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

Monday, May 4, 2015

Study: Most Roads Don’t Pay for Themselves


By Angie Schmitt, May 4, 2015

Most American roads — even the most highly trafficked — are financial losers. That’s a major finding from a new study by the Center for American Progress [PDF].

Four out of 10 American highways don't generate enough revenue to pay for maintenance. Photo: Wikipedia
Four out of 10 American highways don’t generate enough revenue to pay for maintenance. 

A financial analysis by the think tank found that about four out of 10 U.S. highways don’t carry enough traffic to generate sufficient revenue to pay for their maintenance — let alone construction.
CAP analyzed individual road segments from around the National Highway System. Using publicly available traffic data, researchers were able to estimate how much revenue each segment generated in terms of user fees paid by drivers, namely state and federal gas taxes. Those totals were then compared to average maintenance costs, assumed to be two resurfacings and one major reconstruction over the course of 30 years.

That just six in 10 highways passed such a low test should be a wake-up call, CAP authors say. For one, the cost analysis did not include initial construction costs or inflation. Including a modest annual 1 percent inflation adjustment on the cost of construction would have increased the share of roads that failed to cover costs by 9 percent.

CAP’s study only examined national highways, which host far more traffic than the average road. Roads on the National Highway System represent only about 5 percent of America’s total road network, but carry 55 percent of all vehicle traffic. Meaning the financial returns on local roads, which generate fewer trips and less fuel use than highways, are much worse.

The study should help dispel the false notion that roads pay for themselves, write authors Kevin Degood and Andrew Schwartz. It should also inspire us to rethink the way we disperse funding for roads versus transit, they say. (At the federal level, the split is about 80-20.) In most cases, the argument that roads are self-sustaining is a myth.

Letter from City of South Pasadena

From Sylvia Plummer, April 28, 2015

This letter is addressed to Southern California Associations of Governments (SCAG).  Concerns are raised regarding inclusion of SR-710 North Extension Tunnel in the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP).  How can it be part of the Plan if it has not been selected as an Alternative?

The RTP report actually reveals the importance of our continued insistence that it is NOT a gap.  The  710 does not exist  north of Valley Boulevard.  What was built in Pasadena is just the 210/134 interchange (by virtue of a court-ordered exception to the 1973 injunction).
 To see the City of South Pasadena letter to SCAG dated April 7th, 2015, go to 

Letter from City of Pasadena

From Sylvia Plummer, April 28, 2015

The two page letter from Pasadena Mayor Bogaard is addressed to Metro Board Chairman Eric Garcetti and copied to Metro CEO Phil Washington, CalTrans Director Malcom Dougherty and CalTrans District 7 Garrett Damrath and addresses the SR-710 North Draft EIR/EIS.  
Points made in the letter:
1.  Pasadena City Council approved a motion to oppose the highway tunnel alternative as documented in the SR-710 North Draft EIR.
2  Pasadena City Council approved the recommendation of the Pasadena Working Group (PWG) and offered the PWG recommendation as the locally Preferred Alternative for the SR-710 North Study.
3. A request was made for the Cost Benefit Analysis and a restart of 120 days public review period when the Cost Benefit Analysis surfaces.
Also included with the letter is the 19 page Pasadena Working Group preferred alternative.
For the letter, go to

More Lanes on the 710 Means More Trucks: More Trucks Means More Pollution, Get it Caltrans?


By Roger Rudick, April 7, 2015

 L.A.'s Pacific Electric trains delivered freight in their days. Photo via Metro Library
 L.A.’s Pacific Electric trains delivered freight in their day.

The Arts District of downtown Los Angeles is now a vibrant residential community. But the signs of its warehouse past are everywhere. Abandoned railroad spurs, peeking up from the asphalt and running down old brick streets, speak volumes about bad public policies and metrics that, even as LA struggles to rebuild its once-great transit system, persist in too much of its bureaucracy. That’s exemplified in two 710 freeway studies released by Caltrans and Metro.

The study for the northern section came out in March and looked at the “gap closure” from Alhambra to Pasadena, where the 710 would join the 210. The study for the southern section was released in June 2012 and looks at widening and double-decking the segment that runs 20 miles from the ports to the Pomona Freeway south of downtown. This chunk is mostly about freight and would cost around $8 billion. Together, the environmental studies cost millions and number 2300 pages, with over 26,000 pages of supporting documents.

The Interstate Highway System changed the economics of trucks vs. trains for local delivery. Truck trailers now park on abandoned rail spurs in downtown L.A. Photo: Roger Ruddick
The Interstate Highway System changed the economics of trucks vs. trains for local delivery. Truck trailers now park on abandoned rail spurs in downtown L.A.

Most people know that Los Angeles had a comprehensive mass transit system, the Pacific Electric. But the Pacific Electric, along with other railroads of Southern California, also delivered freight. All the building materials and manufactured goods that made the economy of Los Angeles was once delivered on local rail spurs directly to warehouses, many of them in downtown LA.

So what killed local rail freight delivery? “It was the Interstate Highway System,” explained Don Norton, a spokesman for the Pacific Harbor Line, a railroad that assembles long-distance freight trains full of containers offloaded from cargo ships. “But railroads still compete on cargo that’s heavy, bulky, and traveling extremely long distances.”

Railroads have to maintain their own infrastructure—meaning thousands of miles of tracks, switches, spurs, bridges, signals, yards, etc. So they focus on their long-distance mainlines where they get the most bang for the buck. Trucking companies, on the other hand, get an all-but free ride on roads built by state and local governments. They also cause a disproportionate amount of damage.

As a result, when cargo comes off a ship in Los Angeles, if it’s staying in the region or going no farther than Nevada or Arizona, trucks cost less. If it’s going to Memphis, Chicago or anyplace east of the Rockies, or around 550 miles or more, it’s more cost-effective to combine the shipments onto a single freight train—often more than a mile in length—rather than paying some 300 truck drivers to do the same job. Some long distance trains are put together right on the docks. Others are assembled in what’s called “near dock” yards—trucks scoot containers from ships to rail yards a few miles away, where they are transferred onto those giant freight trains.

