12
Wed, Jun

Metro’s Long-Range Transpo Forum: Just Another Dog and Pony Show

LOS ANGELES

THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS-Last month, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO) released a draft of their Long-Range Transportation Expenditure Plan. When approved in June, it becomes the basis for a countywide ballot measure asking voters to extend our current one-half cent sales tax and add a new one-half cent sales tax for the next 40 years – until 2057. This is a huge decision and many voters don’t know what to do.

 

On April 11, about 80 people attended Metro’s San Fernando Valley public meeting on the draft plan. Metro advertised it as “a public meeting where you’ll be able to speak to Metro personnel, ask questions and provide any feedback you’d like to share.” I attended along with two other Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association (SOHA) board members. SOHA strongly supports better transportation options and wants to help our members decide how to vote. We prepared statements and were looking forward to making our voices heard and hearing what others had to say.

The meeting was a disappointment because it was really a superficial PR info-session with no public statements. That’s a shame, because Metro’s plan contains 81 pages of complex details and residents of LA need to know what’s there before they vote on any proposed tax measure. As usual, the devil’s in those details.

The following is a list of SOHA’s concerns and recommendations that we have submitted in a letter to Metro:

  1. Propose a 50-year tax measure. The draft plan includes 45-year and 50-year options that would extend the combined one-cent sales tax to 2062 or 2067. This generates more funding and allows more projects – and may allow schedule acceleration. The 50-year option is a good idea, as long as public-opinion surveys show strong public support and the additionally available funds add projects where they do the most good.
  1. Ensure fairness across the county. Metro developed the plan using five themes – mobility, accessibility, safety, economy, and sustainability/quality of life. These are good but not complete. In his recent Progress Update, Metro CEO Phillip Washington noted, “Through our partnership with you, we have been able to develop a plan that most fairly and effectively addresses mobility in all parts of our region.” Yet “fairness” was not a Metro theme, and it should have been.

For a plan to be fair and equitable, it must be applied fairly and equitably from inception. For example, out of the 87 Metro stations soon to be in operation, only two are located in the San Fernando Valley – about two percent. Yet Metro’s draft plan shows the Valley’s optimal share to be 14.66 percent. In fairness, the Valley’s share should exceed 20 percent.

However, there’s reality and there’s political reality – and Metro’s strategy is a plan that will probably garner the highest possible voter support across the County. But the unfairness is disappointing and there are concerns that Valley voters may express their disappointment at the polls. Metro needs to convince all voters, and especially those in the valley, that they will get their fair share this time around – not just in the number of projects but also in early project completions.

  1. Incorporate legally binding specific commitments into the ballot measure. The draft plan provides a “Ballot Measure Augmentation and Extension Ordinance Outline.” None of the outline’s 16 section titles includes the word “commitment.” The ballot measure should specify legally binding commitments to help encourage public support and increase the measure’s probability of success. We need to see at least a final draft of the ballot measure in the plan that is to be released to the public in June 2016.
  1. Accelerate countywide starts and completions. The draft plan spreads project schedules across the entire 40-year taxation period, and tends to complete one major project in each geographic area during the first 15 years (2018 to 2032). But many critical projects are completed much later. Why are schedules spread out until 2057, instead of accelerated forward? And, why isn’t Metro pushing to accelerate them? Maybe funds are constrained. Maybe Metro has insufficient project managers or contractors.

Whatever the reasons, the public has a right to know how and why Metro established its schedules before voters are asked to support the plan at the ballot box. Metro needs to accelerate all project schedules as much as possible, and fully explain their scheduling process in the June version of the plan.

  1. Construct projects from both ends. Most large complex transit projects experience cost and schedule overruns. These can delay projects or sometimes even curtail finishing a project. To ensure that all regions benefit equally, Metro needs to schedule construction from at least both ends of all projects.
  1. Publish all plan comments on Metro’s website. The draft plan summarizes Metro’s Public Input and Outreach Process. The process seems thorough, but is missing a critical element for real transparency – publishing all public comments on Metro’s website where everyone can view them. The Los Angeles City Council does this. Why can’t Metro?

