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, June 4, 2015

Beyond the 710 a welcome new voice in transit conversation


By The Editorial Board, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, June 4, 2015


 The end of the 710 Freeway at Valley Boulevard in Alhambra.

 Caltrans and Metro and their predecessors have been looking at extending the 710 Freeway from Cal State L.A. to Pasadena for over half a century.

Both bureaucracies at the time had a natural prejudice in car-happy Southern California toward freeways over any alternative transit modes. In the late 1960s, Caltrans drew an old-fashioned line on the map and bought up all the properties in the way through eminent domain in the early 1970s. At first, just tiny South Pasadena formally objected, and fought a David-vs.-Goliath battle against a freeway cutting it in half, using almost all of the city’s resources for years.

Now, in a vastly different county of 10 million people in which every freeway that is built or widened achieves rush-hour gridlock as soon as it is opened, transportation mindsets have changed.

It isn’t just about saving hundreds of historic homes and rescuing the heart and soul of South Pas any longer. The giant, $5.6 billion freeway tunnel now backed by Caltrans — which insists, of course, that it backs nothing of the sort, and has its collective mind open — did seem like a win-win solution for a time even to smart area politicians such as Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank. But last week Schiff joined a rapidly growing coalition of area cities — South Pasadena, Pasadena, Glendale, La Canada Flintridge and Sierra Madre — and forward-thinking national groups and individuals with a practical vision for solving transportation problems in the 710 corridor rather than a Looney-Tunes make-work hole in the ground whose billions could better be spent elsewhere.

The group Beyond the 710 proposes a $705 million package of immediate fixes that deal with the very real traffic problems that especially plague Alhambra streets along the north-south corridor between Valley Boulevard and the 210 Freeway in Pasadena. These realists don’t pretend that the “gap” is any more of an anomaly than any other of the dozens of drawn-but-not-built freeways that once were on a fanciful 1950s map of possible Southern California car-and-truck routes. But they do understand that Alhambra in particular needs help in mitigating the surface-street traffic jams that hit it each morning and evening. Alhambrans need to get out of the one-solution mindset its politicians have afflicted it with for decades, to no end, and work with this new coalition to get us moving rather than rallying around a freeway that likely will never happen.

The coalition recognizes that just turning to one a la mode solution such as light rail through the corridor is not the answer, either — though light rail could play a small part. Its main and eminently practical suggestion is to build a Cal State-themed “Golden Eagle Boulevard” from the south stub at Valley just north of the 10 Freeway to Mission Road that could include bus lanes and a separated bike path. Add more bus service, the immediate sale of Caltrans-owned houses to free up funding and a “complete street” innovation in the current big ditch in west Pasadena’s 710 stub — a roadway for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders as well as shops and businesses — and suddenly we’re talking about genuinely creative solutions to a real problem. All parties, no matter their longtime allegiance to one solution or another, should welcome the ideas of Beyond the 710 to the conversation, a far broader one than the old talk of a freeway or lack thereof.

DC made it more appealing to drive through East of the River neighborhoods to get between Maryland and Virginia. You'll never guess what happened next.


By David Alpert, June 2, 2015

When DC rebuilt the 11th Street Bridge with more lanes and more highway ramps, officials insisted it would make traffic better, while many worried it would only worsen the situation by encouraging drivers to cut through DC between Maryland and Virginia. Now, residents east of the Anacostia say that the change has been a disaster for their communities. 

Photo by Gary Butler on Twitter.
The 11th Street Bridge connects the Southeast Freeway, which divides Capitol Hill and the Navy Yard area and is now signed I-695, with the Anacostia neighborhood and 295. North of there, the highway along the east bank of the Anacostia is called DC-295; west, it's I-295.

Before a massive project to rebuild the bridge over the past few years, there was no direct car connection from DC-295 to the bridge. Some drivers got off 295 at Pennsylvania Avenue and crossed the river there before getting back on the highway.

It made a certain sense to add a connection. Surely it's logical to have ramps connecting all of the highways, right? Some drivers in neighborhoods around DC-295 found their commutes quite awkward, and the drivers getting off the highway and back on clogged up some neighborhood roads.

However, some people warned that the cure could be worse than the disease. By building a connection, it would be simpler for people already driving this route, but could also attract more drivers to make the trip, adding to traffic and pollution for people living near the highways.
I predicted in 2008 that map software would soon move away from exclusively suggesting the Beltway to circumvent DC, directing unsuspecting itinerant travelers through DC and on the 11th Street bridge. Sure enough, that started happening.

