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

Thursday, March 19, 2015

SR-710 Study - Cost Benefit Analysis

From Sylvia Plummer, March 19, 2015


On December 11, 2013 at the California Transportation Committee meeting in Riverside, Doug Failing (then Head of Highway Projects for Metro) and Carrie Bowen (Caltrans District 7 Director) stated during public testimony that a Cost Benefit Analysis would be conducted concurrently with the SR-710 Draft EIR and would be released at the same time as the SR-710 Draft EIR.
Anthony Portantino is asking the tough questions.  
Where is the SR-710 Study Cost Benefit Analysis?

As a Council member, Mayor and Assembly member Anthony Portantino has been working with South Pasadena and the No 710 movement for two decades.  His many strongly worded letters, public statements and public testimony opposing the 710 tunnel have been instrumental in keeping the issue before the public and gaining the attention of elected officials.  
Here is his latest effort on behalf of the public.
See letter below to the Big Four.  
Thank you Anthony Portantino!!

Hon. Anthony J. Portantino
Ret. State Assemblymember, 44th AD

March 19, 2015

Ms. Lucetta Dunn                                                      Hon. Eric Garcetti
Chair                                                                           Chair
California Transportation Commission                      Metropolitan Transportation Authority

RE: SR-710 Cost Benefit Analysis & Funding/Construction Cost Model

Dear Honorable Chairs,

On March 6th Caltrans and MTA released the 26,625-page, long-delayed draft EIR/EIS for the SR-710 corridor.  Many government officials and activists who have been part of this process for decades were opposed to proceeding with an Environmental Impact Study because to do so violated the spirit of the original agreement between MTA/Caltrans/SCAG and the communities in the SR-710 corridor.  When discussion about a tunnel proposal for the SR-710 corridor were initiated, stakeholders were expressly told that no Environmental Impact Study would be conducted until such time as a SR-710 tunnel was deemed to be a feasible project.  

I am asking for your help in securing the Cost Benefit Analysis for the proposed SR-710 tunnel for public review.  Although many efforts were made and proposals suggested to require MTA and Caltrans to conduct a Cost Benefit Analysis and/or comprehensive feasibility study before moving forward, no such study was conducted and all such efforts failed.  It didn’t seem to matter to MTA or to Caltrans that moving forward with a $37 million Environmental Impact Study put significant and limited tax payer dollars at risk of being wasted on a project that potentially did not pencil out.

At the Dec. 11, 2013 meeting of the California Transportation Commission in Riverside, MTA’s (then) Head of Highway Programs, Doug Failing, and Caltrans District 7 Director Carrie Bowen stated during public testimony and for the record that a Cost Benefit Analysis would be conducted concurrently with the Environmental Impact Study and would be released concurrently with the DEIR/EIS.  Both indicated that the Draft Project Report would contain the Cost Benefit Analysis.  Fourteen months later, the DEIR has been released and the Draft Project Report is now available, but sadly, neither contains the Cost Benefit Analysis promised to the CTC and to the region.  Many of us who were in attendance at the CTC meeting are now stunned and angry that Ms. Bowen and Mr. Failing stated for the record that The Cost Benefit Analysis would be forthcoming and yet it is not available for public review.  I realize that there are new leaders of the MTA since this project began, but Caltrans, as the lead agency for the study, is ultimately responsible for producing this analysis. I join with many others to be hopeful that changes in process and execution are on the horizon, but it is causing alarm that the Cost Benefit Analysis continues to be a difficult document to produce. 
I am respectfully requesting your help in determining what remedies are at your disposal to facilitate the release of the Cost Benefit Analysis.  At the very least, the DEIR comment period should be stayed/extended until such time as this document is produced.  

From day one, many of us have been asking some very simple -- yet important -- questions: 

    • How much is this project going to cost? 
    • How many cars and trucks are going to use it?
    • Does this project make economic and planning sense? 