But today’s largest ships carry 19,000 containers. There isn’t enough area near the docks to handle it all. So over 800 trucks a day use the 710 and other connecting roads to get to giant rail yards in Commerce.

Alameda Corridor freight rail. Photo by Roger Ruddick
Alameda Corridor freight rail. 

The situation was worse before the Alameda Corridor, a dedicated, 20-mile freight train “expressway,” with a three-track mainline, roughly paralleling the 710. Completed in 2002, it greatly improved the connection between the ports to the rest of the national rail system. The Alameda Corridor handles about 45 trains a day, helping them get back and forth to the docks quickly. Each train carries the cargo equivalent of 250 to 300 trucks, explained John Doherty, chief officer of the authority that operates the Alameda Corridor. It would take over 11,000 trucks, every day, to do the job of these trains. But the Corridor is operating at 36 percent capacity, he explained. It could handle 105 more trains every day, or the equivalent of another 26,000 trucks.

Policy makers have a choice: add more lanes to the 710 or figure out how to get more stuff onto trains.

And that’s where Caltrans fails. The most glaring omission in both studies, but with the 710 South especially, is a failure to consider induced demand. A source at one of the transportation agencies, who spoke on condition of anonymity, admitted that they didn’t look at it—a least, “not explicitly.” Wired Magazine did an excellent primer on the concept. Think of the latest 405 widening — despite what LA’s planners think, widening freeways doesn’t reduce congestion. Furthermore, trucks burn as much as ten times more energy per ton of cargo than trains. So if the mission is to improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gases, and facilitate more goods movement from the ports, why not push more stuff onto the Alameda Corridor, rather than inducing more truck traffic by double decking the 710?

There are projects in the works. Take the Southern California International Gateway (SCIG), a planned near-dock yard near the Dominguez channel, right on the Corridor. The $500 million project, which would be funded by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), was approved by the Los Angeles City Council two years ago, but construction of the yard, which is four miles from the docks, has stopped due to a lawsuit.

The project includes $100 million for low emission and no-emission trucks and trains. However, “We’re opposed to SCIG in all shapes and fashions,” said Mark Lopez, a representative with East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice and a party to the lawsuit. “We believe they can handle the freight on the dock.” Lopez and others argue the yard will exacerbate traffic jams and pollution from trucks delivering containers to the Union Pacific Railroad’s near-dock yard, the Intermodal Container Transfer Facility, which is next to the planned SCIG location.

However, the solutions of environmental groups seem oddly self defeating. While they oppose SCIG, they accept the idea of truck lanes that “would travel along the existing 710 footprint and not displace homes and jobs—in the center of the freeway but elevated,” said Lopez. They were sold on it in part because of a stipulation that the elevated lanes have the ability to handle zero-emissions trucks: alternative 6B and 6C would put catenary electrification wires (similar to what you see over a Light Rail line, but with two sets of wire) over the lanes for new dual-mode trucks that shut off their diesel engines and run on electric during the 20-mile drive down the new lanes of the 710. (This paragraph updated 4/8.)

Siemens has a prototype electric truck that they are currently testing, but that’s it. It’s unclear who would pay for these new trucks or if they would be reliable, economical and safe. The EIR estimates electric trucks would reduce overall diesel fuel consumption by only 6 to 8 percent. Rather than including this as an option in the EIR, one has to wonder why Caltrans wouldn’t first try it on a shorter run, for example, by installing the catenary on the existing four-mile corridor from the ports to Union Pacific’s Intermodal Container Transfer Facility.

And if zero emissions is the goal, why did Caltrans toss out electrification of the rail lines, which requires no new technology? The National Resources Defense Council did a great piece about how the Russians electrified the Transiberian railroad, which is over 5,000 miles long, back in 1929. Rail electrification is the norm in Europe. In the US, of course, one only has to look at the Northeast Corridor from Boston to Washington, DC. Or the Black Mesa and Lake Powell Railroad, a short freight rail line in Northern Arizona. And the Pacific Electric used to run electrified freight trains right here in Los Angeles.

Either way, the Alameda Corridor could be used for shuttle trains that would move cargo containers between the inland long-distance train assembly areas and the ports, as is now done by truck. In fact, the Caltrans study concludes that moving goods by rail would “markedly reduce heavy-duty truck traffic on the I-710.” But “…the Enhanced Good Movement by Rail component was removed…because these projects and other efforts to maximize the amount of goods movement by rail would not be completed as part of the I-710 Corridor Project.” The source at Caltrans confirmed what the EIR seems to say: rail enhancements were nixed simply because they’re not physically on the 710. Doherty said shuttle trains are occasionally discussed but they would require subsidies to be economical.

There are other question marks. The Russian government has approved a $66 billion project to build a rail tunnel under the Bering Strait. The Chinese are talking along the same lines. If they succeed, West Coast ports may become redundant. Additionally, electrified trains, depending how the power is produced, can be carbon-free. As one transportation expert with rail and nautical expertise put it, even without the tunnel, there’s going to be pressure to increase rail and seaward capacity at northern ports closer to Asia, as a a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from ships.

Either way, it seems strange that in the US, a country that stresses free markets, a state agency is so eager to provide free infrastructure for trucks. That’s why, as the Wired magazine piece points out, we have the equivalent of Soviet-style bread lines on our roads. It’s as if the Teamsters are telling Caltrans what to do.

It took the Soviet Union 70 years to realize this kind of economics doesn’t make sense. When will we?

Los Angeles could be pulling a little sales tax sleight of hand


By Susan Shelley, April 24, 2015

Elected officials typically don’t have much in common with Harry Houdini unless they end up in handcuffs, but in Los Angeles County they’re about to conjure up a sales tax increase with a trick that would deceive Houdini himself.

The sales tax in Los Angeles County is already 9 percent, one and a half percentage points higher than the statewide sales tax. That’s because L.A. County voters approved three separate half-cent sales tax increases to fund transportation projects: Proposition A in 1980, Proposition C in 1990, and Measure R in 2008. A fourth increase, Measure J, failed to win approval in 2012, falling just a little short of the two-thirds vote required to raise taxes in California.