Image from Google Maps.
The Capitol Hill Restoration Society, a preservation group, commissioned their own independent traffic study of the bridge project. It predicted that traffic would increase on DC-295, the bridge, the Southeast/Southwest Freeway (695 and 395), Pennsylvania Avenue in the neighborhoods on both sides of the river, and in other places, while decreasing on the Beltway and on 295 near Bolling Air Force Base.

Drawing by the author.
At the time, DDOT officials defended the project, saying that even if it increases traffic in DC, it should move some from local streets to the highway. The project's "Purpose and Need," in fact, said a goal was to "reduce the volume of freeway traffic that spills onto the neighborhood streets due to current traffic patterns."

By that yardstick, the project seems to have failed. Residents east of the river say traffic has gotten worse in their neighborhoods. Gary Butler, Justin Lini, and Marie Fritz told Martin Di Caro that more people are driving on 295, creating traffic jams, leading people to try getting off and taking local streets to get around the traffic.

DDOT might double down despite evidence of the danger
DDOT engineer Muhammed Khalid seems to feel that the solution is to keep doing even more of what his agency has already been doing. He confirmed to WAMU that traffic got worse on 295, but said all DDOT has to do is "adjust" the "deficiencies" to "minimize or mitigate" traffic problems. In other words, he wants to do even more road work to move more cars on 295.

That will almost surely only draw even more traffic to 295, making traffic worse somewhere else, and pushing people off the highway again into neighborhoods.

Khalid's comments sound like what you hear from a lot of transportation engineers who learned one way to do things in engineering school and haven't noticed the ways our understanding of traffic have advanced since. Traditional traffic engineering sees wider roads or more interchange ramps as the solution to any traffic problem. Unfortunately, in reality those steps only induce more traffic and make the problem worse.

If DDOT just keeps doing the same thing, the people east of the Anacostia will pay the price in worse air quality and even more traffic.

Stuck in gridlock: Why 405 expansion didn't reduce rush hour delay


By Meghan McCarty, June 4, 2015

 I-405 near Mullholand Drive exit in the congested Sepulveda Pass between the San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles.

 I-405 near Mullholand Drive exit in the congested Sepulveda Pass between the San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles.

A recent study commissioned by Metro crowed that drivers on the Sepulveda Pass section of the 405 freeway, one of the most congested stretches in the nation, are benefiting from a shorter rush hour after a five-year expansion project.

But the $1.1 billion project didn't reduce commute times during rush hour - they have increased by about a minute, according to a  previous study.

"The net gain for my commute was zero,"said Chris Simmons, a visual effects artist who travels from the San Fernando Valley through the Sepulveda Pass for work almost daily.

He said he lost countless hours of work to detours and delays during the five years of construction. Now that it's complete his commutes are roughly the same as they were before construction began.
"We didn't get enough for our money," Simmons said.

The reason adding a carpool lane didn't help travel times, experts said, is a well-documented phenomenon called "triple convergence."

People who might have otherwise decided to travel by a different mode, a different route or at a different time make the decision to use the newly expanded freeway based on the assumption that it has improved. It's called "induced demand."

So even though Northbound lanes of the freeway can now handle 15 percent more traffic every hour - that many more cars are now clogging it.

Chart courtesy of Wes Marshall and Transportationist

Juan Matute, the Associate Director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies said it's hard to factor in that "induced demand" when predicting traffic flows in an expansion project like the one on the 405.

"Honestly, I was doubtful that the project would provide significant congestion relief," he said.
Metro points out the project did provide relief - just not at the peak of rush hour.

"It’s natural to look at the specific time of the day when most people get off of work and get on the freeway," said Metro spokesman Dave Sotero. "But people use the 405 24 hours a day and overall we have made substantial improvements that benefit them directly."

About a fifth of the money spent on the project was secured by Representative Brad Sherman through the the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or the Stimulus bill.

Sherman advocated for the project for years, saying it was a necessary improvement to an aging freeway in need of repair.

"Success for the project was first to recognize this was never going to be a panacea," he said.
He acknowledged the limited congestion benefits of a one-lane freeway expansion but noted, "this new lane’s chief contribution has been to keep things from getting worse."
In its report, released Friday, Metro said congestion would have increased 36 percent if the project hadn't been completed.