Unfortunately, MTA and Caltrans have not fully answered these basic questions as promised. 
In regard to the cost estimates used in the DEIR, It is extremely important to note and highlight that Caltrans/Metro is currently studying a bored tunnel project of the same diameter and length as the SR-710 tunnel (59’ and 9 miles) in the Sepulveda Pass.  Although Caltrans/Metro claims to have used the cost of the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel in Seattle (currently under construction) of approximately $1 billion per bored mile to estimate the costs for both the proposed Sepulveda Pass and SR-710 tunnels, the Sepulveda Pass tunnel is estimated at $10 billion while SR-710 tunnel’s cost has been reported at $5.65 billion.  No explanation for this discrepancy has been provided.  Experience and common sense tell us that the cost of most infrastructure projects increases over time, and that infrastructure megaprojects are rarely completed on budget and on schedule. Given the length of time this project will take to complete, lessons learned from Seattle and the cost modeling used by Caltrans/Metro for a second, similar project, it borders on preposterous that Caltrans/Metro would cut in half the estimated cost for the SR-710 tunnel when their own reasoning demonstrates that it is at least twice that amount.                       
In conclusion, we are now a decade into the project and we do not have an accurate financial picture of the complete cost or benefit of this project.  This omission or oversight needs to be corrected.  If MTA/Caltrans need more time to deliver the items promised to the CTC and those in attendance in Riverside, the DEIR comment period should be suspended until such time as a Cost Benefit Analysis is completed and released for public review. To do anything else sanctions publically misleading the CTC and local taxpayer to be irreparably harmed and disrespected.

Hon. Anthony J. Portantino
Ret. State Assemblymember

Cc: Brian Kelly

Ranking the Sad Parade of Federal Transpo Funding Ideas From Worst to Best


By Angie Schmitt, March 19, 2015

 The Highway Trust Fund is on a losing trajectory. But no one can agree on how to fix it. Image: Congressional Budget Office via America 2050

 America’s transportation funding system is broken, and no one in charge has good ideas about how to fix it.

The problem seems simple enough: The federal transportation program is going broke because Washington has allowed the gas tax to be eroded by inflation for more than 20 years.

As obvious as raising the gas tax may be, America’s political leaders won’t touch it. Yesterday, The Hill reported that Congressman Bill Shuster, chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is ruling out a gas tax increase or any additional fees on driving to fund transportation.
Apparently, anything that might make driving a little more expensive is no longer politically palatable. Instead, President Obama and members of Congress have trotted out a series of proposals that range from one-off gimmicks to total fantasies that wouldn’t solve anything.

It can be hard to keep them all straight, so here’s our ranking of ideas to fix federal transportation funding, from worst to best.

Eliminating Federal Funding for Biking, Walking, and Transit

We hesitate to even call it an “idea to fix federal transportation funding,” but at the bottom of the pile is this stinker from the Koch brothers contingent. It has gone over like a lead balloon in Congress twice, but it satisfies the urges of the far-right wing of the Republican Party.

Abruptly eliminating federal transit funding would be catastrophic for transit agencies and city economies nationwide. A variant on this idea — eliminating federal support for biking and walking only — would not even come close to fixing the Highway Trust Fund, but it would cut off funding for projects that reduce congestion and improve safety. The federal government currently spends under a billion dollars per year on walking and biking, or less than 2 percent of its transportation spending.


Royalties From Increased Oil Drilling

House Republicans tried this in 2011 — another ideological fantasy masquerading as a policy solution. The proposal would have directed the Secretary of the Interior to increase offshore oil drilling and pump the added royalties into transportation. Since those royalties wouldn’t materialize for a few years, if at all, Erich Zimmermann of Taxpayers for Common Sense pointed out that the plan would actually cost the government upfront. “Sounds like a recipe for doubling down on our current deficit mess,” he said.

Not to mention the fact that increased fossil fuel extraction would only lead to more driving and the creation of a more expensive transportation system with more highway miles to maintain. Unsustainable on multiple levels.


Pension Smoothing

This idea actually had some political legs about a year ago. It would work like this: Allowing corporations to short change their pension funds in the near term would generate additional taxable income, with the proceeds diverted to transportation spending.