But the campaign is on to try again. On Wednesday, the organization Move LA held a community forum to promote another half-cent hike in the sales tax for transportation projects. Mayor Eric Garcetti was the keynote speaker.

In Sacramento, the legislature is currently considering two measures that would quietly remove some obstacles to passing the tax hike.

Current state law says local governments may add their own sales taxes to the statewide rate of 7.5 percent, but the local sales taxes may not total more than 2 percentage points, for a maximum of 9.5. Senate Bill 767 would lift that limit to allow a new half-cent sales tax increase in L.A. County, where cities including San Fernando and Santa Monica are already at the maximum 2 percent over the statewide rate.

A separate measure, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 4, would change the state constitution to allow local transportation taxes to pass with just 55 percent of the vote instead of two-thirds.

ACA 4 needs a two-thirds vote in both the Assembly and the state Senate to get on the ballot, and then it needs a simple majority to pass. But here’s the trick: If it passes, it would apply immediately to any local transportation tax measure submitted to the voters in the same election. So if the new half-cent sales tax for transportation was on the same ballot, it wouldn’t need two-thirds to pass — 55 percent would be enough.

There could be more trickery thanks to two new laws. The 2016 election will be the first in which voters will be allowed to register on Election Day. And it will be the first election for new vote-by-mail rules that allow ballots to be counted even if they arrive up to three days late, as long as they’re postmarked before the polls close.

Magical things can happen to absentee and provisional ballots in the three days following an election. Sometimes they levitate.

The half-cent sales tax hike that officials have nicknamed Measure R2 could raise an estimated $90 billion by borrowing all the future revenue from a 45-year tax increase. Measure R was a 30-year tax increase, and it raised about $36 billion.

How much money is that? November’s statewide water bond was thought to be expensive at $7 billion, but officials in L.A. County are spending, or planning to spend, 18 times that amount — $126 billion — on rail lines and bike paths that are far less vital than water. Why?

“Our transportation infrastructure program represents the nation’s largest public works program,” Mayor Garcetti said recently.

So it’s a jobs program. You pay the tax, but can you get one of those jobs? Not unless you’re in the right union. Metro has signed a project labor agreement that covers every transportation project built with Measure R funds.

And now Metro is getting into the business of housing near transit corridors. Last month the Metro board voted to study the idea of putting $10 million of your transportation taxes into a “Countywide Transit Oriented Affordable Housing loan fund” and selling Metro-owned land at a discount to developers who will build affordable housing.

Metro board director Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker said the transit agency must “work closely with cities and with community stakeholders to guide responsible development that preserves and creates opportunities for all.”

There’s a further hint of Metro’s plan for trackside living in the agency’s recent report on converting the Orange Line busway to rail. It’s not worth the minimum $1.2 billion cost, the agency concluded, until more “density is concentrated near transit.”

Watch in amazement as your transportation tax dollars are transformed into a jobs program for union construction workers and a housing program for low-income residents.
It’s a great trick, unless you’re trying to get somewhere.

The Trouble with Megaprojects


By Jacques Leslie, April 11, 2015


Until last Monday, when engineers began hoisting its two-thousand-ton cutterhead to the surface, Bertha, the world’s largest tunnel-boring machine, was stuck a hundred and twenty feet below the streets of Seattle, too damaged to move far forward and incapable of going in reverse. The machine, which weighs some seven thousand tons and is about as long as a football field, is the centerpiece of a two-billion-dollar project to build a stretch of underground highway two miles long, two lanes wide, and two levels high. But, in December of 2013, after only four months and a thousand feet of digging, Bertha overheated and was shut down. Attempts to fix it set off a cascade of other construction problems, helping to secure the tunnel’s reputation as one of the biggest megaproject fiascoes in history.

The extravagant scale of the disarray in Seattle may seem exceptional, but among megaprojects—commonly understood to be projects that cost at least a billion dollars—the size of the undertaking is nothing special. According to Bent Flyvbjerg, a management professor at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, megaprojects have come to constitute eight per cent of global gross domestic product. China is most responsible for this explosion—according to the scientist Vaclav Smil, the country used more cement between 2011 and 2013 than the United States did during the entire twentieth century—but many nations have contributed. The projects include not only tunnels, bridges, dams, and highways but also airports, hospitals, skyscrapers, cruise ships, wind farms, offshore oil and gas rigs, aluminum smelters, communications systems, Olympic Games, aerospace missions, particle accelerators, the Affordable Care Act Web site, entire cities—the list goes on and on.

Some of these projects are properly conceived and implemented—the nearly completed London Crossrail, which includes twenty-six miles of tunnels beneath London, will probably qualify—but they are the exception, according to Flyvbjerg. More common are worthy but poorly executed megaprojects, or megaprojects that never should have been attempted in the first place. The “iron law of megaprojects,” he wrote in a 2014 paper in Project Management Journal, is that they are “over budget, over time, over and over again.” Nine out of ten megaprojects experience cost overruns, and most take much longer to build than expected. What results, Flyvbjerg says, is the “survival of the un-fittest”: the least deserving projects get built precisely because their cost-benefit estimates are so misleadingly optimistic.

Superlatives are at the heart of our infatuation with megaprojects—the irresistible attraction of building the world’s tallest building or biggest cruise ship. And, as Flyvbjerg noted in his 2014 paper, megaprojects have broad appeal: engineers are delighted to develop new technology, politicians revel in the visibility they reap from building monuments to themselves, and everyone else—developers, bankers, lawyers, consultants, landowners, contractors, and construction workers—is happy to claim a share. If a project is an aesthetic success—like, say, the Sydney Opera House is (despite its fourteen-hundred-per-cent cost overrun, which derailed the career of its architect, Jørn Utzon)—the public may embrace it as an icon.

