from seeing this project or that endeavor from seeing the light of day.
It's either sad and unfair, or an example of good spending, as to how transportation projects and operations have a much higher threshold than other budgetary initiatives (education, defense, etc.) to achieve a guaranteed source of funding--but it should be remembered that:
1) Planning and Consensus is required to procure governmental Funding.
What does that mean, in English? Well, in short, we need to get the Planning and Consensus to come up with a proposed budget from either Washington, Sacramento or the voters to fund something. Unfortunately, things always seem to cost more after they've started--sometimes that's just Reality 101 with Murphy's Law in full effect, and sometimes it's paying inefficient and subpar contractors too much.
That said, we FIRST need a Major Investment Study (MIS) for a given project, as well as an updated Metro Long Range Transportation Plan to prioritize it compared to all the other projects that engineers, planners and taxpayers are screaming for. Items such as total cost, cost per rider and cost per mile are considered to determine how fiscally-smart or reasonable a given project would be.
Take the Sepulveda Pass rail line tunnel to connect the San Fernando Valley with the Westside, which I described in my last article as being roughly $5 billion, and probably something unlikely to see the light of day until we finished the Wilshire Subway to the 405 freeway.
Did I say $5 billion? Well...it's a shame I didn't take a bit of time to review the Metro link of its $1.5 million-plus studies on this "Holy Grail" of L.A. County mass transit.
It's NOT $5 billion--make that $8.4 billion for the rail tunnel, $17 billion for an underground toll highway tunnel with Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and $33.7 billion for a toll highway tunnel with private rail.
So the option of creating a BRT for the carpool lanes for $1.9 billion is arguably the only realistic one we can agree to at this time. Or maybe, despite the $1 billion from Measure R dedicated to such a project, we should just leave this corridor alone while tackling other projects that are "lower-hanging fruit" to be plucked.
And geologic/earthquake/operational issues prevent an above-ground rail option from being a reality...sorry!
Hence, we've got the Planning (or at least a lot of it so far), doubtfully no Consensus, so no Funding.
Bye-bye, Sepulveda Pass Rail Tunnel...for now. You'll not be forgotten, though.
2) Metro last updated its Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) in 2009, and it needs an update...probably this year.
Why THIS year? Two reasons, and they're inter-related: the quest for a Transportation Measure "R-2" and the quest for a 2024 Olympics in Los Angeles.
In other words, what can we build NOW for completion by this aforementioned Olympics, and for commuters who want more mobility NOW (but realistically by 2022 or so)? This was not considered in 2009, so that the last LRTP in 2009 was timely then but behind the times today. Life changes a bit over 5-6 years, doesn't it?
At this time, it appears we've got a Crenshaw/LAX Line with a connecting People Mover on its way to completion, what with the $2.5 billion or so that Metro and Los Angeles World Airports have approved over the past three months, on its way to completion by 2022.
Ditto for the Downtown Light Rail Connector to tie our four Downtown light rail lines together and allowing one-seat east-west and north-south train trips through the county. This is planned for an approximate 2022 completion date, so we'll have some sort of countywide rail network by that year.
So what else can we achieve Consensus and Planning for by 2022?
And here's your answer: we already DID most of the Major Investment Studies of a northerly extension of the Crenshaw/LAX light rail line to the Wilshire Subway, as well as a South Bay Green Line Extension to Torrance, and an eastern extension of the Foothill Gold Line to the eastern LA County border.
Upon completion of the currently-planned Crenshaw/LAX light rail line, the Crenshaw and South Bay Green Lines will effectively be one big, long north-south rail line and have much bigger implications than the Crenshaw Corridor or any other political or economic focus that this line once had. It's the connection to the Wilshire Subway that allows the Crenshaw/LAX line to achieve the 100,000/day or so riders.
If we want a Measure R-2 to truly pass, a short-term focus must be needed, and three light rail line extensions to serve the Wilshire Corridor, the South Bay and the San Gabriel Valley are certain to attract more countywide interest.
The argument for a Major Investment Study (MIS) to directly connect LAX with Downtown, to connect Metro Rail with Metrolink in the Norwalk/Santa Fe region, and along Metrolink and/or freeway locations on the SR-60 and I-5 freeway corridors is a strong one, but can these projects get the Consensus and Planning and Funding for completion by 2022-24? A sad but strong conclusion is...NO.
3) What about those voters who live outside the mass transit bubble and want other transportation projects done first?
Oh yeah...THOSE people.
THOSE people who want to purchase a host of new buses for mass transit in the here and now.
THOSE people who want freeway upgrades/expansions (like the widening of the I-5 and US 101 freeways) where we still can.
THOSE people who want more parking lots and/or structures for access to light rail lines, for major surface streets, and for pedestrian malls.
THOSE people who want their surface streets, roads, medians, sidewalks and alleys repaired NOW.
THOSE people who want a countywide bicycle lane plan.
THOSE people who want more tax/business breaks for telecommuting and to create private and/or Metro vanpools to use our carpool lanes to the benefit of more commuters.
I assure you that these people are real, and that they can and do vote.
4) Just what IS a "Measure R-2" going to look like? More taxes up front, or bonds against future taxes?
We don't know the answer to this one yet, but it's hoped that any plan for a 2016 "Measure R-2" has this answered as soon as humanly possible.
The fact remains that we've got a lot of taxpayers who are feeling tapped out, and who are questioning whether the funds we're spending are being spent well.
There's also the concern that mass transit spending is leading to overdevelopment and therefore to LESS mobility due to worsening traffic. On a similar note, it appears to many voters that developers are just not paying their fair share to truly enhance mobility and pay for a transportation infrastructure, and that they're making a fiscal killing while insufficiently paying for the traffic and environmental impacts of their projects.
If we don't answer this question in a fair and credible way to the voters, then kiss the election year of 2016 goodbye with respect to a 2/3 voter turnout favoring a "Measure R-2".
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...but the challenges and clarifications the voters are begging for remain unanswered...despite the legitimate and praiseworthy progress made by our political leaders to date.
2015 will be a year of proving--not only to transportation advocates but to the average voter/taxpayer--that the case should be made for a new 2016 transportation funding initiative.