The Bipartisan Policy Center noted that this strategy doesn’t actually raise money, while making it more likely that taxpayers will end up providing emergency retirement support to desperate seniors.


Cuts to the Postal Service

A GOP plan floated in the last round of transportation bill negotiations would have generated $10 billion over 10 years by cutting delivery of mail on Saturdays. Since the Highway Trust Fund is expected to rack up a deficit of $167 billion over the next 17 years, that wouldn’t exactly balance the books, without even wading into the question of whether transportation funding should be linked to levels of postal service delivery.


Overseas Tax Holiday

This plan was floated by the oddball coalition of Nancy Pelosi and Rand Paul. The idea is that some of the $2 trillion in U.S. corporate profits hiding out overseas would return to the U.S. if the tax rate were lower than the current 35 percent. Paul’s proposal would temporarily lower the rate to 5 percent for companies repatriating their profits.

The problem? Well, there are many, but you could start with the fact that it would only increase the incentive for corporations to stash profits overseas in the future, as they await the next “tax holiday.”
And, of course, this idea is completely divorced from the transportation system itself. That hasn’t stopped Shuster from saying it’s his favorite strategy for the current reauthorization effort.


Continue to Bail Out the Highway Trust Fund With General Fund Money

This “plan” seems to be one of the more politically feasible ones. After all, it’s the one lawmakers have opted for the last five times the HTF ran out of money, and it closely resembles doing nothing. But it has some distinct disadvantages.

More than $50 billion has been dumped into the HTF from general fund revenues since 2008. And according to yesterday’s report from The Hill, lawmakers are preparing for the possibility of another bailout very soon.

That means Washington is ready to continue diverting money from other important public priorities like education and healthcare. The longer Congress drags its feet, the bigger the cost will be.

Obama’s Overseas Business Tax

Obama’s recent proposal for shoring up transportation funding sounds pretty similar to Pelosi and Paul’s. But instead of relying on a one-time tax break, Obama would institute a one-time tax on overseas profits. Politically, it seems to be going nowhere, and like all of the proposals with lower grades, it has nothing to do with transportation and won’t provide any long-term solution. But it would avoid some of the perverse incentives in other proposals, and it’s not as silly as the postal service idea.


Instituting a Mileage Fee

Assessing a fee based on miles driven eliminates some of the problems with the gas tax: Namely, increasing efficiency of vehicles is gradually eroding its usefulness.

While there are some mileage fee pilot programs in place, it doesn’t seem ready for prime time yet. No one has quite figured out how to assess and collect a mileage charge.

Raising the Gas Tax

The obvious choice is the best choice. Take away the ridiculous politics, and raising the gas tax is simply the most common-sense way to fund transportation. With gas prices having just fallen so steeply, the effect at the pump would barely register with drivers. Lawmakers still can’t muster the courage to touch it.

There was a proposal from Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer to raise the gas tax 15 cents per gallon over three years, but it went nowhere. While many states have raised their gas taxes and those lawmakers have been overwhelmingly reelected, no such fortitude exists at the federal level.

Grade: A

So what’s actually going to happen? According to The Hill, lawmakers are most likely to pursue the Pelosi/Paul repatriation idea or another extension paid for with general funds. The Hill’s Keith Lang reports the lawmakers are already discussing the possibility of an extension because, as Shuster said, tax reform proposals take a long time. The Highway Trust Fund is heading for another bailout by May 31.

Unique gantry for mega-TBM lift


 Posted on Facebook, March 19, 2015: A week ago today, I attended the Stakeholders Outreach Advisory Committee meeting and asked if there is a contingency plan for rescuing an SR-710 TBM anywhere in the DEIR. The answer was a single word, "No." They plan to use 2 TBMs for a single-bore tunnel, and 4 TBMs for the dual-bore variation. While the potential breakdown of any one of them is independent of the others, the SR-710 tunnel would be 5 times as long as Seattle's, and certainly the extra distance increases the potential for a breakdown. Take a look at the size of the gantry and the surrounding area and then picture how much land, potentially with homes on it, would be needed to mount such a rescue in a neighborhood along the route.