Today, it seems that any comment you send to Metro goes into a black hole – never to be seen again. Are they afraid of letting the public see what everyone is really thinking? Hopefully not, because cross-pollination of public comments benefits everyone, and not having transparency discourages the public, and voters in particular. It can also hint that Metro does not truly value public opinion. So, come on Metro – set up a website where all public comments on the plan are quickly posted for public access.

  1. Combine phases and accelerate high-capacity transit through the Sepulveda Pass Corridor. The Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor is the most critical regional project in the County. Light-rail under, or even over, the Pass will be a countywide game-changer and has the potential to accelerate all rapid transit ridership and significantly reduce I-405 traffic. Yet, Metro’s project does not break ground until 2024 and is not slated to be completed until 2033.

Everyone understands that it will take time to fully define the project, attract additional funding, and line up potential private partners so Metro’s inclusion of an interim “Phase 1” short-term busway is understandable, before proceeding to the light-rail project. But won’t most voters view a Phase 1 busway as a wasteful $130 million diversionary tactic to attract votes – all done while distracting voters from the distant 2033 completion of the real light-rail solution?

Why not combine Phases 1 and 2, begin the light-rail project immediately, and provide a minimum-cost interim busway in parallel with light-rail construction? The interim project could be as simple as a dedicated bus lane along Sepulveda Boulevard. The light-rail project could then begin immediately in 2018 and could be complete as early as 2027.

  1. Begin Orange Line conversion to light-rail immediately. Metro has also proposed splitting the Orange Line conversion to light-rail into two projects, with final completion delayed until 2057. But why 2057? Combined into a single project and started immediately in 2018, the conversion to light-rail could be completed as early as 2028 – 29 years sooner than now shown in the draft plan!

This solution should certainly be possible since Metro highlights the initial “improvements” portion of the project as “Shovel-Ready” -- but they don’t start it until 2024. These sorts of foolish schedule delays discourage needed voters. Metro should combine the two projects and begin the Orange Line conversion to light-rail immediately.

  1. Break ground for East Valley Transit Corridor before 2021. The East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor is the only significant Valley-only rapid transit project completed in the first 15 years. The draft plan describes it as a “high-capacity transit project, mode to be determined, that connects the Orange Line Van Nuys station to the Sylmar/San Fernando Metrolink Station.” Metro has conducted several major studies and is still investigating several modes, including curb- or median-running bus rapid transit, median-running, low-floor rail (tram), and median-running light rail.

Metro prefers the Van Nuys Boulevard route, even though Sepulveda Boulevard may offer potential advantages in street width and easier connection to the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor. The draft plan has this project breaking ground in 2021. Metro should focus on the median-running light-rail mode because of its effectiveness and compatibility with other Metro systems, give serious consideration to choosing the most effective route, and accelerate the schedule to break ground before 2021 – preferably in 2019.

  1. Incorporate additional Valley Rapid Transit projects. The draft plan lists several systemwide connectivity projects that “are representative of those types of projects eligible for funding over the life of the potential ballot measure through future competitive processes.” The only San Fernando Valley rapid transit project in this list is the Red Line Subway Extension to Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. This is an excellent and needed project. But, at a minimum, the list should be amended to also include east-west and north-south busway connectors to California State University Northridge. If the 45-year or 50-year taxation option is selected, at least one of these projects should be funded for an early start – preferably both.

The question for the voters is, should you plan to support the ballot measure or not? The verdict isn’t in yet. We need to see if Metro really takes public comments seriously, adds some key projects, and accelerates project schedules and end up with a reasonable plan that voters can take seriously. Please send your comments to Metro at [email protected] and hope they listen. For Valley voters, keep telling Metro that we won’t be fooled again.

 

(Bob Anderson is President of the Los Angeles Area Helicopter Noise Coalition and a board member of the Sherman Oaks Homeowner Association. He can be reached at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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