According to the study, other improvements include:
  • Congestion on surface streets around the pass, such as Sepulveda and Wilshire Boulevards dropped by 20 to 25 percent.
  • The rush hour window shrunk seven hours to five. Before construction peak traffic lasted from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Now it lasts from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Shorter and more consistent drive times in the early afternoon and on weekends.
  • A reduction in accidents and associated traffic delays.
  • An overall increase in the number of cars moved through the pass from an average of 10,000 cars per hour to 11,700 cars per hour.
Matute said increases in traffic generally correlate to economic activity. When construction on the Sepulveda Pass began in 2009, the country was in the midst of an economic recession. As the recovery progressed, more people began traveling for work or to go shopping or out to dinner.
He said moving more people is a social benefit in and of itself.

"When we’re moving more people," he said, "we are connecting more people with their jobs and the social opportunities for which they travel."

SR99 tunnel budget stretched to the limit


By Peter Kenyon, April 16, 2015

 An independent review of the financial position of the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Project in Seattle concludes that the overall program can still be completed within the US$3.1 billion budget set at the start of the project. This is in spite of construction delays and additional costs associated with the TBM breakdown which, under a current “worst case scenario”, would result in the owner (WSDOT) being liable for $317.5 million of change orders and extra administration costs.

$200 million of expected toll income yet to be approved by Legislature
$200 million of expected toll income yet to be approved by Legislature
However, even if this worst case scenario were to play out, the independent three-person Expert Review Panel (ERP) which reports annually to the Governor and the Washington State Legislature on project progress, “remains confident” that no more State or local funds will be required, as things currently stand, to complete the project. These calculations, however, include $200 million of anticipated toll revenue raised by the completed project although the level at which this will be charged is yet to be agreed by the State Legislature.

Speaking to TunnelTalk from Seattle, ERP chairperson Patricia Galloway said the Cost Estimation Validation Process (CEVP) that WSDOT employed when it was preparing the design-build tunneling contract was proof of the owner’s “foresight” in managing project risks. Galloway explained that as part of the CEVP process WSDOT hired an advisory team of international tunneling experts to make cost projections and estimates based on risks associated with operating a “one of its kind TBM.”

These recommendations formed the basis of an incentive versus risk contingency contract payment structure with the tunnel contractor, STP (the joint venture of Dragados and Tutor Perini), that was subsequently incorporated into the design-build contract by WSDOT’s California-based expert legal firm.

“The potential funding sources [to cover the extra costs that have been incurred by STP] are currently higher than the worst case scenario costs to date,” explained Galloway, “and that is because of what we believe was the foresight of WSDOT to prepare a contract and a program budget – for which the design-build tunnel contract is only one part – to make all [the project elements] work together for completion of the entire program.”

However the ERP, in its latest April 2015 report, recognizes that there are “important challenges” presented by the current and ongoing problems associated with the $1.1 billion tunnel construction contract “that may affect budget and schedule.

Fig 1. Contingencies and under-spends cover increased tunnel cost
Fig 1. Contingencies and under-spends cover increased tunnel cost
The SR99 tunnel program represents 35% of the overall SR99 Viaduct Replacement Project that also includes the demolition of the viaduct and restoration of the Seattle waterfront; construction and reconfiguration of the highways to service the north and south portals; and the decommissioning of the city’s Battery Street road tunnel.

To counterbalance the potential liability associated with increased tunnel construction costs, schedule overruns beyond the contract delivery date of January 16, 2016, and costs associated with repairs to the 17.5m diameter Hitachi Zosen EPBM, the ERP notes that there are currently up to $329.6 million of funds that could be realised to cover the potential deficit as it stands at present (Fig 1). These relate to: 

  • under-spends and unused contingencies in other parts of the overall project to an amount of some $59.2 million;
  • utilization of the £65 million of incentive-based contingency funds built into the design-build tunnel contract with STP;
  • $50 million of liquidated damages that relate to penalties of up to $50,000/day that will be levied against STP for late completion beyond the substantial contract completion date of 17 January 2016 (rising to $100,00/day after November 9, 2016), and;
  • the assumption of a successful maximum claim of $85 million being made against the TBM insurance policy.
The ERP’s latest financial projections are based on data made available by all the project’s stakeholders and assume that no more problems emerge once the TBM is restarted in August (2015). All potential Differing Site Conditions (DSC) contingencies and non-tunnel under-spends are accounted for in its calculations, and there now remains only $20 million of contingency in the Deformation Fund to cover possible extra costs associated with settlements and damage caused by TBM excavation operations under Downtown Seattle after the machine has passed beyond its final Safe Haven 3 at 1,500ft (457m) into the TBM tunnel drive.