By Armand van Wijck, March 12, 2015

With TBM Bertha in her final resting place in the recovery shaft, crews are in the final stages of preparing to lift four pieces weighing up to 2,000 tonne to the surface for repairs. TunnelTalk reporter Armand van Wijck spoke with subcontractor Mammoet, whose previous experience includes lifting the Russian Kursk submarine from the bottom of the Barents Sea, about the special needs for the big hoist in Seattle. 
Nearly 16 months after the world’s largest TBM was forced to shut down after suffering power loss, damage to its seal assembly, and suspected main bearing damage, Seattle Tunnel Partners - the construction joint venture of Dragados and Tutor Perini – expects, finally, to begin the complex process of lifting the 17.5m diameter machine from its current resting place at the bottom of the 120ft recovery shaft.

Gantry tower assembly
Gantry tower assembly
Inside the Hitachi-Zosen manufactured TBM, crews are disconnecting hoses and cables, and have already removed eight of the 24 motors. Removing these will give crews the clearance they need to lift the cutterhead and drive unit to the surface. The remaining 16 motors, which each weigh approximately 8,000lbs (3,630kg), will remain attached and be removed from the pit as part of the cutterhead lift. A crawler crane will remove smaller pieces of the machine in advance of the main lift of the four large sections that weight up to 2,000 tonne each.

To achieve the major lifts specialist hoisting company Mammoet has been subcontacted to design and install the enormous gantry required to carry out the operation.

“The gantry is what makes this operation unique. It has been tailor made just for hoisting Bertha,” said Mammoet Project Manager Jeroen van Kooperen. After Mammoet was awarded the recovery contract in the summer of 2014, the company designed the 32m high gantry inside four weeks.

Design of the 32m high gantry
Design of the 32m high gantry
However, another subcontractor in charge of the gantry’s foundations discovered afterwards that these would not be strong enough to hold the gantry. “A firm breeze and horizontal forces during the hoist could lead to unwanted torque in the foundation,” Van Kooperen explained. “Detailed calculations showed us the foundations could not bear these lateral forces.”

The gantry foundation is comprised of two concrete beams, 1.5m wide and 1.8m deep. These beams are cast on both sides of Bertha's recovery shaft, on top of concrete piles. The gantry is constructed to a width of 22.7m, equal to that of the distance between the concrete pile walls that STP had constructed on either side of the tunnel alignment at the start of the project to control settlement and protect the existing viaduct.

Of course no one ever imagined a 1,300 tonne gantry would need to rest on top of these sheet piles. “It would have been a difficult task to subsequently strengthen the existing concrete piles just to keep the gantry from subsiding, or to construct a foundation on top of them that could withstand the torque,” said Van Kooperen. “A less time consuming option, and above all a less expensive one, was our proposition for adjusting the gantry. We decided to rest it entirely on 48 hydraulic cylinders to eliminate the torque. As far as we know this is the first time ever a gantry of this size has rested entirely on hydraulic platforms.”

The hydraulic skid base
The hydraulic skid base
On the bottom of each side of the gantry six so-called skid beams are mounted, each with a length of 4.7m. On top of these beams sits a double rail track that has been constructed to enable positioning during the hoist. However, the lateral forces would be expected to create an uneven pressure distribution on the skid beams, leading to the torque-effect in the underlying foundations.

“We installed four pressure cylinders on each pair of skid beams, two at the front and two at the back,” explained Van Kooperen. “By connecting these cylinders to each other, the hydraulic fluid inside them will level and therefore so too will the fluid pressure during a lateral load.” Fluid will flow from the heavier loaded cylinder to the lesser loaded one. Because the cylinders have the same area on both sides, a mechanical equilibrium forms in the middle of the foundation.