But the scale of megaprojects often leads to their undoing. Atif Ansar, a colleague of Flyvbjerg’s at Oxford, says that because such projects take so long to build—more than eight and a half years for the average large dam—they are vulnerable to a kind of entropy, in which even unrelated events can produce huge setbacks. The planners of Pakistan’s Tarbela Dam, for example, projected seven-and-a-half-per-cent inflation during construction, but the project took eight years longer to complete than expected, by which time inflation had jumped three hundred and eighty per cent and the total cost of the dam had quadrupled. The U.S. Defense Department is poised to spend eleven billion dollars modernizing its health-care-management system, but its acquisition standards virtually insure that the information technology it selects will be antiquated long before the system becomes operational. “Time is like a window through which black swans can fly,” Ansar told me, alluding to the so-called black-swan theory, which explains how unexpected events shape history. “The bigger the window, the more likely the birds fly in.”

Yet megaprojects seem to be practically recession-proof. In fact, the 2008 global economic slowdown likely spurred megaproject construction, since the governments of some countries—among them China, India, and the United States—saw investment in infrastructure as a way to stimulate growth. Moreover, many large corporations are virtually locked into megaprojects, because only mammoth undertakings seem capable of nudging their bottom lines. “It’s very simple logic, but it’s not necessarily smart,” Flyvbjerg told me. Megaprojects, he wrote in his 2014 paper, citing a Times Op-Ed, are “the ‘Vietnams’ of policy and management: ‘easy to begin and difficult and expensive to stop.’ ”

The Seattle project neatly corroborates Flyvbjerg’s findings. It is now due to be completed at the end of 2017, two years behind schedule, and Bertha’s delays have only added to the steadily mounting and still uncalculated costs. When the machine’s foundering led to calls for construction to be abandoned, officials summarily dismissed them. “There’s no turning back,” Tim Burgess, the president of the Seattle City Council, said in December, 2014. Instead, workers spent more than a year digging an eighty-three-foot-wide shaft down to it. Because Seattle’s water table is high, millions of gallons of water had to be pumped out from the site as the shaft was formed. The pumping, in turn, may have caused the surrounding land, in one of the city’s prime tourist areas, to settle by an inch or more; occupants of nearby buildings complain that cracks have begun appearing in their walls.

Last week, a massive crane, built specifically for the job, completed the two-week-long task of lifting to the surface key parts of the boring machine. When repairs are complete—not before the end of August “in the best of circumstances,” according to the project’s contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners—the parts will be lowered back into the tunnel and reassembled. In the meantime, water will continue to be pumped around the shaft, possibly causing more subsidence. Buildings sit above most of the remaining tunnel route, so if Bertha fails again workers won’t be able to dig a new shaft to reach it. The only alternative—performing repairs from within the tunnel and through the machine’s long tail—would require even longer delays.

Bertha’s problems are not a complete surprise. In 2010, The Stranger, a Seattle alternative weekly, published an article called “What Could Possibly Go Wrong,” answering the question this way: “The tunnel-boring machine gets stuck.” The machine works best when it digs into a uniform substance, but the earth around the tunnel, known as fill, is highly variable, with complex combinations of soil types, pieces of metal and concrete, and possibly even boulders and car bodies. An engineering consultant hired by Mike McGinn, Seattle’s mayor at the time and an opponent of the tunnel, warned that the site’s poor soil conditions and high water table posed unprecedented risks. But a consultant hired by the city council, which favored the tunnel, concluded that the risks were manageable.

Flyvbjerg finds much of this familiar. He writes that megaproject planners are often outright dishonest, systematically overestimating​ benefits and underestimating costs. He cites an unusually candid comment that Willie Brown, a former speaker of the California State Assembly and mayor of San Francisco, made in a 2013 newspaper column. Referring to huge cost overruns during the construction of San Francisco’s four-and-a-half-billion-dollar Transbay Transit Center, Brown wrote, “We always knew the initial estimate was way under the real cost…. If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big, there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.”

Unfortunately, false cost-benefit estimates have a way of elevating big projects over more cost-efficient, less environmentally disruptive ones. At Oxford, Flyvbjerg directs a program that teaches megaproject managers how to make cost-benefit forecasts more accurate, but accurate budgets alone won’t clarify which projects merit approval. The decision is often as much about social, aesthetic, and even patriotic concerns as about economic ones; the last three skyscrapers to have claimed the title of “world’s tallest,” in Dubai, Taipei, and Kuala Lumpur, were intended, at least in part, to draw attention to their countries’ modernity. The projects suggest the allure of the grand and grandiose, as if their true function were to deliver reassurance that the human arc is upward.

The trouble with megaprojects is that their glitter can conceal the benefits of less imposing alternatives, for big isn’t necessarily best. In 2009, McGinn, a Sierra Club activist with little political experience and modest financial backing, was elected mayor of Seattle. He had campaigned against the tunnel, arguing for a cheaper​ option: a plan, already found feasible by an advisory council of city and state stakeholders, to develop the city’s light rail, expand bus service, and repair and reorganize streets. Pro-tunnel forces—including Washington State’s Democratic Governor, Christine Gregoire; Greg Nickels, McGinn’s predecessor as mayor; construction unions; and the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce—painted McGinn as an obstructionist, eventually winning unanimous approval from the City Council for the tunnel. In 2013, McGinn lost his bid for reëlection, but his opposition looks more prescient with each new crack that appears in the buildings above Bertha.

SR-710 Maps and Information Boards

From Sylvia Plummer, April 24, 2015

Maps and Information Boards from SR-710 Public Hearing are online
Caltran's website for Environmental Documents now includes Information Boards and Maps from the Public Hearings:

South Pasadena SR-710 Community Workshop

From Sylvia Plummer, April 24, 2015
On May 13, 2015 at 6:30 P.M. at the South Pasadena Middle School, the City of South Pasadena is hosting a community workshop to discuss the SR-710 North Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report (EIR/EIS). Come learn about each of 
the proposed alternatives and their implications to area.

The 710 and Measure R2: Can Los Angeles Build Transit and Beat Its Addiction to Asphalt?


By Roger Rudick, April 22, 2015

 Mayor Eric Garcetti addresses attendees at the MoveLA Conference at Union Station. Photo: Roger Rudick.

 Mayor Eric Garcetti addresses attendees at the MoveLA Conference at Union Station.

“We have to build an army of people who are willing to say ‘enough is enough,’” said Mayor Eric Garcetti at Wednesday’s MoveLA conference at Union Station, speaking of the region’s traffic and pollution problems.