TBM Bertha will head under Downtown after leaving Safe Haven 3
TBM Bertha will head under Downtown after leaving Safe Haven 3
“Barring no other major problems with the TBM and its operation, and knowing that the hardest part of the tunnelling will have been completed by the time STP hits Safe Haven 3 [at 1,500ft], and that there is the availability to the program of the £20 million Deformation Fund that has not been included in our calculations, once the drive goes under the city, and barring something completely unforeseeable, then there should be sufficient funds available to complete the program to the $3.1 billion budget” said Galloway.

The ERP notes, however, that the $317.5 million figure of potential extra liabilities relating to STP’s accumulated claims for extra costs that it has so far incurred is a “worst case scenario”, adding that “the ERP’s experience is that awards of contractors’ claims is often substantially less than the sums requested by them.” If STP fails to recover these substantial extra costs from WSDOT – either through mutual agreement or following intervention by the DRB, or via possible future legal challenges in court – it is (so far) looking at a potential cost addition of 26.5% above its contract price of £1.1 billion, not including any successful claim made against the maximum $85 million TBM insurance policy.

To date STP has submitted, or is due to submit, $292.5 million of change order requests, which it is entitled to do under the terms of the design-build contract. This includes the largest single claim to date, known as PCO (Potential Change Order) 250, which relates to excavation of the recovery shaft and damage to the TBM that STP claims was caused by an old and unmapped 8in diameter steel well casing. That claim has been the subject of a mass of correspondence since it was lodged in December 2013, shortly after the TBM was stopped. WSDOT and STP have failed to reach agreement on the issue, and a Dispute Review Panel is now due to convene shortly to hear evidence from both parties. However, under the terms of the contract between STP and WSDOT the panel’s recommendations are not binding upon either party.

Three main elements emerge from the latest ERP report:

  • the disputes review process is not working “due to both parties’ reluctance to acknowledge the decisions made in the process” (p21 of the official report attached)
  • the contingency and project risk provisions built into the design-build contract are working well to minimize project financial risk and to protect the State’s liability
  • there exists “a tendency [for owner and contractor] to blame rather than to work together to solve problems” (p21 of the report)
TBM downtime has enabled work on internal tunnel structures
TBM downtime has enabled work on internal tunnel structures
Galloway told TunnelTalk that a significant amount of work had been carried out by STP towards completing other elements of the tunnel contract that had originally been scheduled to take place following completion of the TBM excavation drive. These include works at the north and south portals, which are now substantially complete, and internal structures inside the tunnel behind the TBM. “The fact that STP has been able to advance a lot of that work and take advantage of the TBM downtime has enabled it to mitigate a significant portion of the delay.” Galloway also pointed out that talk of a two-year delay was “a bit of a misnomer” because while STP’s project completion date assumed completion with no risks being realized by the end of 2015, WSDOT’s less demanding schedule incorporated an extra year’s worth of project risk to November 2016.

“Through the Cost Estimating Validation Process (CEVP), the WSDOT contract contemplated that there might be issues, since this was to be a first of its kind machine, and that there was the potential for issues with the TBM,” explained Galloway. “That is why the insurance was set up in such a way so as to deal with some of the issues that have, since, occurred; a claim has been made and the insurance investigators are out on site doing their investigation work.”

SR99 southern viaduct demolition (2011) and replacement highway connections completed a year ahead of schedule
SR99 southern viaduct demolition (2011) and replacement highway connections completed a year ahead of schedule
“The next round of excavation to Safe Haven 3 [about 400ft ahead once the repaired TBM restarts] will be important in terms of seeing how the machine operates after the repairs, but the good news is that STP is meeting its repair schedule.” Once an expert analysis of the advance rate being achieved by the newly reinforced and repaired machine during its short drive into Safe Haven 3 is complete, and following a final inspection of the TBM prior to driving under Downtown, STP is expected to announce a revised substantial completion date. WSDOT’s reduction by £8 million of the maximum $58 million liquidated damages that it can hold STP liable for (to cover schedule overrun penalties) implies a current estimate of an extra 160 days at $50,000/day – some time in June-July 2017.

This analysis, however, presupposes no further problems being encountered since most of the sources for offsetting income and contingency have now been accounted for. In addition, although liability for the extra costs might not fall upon WSDOT (and ultimately the taxpayers of Seattle) if the owner can successfully fend off all, most, or some of the change order claims, the contractor could be facing huge additional costs over and above its £1.1 billion contract price.

Next week TunnelTalk will report on the issues surrounding the major change order PCO250 – which relates to the TBM obstruction – based on a mountain of project correspondence between WSDOT and STP that has been released to us under the USA Freedom of Information legislation.