A quarter turn

The lift itself, when it begins, will be a high-precision operation. With a cutterhead diameter of 17.5m this only leaves clearance of 2.25m on either side of the recovery shaft wall. After Mammoet has removed the outer shell using a 600 tonne crane, it will then hoist the 2,000 tonne drive unit. “In order to control the horizontal movements during the hoist we have placed anchors at ten points divided over the shaft wall, said Van Kooperen". Each anchor will hold a lifting eye, to which Mammoet will attach a hydraulic pulling chain. The other side of each chain will be attached to the cutterhead itself. These chains are only meant for controlling the horizontal movement.”

Installation of the top skid beams
Installation of the top skid beams
Six strand jacks connected to a pulley will be used to hoist the cutterhead. Each of these 900 tonne hydraulic hoist cylinders contains 54 steel cables, 20mm in diameter. “With this system we can generate considerable hoisting power using relatively small sized cylinders,” said Van Kooperen. The system comprises four main hoist cylinders, two on each side. The last two cylinders are mounted on a skid track on top of the gantry. Mammoet will use these two cylinders to turn the cutterhead by a quarter turn, in mid-air, so that it can be lowered to the repair frame at ground level.

During an operation such as this operational safety is critical. To this end, the hydraulic pulling chains can be operated from distance, meaning that not a single construction worker will have to stand underneath the heavy load during the hoist. “Safety is our top priority,” said Van Kooperen. “We will not take any risks. Each of our systems and every operation will be analysed thoroughly.”
The reverse operation - reinstating the new bearing and bearing seal ring on the cutter driving unit – will present even more of a precision challenge for Mammoet. “The bearing seal ring has a diameter of 14m and a very tight fit of only 0.5mm,” said Van Kooperen. “For this step we have made special slings which again contain hydraulic cylinders. These equalise the load on the seal, which will prevent it from deforming.”

After the repairs are carried out by Hitachi engineers on the surface, Mammoet will go through every step again, but this time backwards, to get Bertha back in the ground. If everything goes according to plan, the damaged seals will be replaced in May (2015) for a revised resumption of tunneling in August following completion of testing and assuming no further complications.


$200-million Orange County tollway project stalls


Risk-related transparency: A double-edged sword


By Alexander Budzier, March 15, 2015

Delivering public sector projects on time, on budget and with the full set of intended benefits has always been a demanding business. So would a move to more transparency improve or hinder project performance and de-risk projects? Alexander Budzier, a lecturer on the MSc for Major Programme Management at Saïd Business School, a lecturer at the Major Project Leadership Academy and the co-director of the UK Government Project Leadership Programme, has conducted an extensive five-year study into the real drivers behind project performance and risk. Here, he comments on the findings of the research and the benefits and pitfalls of adopting a total transparency approach.

The biggest project risks: Not what you might expect

Since 2009, my colleague, Bent Flyvbjerg, and I have examined more than 6,000 large scale projects (92% in the public sector and 71% focused on public sector IT change initiatives), comparing budgets and benefits estimates with actual results. The results have been surprising – and alarming.

When the figures were fully broken down and not simply averaged out, a staggering one in six projects ended up in the “fat tail” of budget overruns of more than 50% and schedule overruns of more than 70%. These statistics question previous studies that focus on average performance and talk of overruns as excusable error. Our data point to a picture where projects are generating a disproportionate – and disastrous - number of very large overruns that must be addressed.

Risk drivers: Are we getting it right?

Often, the size and duration of a project is considered the primary driver of risk. In the UK, it’s the largest 400 projects that sit on the Major Projects Authority register and are closely scrutinised. But our findings prompt other key risk considerations.  Is the organisation strong enough to absorb the hit if budget overruns turn out to be extraordinary? Can the organisation still cope and deliver if 15% of its medium-sized projects exceed cost estimates by 200%? These numbers may seem unlikely, but 5 years of research has shown that they are frequent and realistic. Any publicly accountable organisation needs to know what its specific risk in the “fat tail” is.

Then we must consider the robustness and availability of data. If public sector executives don’t have full confidence in their data, that seriously impacts on their ability to make decisions. Particularly during the early project life cycle little is definitively known about the project because, by definition, the project design hasn’t reached maturity. But decisions that will lock the project into a course of action must still be made. We must be mindful of such shortcomings in the data and how to navigate them when examining risk and make decisions.