He was there, along with hundreds of other county and city leaders, drumming up support for Measure R2, a proposed sales tax measure to raise more money for transit.

A recurring theme at the conference was the need to reduce the number of cars.
“We must address CO2 emissions,” said Dr. Manuel Pastor, a director at USC’s Center for Sustainable Cities. “One way to do that is to reduce vehicle miles driven.”

Which made me wonder how R2’s successful predecessor, Measure R, ended up funding projects that will do exactly the opposite, such as double-decking the 710.

In 2008, voters approved R’s half-cent Los Angeles County sales tax for a slew of transportation projects. It raises about $40 billion over 30 years. Denny Zane, former mayor of Santa Monica, founded MoveLA to push for this initiative. It grew out of a need to fund the Wilshire subway extension; Downtown Los Angeles, Koreatown, Century City, Beverly Hills, Westwood, Santa Monica — the “core” of Los Angeles stretches down the length of Wilshire Boulevard. Without a heavy rail “spine” connecting the region’s densest area, the entire transit network is handicapped.

Denny Zane speaks at the Move L.A. Conference. Photo: Roger Rudick
Denny Zane speaks at the Move L.A. Conference.

But how do you convince someone in Encino or Alhambra to vote for a subway under Wilshire?

“They recognized [that], if it’s county-wide, it can’t just be for Wilshire,” explained Darrell Clarke, a long-time advocate. “It had to be tangible, specific and relevant to all stakeholders.”

And so Measure R incorporated several other transit projects and allocated 20 percent of its funds to highways. That’s why Metro and Caltrans have already spent millions on plans to double-deck the 710 and tunnel under Pasadena.

At the 710 debate at the Pat Brown Institute last month, even supporters of the tunnel echoed that “the time of Los Angeles building freeways is over.” Caltrans and Metro officials often concede that freeway widening will not reduce congestion, just before they talk about doing it anyway. It’s as if they’re drug fiends, struggling to beat an asphalt addiction—after just one more hit. The downside of Measure R is that it gave them a new stash.

In 2012, Measure J, the “Jumpstart Act,” attempted to extend the sunset on Measure R by 30 more years, from 2039 to 2069. Measure J didn’t pass, despite winning 66.11 percent of votes, thanks to the legacy of Prop. 13 and its two-thirds requirement. At the time, it was a big disappointment for transportation advocates.

But did we really want another $8 billion steered to freeways?

Fastracks, Denver’s 2004 version of Measure R, funds transit only. Denver’s Phillip Washington will become head of L.A. Metro in May—maybe he can help sculpt Measure R2 to be more like Fastracks. Denver isn’t saddled with a two-thirds voter threshold, of course. But the passage of 2014’s Measure BB in Alameda County shows it’s still possible to pass a transit tax in California, even without the record voter turnout of 2008.

The MoveLA Conference. Photo: Roger Rudick
The MoveLA Conference.

Measure R was huge. But Los Angeles can do better in 2016. R2 still must appeal to a large region full of sometimes divergent needs. It promises to help fund the Great Streets Initiative and bike improvements, as well as providing capital to get transit built where it isn’t fully funded under R, such as the Sepulveda Pass.

But Amanda Eaken of the National Resources Defense Council, another speaker at MoveLA’s conference, put it best when she challenged the audience to reject any project in R2 that will increase automobile use and pollution: “Anything that increases driving is out.”

With that commitment, Measure R2 would be a game changer.

“This is the first truly modern city in the world,” said Mayor Garcetti. “We can push things to happen faster than we ever imagined.”

The Timeline for Metro’s November 2016 Transportation Sales Tax Measure


By Joe Linton, April 28, 2015

Denny Zane speaks at the Move L.A. Conference. Photo: Roger Rudick

 Denny Zane speaks on Measure R2 at last week’s Move L.A. Conference.

There is a lot of discussion these days about a potential ballot measure for a new sales tax to fund transportation projects and programs for Los Angeles County. The non-profit Move L.A. has dubbed the future tax “Measure R2,” after the successful 2008 Measure R half-cent sales tax. Move L.A. first offered their “straw man” proposal on how to spend the money one year ago. More recently, they hosted forums in South L.A., the San Fernando Valley, and downtown L.A. to discuss potential future transportation funds and projects.

The ballot measure will not go before voters until next year’s presidential election in November, 2016. Coinciding with the presidential election likely means a higher voter turnout, which gives the tax a better chance of meeting the “super majority” two-thirds threshold it will need to pass. Even in a presidential election, however, the two-thirds needed will be difficult to achieve. For example, see Measure J, which, despite receiving a strong 64+ percent approval, still fell short of passing in 2012 by a narrow margin.

Even though the election will not take place until 2016, there is a lot happening right now to shape Measure R2. Metro compiled what are called “Mobility Matrices” [PDF] which are basically a massive laundry list of 2,300+ projects and programs. Just like Measure R, the matrices projects are not all trains, buses, and active transportation which Streetsblog readers tend to favor, but lots of freeways, road widening, goods movement, road widening, and more road-widening.

The list totals about $300 billion (where a Measure R2 might optimistically be projected to raise $90 billion) and will be analyzed and subsequently winnowed down to produce a proposed expenditure plan. The winnowing is, of course, a political process — the final project list needs to be geographically balanced enough to draw votes from all parts of the county.

One way to test that voter appeal is polling, which is currently underway at Metro, but has not been made public yet.

After the polling and horse-trading have shaped the expenditure plan, Metro staff will release a draft version, anticipated in June. The draft expenditure plan will be further shaped in committee, and approved by the Metro Board in late July.

From there, more polling and more politics will likely follow, with a final Metro board vote anticipated in June 2016.

There are lots of competing needs – maintenance and operations vs. shiny new projects, bus vs. rail, rail vs. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and whether any of the funding will be specifically designated for walking or bicycling. Measure R + Measure J totaled exactly zero percent set aside for active transportation, though some cities, notably Los Angeles, have used Measure R local return funding for bike and pedestrian projects.

