By Steve Hymon, June 10, 2016
A revised spending plan [pdf] for a potential November sales tax ballot measure was released Friday by Metro and would accelerate more projects, allow more transit projects to become rail, include more overall projects and increase funding that goes to local cities and unincorporated areas for their own transportation improvements.
The potential ballot measure — now called the Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan — would ask voters to consider a new half-cent sales tax in Los Angeles County and continuation of the existing Measure R half-cent sales tax in perpetuity or until voters decide to end the taxes. The idea is to create a sustained funding stream for mobility projects crucial to the region’s mobility, economy and quality of life.
The new plan is in response to the vast amount of feedback heard from the public and elected officials, cities and stakeholders on the draft spending plan for the 40-year ballot measure plan that was released in March. The most frequently heard sentiment: people wanted more from the spending plan.
The Metro Board of Directors is scheduled at its June 23 meeting to consider whether to put the ballot measure before voters. The revised plan includes a full list of programs and projects, including funding amounts and target groundbreaking and completion dates.
The revised plan would:
•Accelerate nine projects, including improvements for the Orange Line, both phases of a potential light rail line between downtown Los Angeles and Artesia, the widening of the 5 freeway between the 605 and the 710, a northern extension of the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Green Line extension to Torrance, the Green Line extension to the Norwalk Metrolink station, road improvements in the Malibu/Las Virgenes area and a potential bus rapid transit or light rail line on Lincoln Boulevard.
•Increase funding to upgrade projects. Under the new plan, the Eastside Gold Line Extension could be built to both South El Monte and Whittier, the Vermont Corridor project could potentially be a subway, a Lincoln Boulevard transit project could be light rail and the North Hollywood-to-Pasadena transit project could also be light rail.
•Increase money directly returned to cities and unincorporated areas from 16 percent to 17 percent from 2018 until 2040 when the amount is raised to 20 percent. Also, the amount of funding that would go to Metrolink would increase by one percent in 2040 and thereafter.
Some important background: Metro has been reaching out to communities three years now to identify critical transportation needs. What the agency has found – without exception – is that needs are vastly larger than available funding. The new sales tax increase proposal is a direct response to that.
The revised plan reflects the reality that building, maintaining and operating roads and transit safely are needs with no end. We’ve seen the most vivid example this year in Washington D.C. where rail commuters are facing massive delays and service closures because of emergency repairs.
Metro never wants to be put in that position. Thus, the revised spending plan includes ongoing dedicated funding for State of Good Repair projects.
As Metro CEO Phil Washington has also said, sustained funding will enable the agency to optimize opportunities to leverage other funding and remain flexible enough to embrace future technology and innovation. Washington also says that a sustained investment will enable Metro to provide higher-frequency and more convenient transit service with greater local and regional connectivity — and that will help grow ridership.
The initial spending plan released in March was followed by 12 community meetings and 14 Telephone Town Halls organized by Metro; agency staff also attended and/or spoke at 84 other meetings with cities and stakeholders. In response to the initial plan, Metro received 1,567 written comments and 91 letters from elected officials, cities and other stakeholders.