Can public transparency drive better risk management?

Of course, in the US, transparent publication of project details is de rigeur. Should we be striving for the same in the UK?  And how would that new level of accountability drive behaviours and decision making in the public sector?

We’ve already made a move to de-risking projects through optimism bias uplifts, mandatory for big public projects in the UK. The MPA is moving towards more openness. Taking the principle of project comparison to the point of total transparency, though, carries inherent risks. The biggest of these is that you inevitably change the accountability landscape. That will influence behaviours – sometimes with negative or unintended consequences. We have studied in detail the beneficial and adverse consequences the move towards transparency had in the US.

Transparent public reporting also relies on robust, high quality data (which, as we have seen, can be problematic) and can involve a significant administrative burden. That creates a high level of resource consumption which could arguably be better deployed to maximise the benefits of the project. What’s more, an admission of failure in the public space can destroy the credibility of a project – and of other associated projects, potentially affecting investment, delivery and outcomes.

On the other hand, if data is made available across projects in a more consistent manner then that data can be used pro-actively. As well as reporting accurately, we can also start to map early warning indicators to identify high risk areas. That in turn will accelerate risk issues into the governance structure and alert people higher up in the hierarchy to possible areas of concern. Total transparency potentially equips us to widen the view from individual projects to the entire portfolio, prompting better decisions, innovation of project delivery and better outcomes.

We tend to assume that transparency is inherently a “good” thing. Certainly, one cannot address the risks on a project if they are not visible. What is undoubtedly important, given the results of our research, is that we engage in a new conversation: one that brings risk-related transparency to the table and honestly recognises the benefits and potential drawbacks of a total transparency approach.

Glendale Councilman Najarian joins race for L.A. County supervisor


Texas DOT Raring to Build Money-Losing Toll Lane


By Angie Schmitt, March 19, 2015

 Managed toll lanes can be big money losers. Photo: Wikipedia
 Expanding highways by adding tolled lanes can still be a big money loser.

States seem to love expanding highways by adding tolled lanes, even when the money doesn’t add up. The 495 Express Lanes in DC’s Virginia suburbs lost $51 million last year, forcing investors to restructure $430 million in debt. Similarly, Maryland taxpayers are likely to be on the hook for the state’s new I-95 lanes, which are generating barely $5 million a year after costing $275 million. Toll lanes in Atlanta and Houston are also not hitting their financial targets.

Brandon Formby at the Dallas Morning News’ Transportation Blog reports on a highway expansion in Dallas that seems to be heading in the same direction. As a toll road, it won’t make money, but that isn’t giving state officials much pause:
In a not-so-surprising move, the North Texas Tollway Authority board this morning passed on building the Southern Gateway, the name given to a planned rehab of Interstate 35E and U.S. Route 67 that will also add managed toll lanes to both roads.
But don’t expect that to halt the project. This is the sixth consecutive time the region’s tolling entity, which has dibs on any North Texas tolling project, has turned down a managed toll lane project. The Texas Department of transportation plans to move ahead with the work.

NTTA assistant executive director of infrastructure Elizabeth Mow told board members that the project wasn’t financially feasible for the toll authority because the expected toll revenues wouldn’t justify debt needed to rebuild and maintain free main lanes and frontage roads.

TxDOT could have an easier time financing the project because it already has $470 million in state highway funds on hand to build the first phase – a lump sum that NTTA wouldn’t have received if it were to take on the project. TxDOT plans to put that amount toward the construction of two reversible managed toll lanes and rebuilt main lanes from 67 to the Horseshoe, where 35E meets Interstate 30.
If people aren’t willing to pay to use these lanes, are they worth building in the first place? That’s probably a question for more thoughtful public agencies than TxDOT.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Where the Sidewalk Starts summarizes the newest report on pedestrian safety from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Urbanist reports that “Brenda,” the Seattle tunnel-boring machine that’s carving a path for light rail (not a highway — that’s “Bertha”), is making good progress. And The City Fix discusses what kind of urban conditions help make bus rapid transit successful.