It also remains to be seen how Metro Board Chair and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and incoming Metro CEO Phil Washington will make their marks on the process underway. Streetsblog will continue follow and report on Measure R2, including on the community groups campaigning to ensure that any measure achieves desired outcomes.

Below is Metro’s most recent “Potential Ballot Measure Schedule” from page 7 of this staff report handout [PDF].
General Public Polling Results – Mid-April 2015
COG Executive Directors Meeting – Mid-April 2015
COG Project/Program Priorities – Due May 22, 2015
Non-COG Stakeholder Input on Project/Programs – Due Early June 2015
COG Executive Directors Meeting – Mid-June 2015
Special Board Staff Meeting – 1st week of July 2015
COG Executive Directors Meeting – 1st week of July 2015
Expenditure Plan Framework Considered in Committee – July 16, 2015
Metro Board Meeting to Consider the Expenditure Plan – July 24, 2015
Post-Expenditure Plan Framework Analytical Work – August through March 2016
Metro Hosted Community Outreach Workshops – September through October 2015
Stakeholder Briefings on Analytical Work – April 2016
Metro Board Briefing: Update Polling and Ordinance – May 2016
Metro Board Considers Final Ordinance and Go/No Go – June 2016
Final Due Dates for November 2016 Ballot –  July 2016

Jerry Brown issues a more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction target


By David Siders, April 29, 2015

 Gov. Jerry Brown, touting what he called a “high bar” on climate change, on Wednesday issued an ambitious new greenhouse gas reduction target for the state.

The target, contained in an executive order and expected to be folded into pending legislation, seeks to reduce emissions in California 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

The goal is in line with one adopted by the European Union last year, and proponents characterized it as the most aggressive in North America.

“With this order, California sets a very high bar for itself and other states and nations, but it’s one that must be reached – for this generation and generations to come,” Brown said in a prepared statement.
Republicans and business representatives, however, cautioned that the regulations required to meet such a goal could raise the cost of doing business and hurt low- and middle-income energy consumers.

Brown has said California will meet or exceed its previous goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and he offered Wednesday’s goal as an interim step to reducing emissions to 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050.

In his executive order, Brown wrote that the 2030 target is “necessary to guide regulatory policy and investments in California in the midterm, and put California on the most cost-effective path for long-term emission reductions.”

State Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, previously introduced legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. She said Wednesday she will incorporate Brown’s interim target into her bill.

Brown’s order requires the state to consider climate change impacts in California’s five-year infrastructure plan and to assess how climate change will affect California infrastructure and industry. It also requires state agencies to factor climate change into planning and investment decisions.

In such decisions, Brown said in his order, “priority should be given to actions that both build climate preparedness and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The issuance of a more ambitious carbon reduction goal has been expected since September, when Brown said the state would meet its existing goal and that he would announce a new one within six months.

A longtime champion of environmental causes, Brown has argued that California’s policies – and climate-change agreements forged between this state and other sub-national governments – could help pressure heads of state as they prepare to negotiate a climate change treaty in Paris later this year.

“I believe that from the bottom up we can make real impact, and we need to join together,” Brown said last year.

Christiana Figueres, the Costa Rican diplomat and executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said in a prepared statement that Brown and California “have clearly understood, internalized and articulated the science of climate change” and have “aligned the state to the growing global understanding” of its challenges.

Environmentalists lauded the target. But their praise of Brown – as on other matters in recent years – was tempered by criticism of his permissiveness of hydraulic fracturing, a controversial form of oil extraction.

Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute said in a prepared statement that Brown “deserves credit for this important step towards fighting global warming, but the governor continues to undermine his own plans by backing fracking.”

Brown proposed dramatically expanding California’s greenhouse gas reduction laws in his State of the State address in January, and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León announced legislation the following month to enact much of the governor’s proposal.

The legislation would cut petroleum use in half by 2030 and expand, from one-third to one-half, the proportion of electricity that California derives from renewable sources such as wind and solar.
De León said Wednesday that Brown’s target shows that California “leads the entire country” on greenhouse gas reduction efforts.

Many conservatives believe the effects of global warming are overstated, and they object to the cost of environmental regulations.

Bob Huff, the Republican state Senate leader, said in a prepared statement that California’s carbon reduction goals are already the nation’s most stringent and that “before moving the goal post, we should be careful about the impact of increased energy costs.”

“At what point does being on the leading edge of climate change and environmental reform impact our ability to create or sustain jobs?” Huff said.

Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, said the 40 percent goal may be achievable, but he worries regulations designed to achieve it could dramatically increase business costs.

“The key question is how prescriptive are they going to be from a regulatory standpoint?” he said. “That will determine how expensive it becomes.”

Brown’s office announced the target as the Democratic governor traveled to the Los Angeles area to speak on climate change, first at a conference on climate policy and carbon markets in Los Angeles, then at a Milken Institute conference in Beverly Hills.

At the Milken Institute, Brown criticized Republicans in Washington who are skeptical of climate change.

“What I think we really can appreciate here is through three governors – Gov. (Gray) Davis, Gov. (Arnold) Schwarzenegger and now myself,” he said, “there’s been a California effort that is unique, in that we have taken steps ourselves to deal with reducing emissions.”

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article19857609.html#storylink=cpy

A Legislative Victory - NO 710 TUNNEL

From Steve Madison, Pasadena City Councilperson, April 16, 2015

We had a major legislative victory Monday night for West Pasadena, the City of Pasadena and the entire region.  My resolution to oppose the 710 tunnel was approved by the Pasadena City Council!  I am deeply grateful to my colleagues Vice Mayor Jacque Robinson, Mayor Bill Bogaard and Councilmembers Victor Gordo and Gene Masuda for standing with me to reject this clear and present danger to our quality of life.
Terry Tornek, John Kennedy and Margaret McAustin voted against my resolution, which was disappointing but not surprising.  Had their views carried the day, Pasadena would have taken no position on the tunnel, and many would have argued that Pasadenans were divided on the issue, or even worse supportive of the tunnel.    That will not happen now.  Thankfully, that crisis was averted in a victory of leadership. 

Solis and the power brokers


By Bill Boyarsky, April 29, 2015

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis danced cautiously around some controversial topics when she spoke to a downtown crowd of political insiders and power brokers Wednesday.

She was the speaker at the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum luncheon, run by public affairs consultant Emma Schafer, who also compiles the political blog Emma’s Memos. Lawyers, transportation business executives and engineering firm representative were in the audience at The Palm. Solis is a good person for them to know. Most have business with either the county or the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Solis is not only a member of the five- person Board of Supervisors, which has influence on projects throughout the county, but she is also on the MTA board, in charge of building and running transit lines.

I’d never heard Solis, who was elected to succeed Gloria Molina last year after serving as U.S. labor secretary and a member of Congress. She had little opposition and few campaign appearances. I had a much clearer take on Sheila Kuehl, who was speaking all over the place in her intense race with Bobby Shriver. So I was curious. Solis is sharp, pleasant and has a practiced technique of smiling her way through troublesome questions without giving much of an answer.

I asked her about her stand on future negotiations with the unions, which represent county workers. The county unions supported Kuehl in that election and previously enthusiastically helped elect Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. That gives the unions three friendly seats on the board. Molina and then Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, while liberal Democrats, often tangled the unions.

She said she’d approach the matter “very diligently." What’s she going to do in negotiations? Determine costs of proposals to see what the county can support. She said it would be a challenge. The only light she shed on the subject was to say she’d be “a big change from being antagonistic.” The blunt Molina was famous for not getting along with people, some of them union leaders.

Solis was also cautious in discussing two projects—approval of a big hotel-apartment-retail development on Bunker Hill downtown and completion of the 710 Freeway. The freeway project would have to be environmentally sound and the Bunker Hill development would have to serve more than rich people, she said. She is chair of the Grand Avenue Authority, the city- county body overseeing Bunker Hill development.

A laborers’ union executive was at the head table and his members build freeways, office buildings, hotels and much more. So Solis made it clear that her comments on the projects doesn’t mean she’s hostile to construction. She talked positively about the MTA transit projects underway, words pleasing to the union leaders and transportation engineers and lobbyists in the room. They came to lunch for that kind of reassurance.

Highway tunnels or elevated rail lines? County Supervisor Solis weighs the 710 Freeway alternatives


April 30, 2015

Twin, double-decker tunnels would close the 710 Freeway gap | Metro
Twin, double-decker tunnels would close the 710 Freeway gap | Metro

Cross section of what an elevated rail line would like on Mednick Avenue at the 60 Freeway | Metro

One of the biggest issues facing new County Supervisor Hilda Solis, whose district includes most of the Eastside, is how to close the 710 Freeway gap between El Sereno and Pasadena.  On Wednesday, Solis, who replaced Gloria Molina as Supervisor of the First District, hinted at her preferences and concerns about the alternatives now being considered.

“I’ve requested more hearings in the unincorporated East Los Angeles,” said Solis during a Wednesday afternoon luncheon hosted by the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum. “I’m concerned that not enough people in our community really understand the totality of what’s happening.”

In addition to serving as a county supervisor, Solis also sits on the board of Metro,  the county transportation agency that is currently holding hearings on alternatives to close the gap or at least reduce traffic congestion and improve transportation in the area. The options now being reviewed  include building freeway tunnelshigh-speed bus laneslight-rail service between East L.A. and Pasadena  and  street improvements, traffic signal upgrades and enhanced connections to existing bus service.  One of the options is to leave things as they are.

The proposal to build a pair of double-decker freeway tunnels from El Sereno, where the freeway ends, to Pasadena has proven the most controversial.  While she has not rejected the tunnel option,  Solis, a former U.S. Labor Secretary and Congresswoman, noted that it would be the most expensive option.

“If you are talking about using your funds wisely for the best and most public good, I want to look at other alternatives,” she said. “I would like to see other modes of transportation. We can relieve [traffic] pressure in other ways.”

But Solis, who is regarded as a strong ally of labor, said that other large transportation projects across the county would also create jobs if the freeway tunnels were not built.

Solis called for more public hearings after many residents and business owners in East Los Angeles raised concern that an elevated light rail line  would be too disruptive in a community that has been sliced by several freeways. Many have noted that businesses along Third Street struggled and some failed when the Gold Line was constructed through the area.

“Businesses have come forward and have said they don’t want to be displaced,” Solis said. “Let’s make sure we do it right.”

Metro and Caltrans are holding public meetings and accepting public comments on a draft environmental report about the 710 Freeway alternatives being considered.

East Los Angeles Community Meeting

Posted by Ellen Biasin on Facebook, April 30, 2015

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis - East Los Angeles Community Meeting

Join the dialogue on the 710 North Extension and How different options could impact East Los Angeles

Wednesday, May 13, 2015, 6 PM
Griffith Middle School Auditorium
4765 E. 4th Street
Los Angeles CA 90022

If you have any questions, please contact Supervisor Solis’s ELA office: 323-881-4601. This event is free and open to the public.

Will the Fight Over the 710 Gap in LA be the Death of Freeways?


By Josh Stephens, May 1, 2015


PLANNING LA-When residents of South Pasadena, California, hear “mind the gap,” they think of anything but the Jubilee, Hammersmith or Piccadilly. For them, the gap in question refers not to a subway but to a freeway — or lack thereof. 

The 710 runs 23 miles north-south through the heart of the Los Angeles Basin, roughly paralleling the path of the Los Angeles River, from the port city of Long Beach to the inner suburb of Alhambra. There, the freeway abruptly stops, just past its interchange with the 10 Freeway, as if swallowed by a tar pit. Four-and-a-half miles to the north, the 210 freeway runs perpendicular to the 710’s logical route, and heads eastward to connect Los Angeles County to the Inland Empire. 

“The area is widely considered to have an incomplete transportation infrastructure,” says Metro spokesperson Paul Gonzales. “This has persisted for about five decades.” 

A plan is now afoot to close the gap. In March, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), in cooperation with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), released an environmental impact report detailing alternatives for closing the gap. After years of bickering and speculation, the EIR was mandated by 2008’s Measure R, a successful ballot measure that earmarked $780 million for the 710 corridor. 

Of the report’s five options — from a legally required “no-build” alternative to a light-rail line to a busway — the one that has arguably received the most popular support involves a freeway-sized tunnel running uninterrupted for 4.9 miles under South Pasadena at depths of over 100 feet. The largest version of the tunnel would feature two tubes, each with two levels of roadway.
It would, supporters say, mark the end of the freeway-building era. 

“It’s the last freeway probably in California,” says Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments, the Los Angeles region’s metropolitan planning organization. 

“There is no place to build them, and now we need to provide other options. But this is a gap, this is not a new freeway.” 

It would also be “an enormous project,” according to Gonzales. The EIR is currently in the midst of a 120-day public comment period, after which the Metro board may vote to proceed with one of the alternatives. (The EIR is appropriately massive, at 2,260 pages long.) 

Supporters of the tunnel say that heroics may be necessary because “when you have a gap in the system, it does impact the rest of the freeway system,” Ikhrata says. SCAG does not have an official position on the alternatives. 

Transportation planners, civic leaders and, especially, cargo carriers in the Los Angeles region have long bemoaned the gap. Freeway traffic either spills out onto surface streets in Alhambra, or it crams onto other freeways, gumming up untold miles of the freeway grid and affecting, by some estimates, 200,000 drivers per day. 

It has persisted for the same reason that it arose in the first place: In a precursor to the rampant anti-freeway activism of the late 1960s and 1970s, the residents of upscale South Pasadena simply would not allow a freeway to disrupt, bisect and partially destroy their neighborhood. Whereas may low-income neighborhoods across the country raised the same concerns to no avail, South Pasadena’s affluence — it consists largely of stately single-family homes and has a median household income of $84,000 — enabled it to prevail. 

Most of the trucks that travel the 710 are not stopping in South Pasadena, unless to deliver a piano or something. What leaders in the area’s goods-movement industry would like, however, is for trucks to be able to travel smoothly through South Pasadena. The 710 is one of the two major freeways for the roughly 50,000 daily truck trips that begin or end at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The tunnel would give trucks a more direct route to the vast transshipment warehouses of the Inland Empire. 

SCAG estimates that this inconvenience costs the industry dearly in delays, in addition to the time loss and pollution caused by traffic. SCAG’s draft 2011 Regional Transportation Plan suggests that a 10 percent reduction in region-wide congestion in Los Angeles — which is the nation’s most congested metropolis — would create 132,000 jobs. (Caltrans is considering a separate proposal to build dedicated truck lanes along the southern portion of the 710.) 

The dual-tunnel version of the project would, according to the EIR, have the greatest impacts on travel times. It would reduce daily rush hour traffic by 7,000 vehicle hours, or 2.5 percent less than current levels in the 710 corridor. 

These potential benefits, say supporters, justify the expense of an estimated $5.6 billion tunnel. It is expected that some of the expense would be covered by tolls. But, while the tunnel would prevent the destruction of houses and other disruptions on the surface, civic leaders in and around South Pasadena remain firmly opposed. They say that a tunnel presents a whole new set of hazards, financial and otherwise. 

Glendale City Council Member Ara Najarian, who also sits on Metro’s 14-member board, says he fears the true cost of a tunnel could be more like $14 billion. And he said that the tunnel’s impact on surface street traffic would be negligible. 

South Pasadena Mayor Marina Khubesrian is the co-founder of the 5 Cities Alliance, which opposes the tunnel (that alliance is countered by the 710 Coalition, a group of surrounding cities that feel pinched by the gap). Khubesrian and other tunnel opponents have invoked such costly debacles as Boston’s Big Dig, which went over $10 billion over-budget, and Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel, which grappled with a halted boring machine. 

“We are concerned that (Metro and Caltrans) are still looking at a freeway as a solution in this day and age,” says Khubesrian. “We see that as a backward investment rather than investing in the future of transportation with greener technologies.” 

Earlier this month, Pasadena City Council voted to oppose the tunnel and expressed support for a multimodal, public-transit-oriented plan. 

Opponents taking the regional view are also encouraging Metro, which has ultimate say over the project, to consider the mass-transit alternatives and to encourage the completion of the Alameda Corridor East — an extension of a successful below-grade rail line from the ports — to handle cargo.
“We need to seek a solution that’s going to get people out of their vehicles,” says Najarian. “The freight shouldn’t be on our freeways in the first place.”

Either way, even supporters of the tunnel insist that they are not trying to pull the region back to the 1950s. No other new freeways are planned in the region, and both SCAG and Metro have encouraged the development of mass transit. 

But, even with the advent of light rail and subway tubes in the word’s freeway capital, they are still minding one tiny little gap.

SR710 Joe Cano Videos

NO710 Dr. Tom Williams & myself (Joe Cano) talking about some points on the SR710 Project. 

No 710 Speaks at Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy 




Mayor Garcetti @Move LA 




Valley Blvd/Alhambra Ave Connector 

 A blast from the past. A project suppressed for political expediency by Antonio Villaraigosa. This project sit on a shelf gathering dust. Taxpayer money already spent on DEIR, DVD's by the thousands in boxes, plans & documents never released.




Alhambra City Councilman 

 Same old cliches from Alhambra councilman that repeatedly uses the word 'Freeway'. We all know it will be a tolled tunnel. Alhambra residents follow to shot down his pretty balloons and chase the moon away.... 




More comments from 710 DEIR hearing 4/14/2015 

 Interesting comments at 710 DEIR Hearing 4/14/2015




Pasadena City Council votes to oppose the 710 tunnel 4/13/2015 

 The Steve Madison resolution to oppose the 710 Tunnel wins with 5 votes. The SR710 tunnel is dead!!!!!!!!




710 DEIR comments 4/11/2015 - excerpt 

 Here are two of the more notable comments at this hearing. An East Los Angeles resident & business owner calling Metro staffers out as 'LIARS' and their ineptitude & incompetence in outreach to East Los Angeles stakeholders. A representative from CD14 Councilman Huizar's office follows & declares the official position. Trish throws in her thoughts as well.




710 DEIR Hearing 4/11/2015 

 Public Comments at East LA College