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Sun, Apr

Sepulveda Pass Transit – Show Us the Money!

LOS ANGELES

LA TRANSPO - In my October 28th letter to Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins, I asked 20 questions about the Sepulveda Pass Transit project. Stephanie’s March 14th response said: “Fortunately, we were able to confirm that the vast majority of the questions have already been answered publicly. The rest are based on misinformation, so we appreciate the opportunity to correct the record.” My subsequent March 19th response to her: “We critically reviewed your responses to our 20 questions about the project and found only one of them acceptable, one marginal, and 18 unacceptable, …” My full response is available on www.SOHA914.com at “Click Here to Read Letter to Metro”. I have not yet heard back from her.

Let’s look at my third question: “What are Metro's specific plans and funding sources for securing the tens of billions of additional dollars needed to build subways under the Sepulveda Pass?”

Metro’s project budget is today $8 billion. The lowest-cost monorail concept costs about $8 billion. The two real subway concepts (Alternatives 5 and 6) cost at least $25 or $28 billion. Alternative 4 is not viable with its elevated trains above Sepulveda Blvd in the Valley, so I won’t dignify it with a cost. If Metro decides to proceed with a real subway concept, they need up to $24 billion in federal and state funding – more than five times the $4.5 billion in today’s $8 billion budget.

Metro’s most recent funding request didn’t turn out well. In 2022, they applied for $1.9 billion from California’s $3.7 billion Transit and Intercity Rail City Capital Program. They requested $800 million for the Foothill Gold Line, $600 million for the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor, and $500 million for the recently renamed Southeast Gateway Line. Metro only received the $600 million for the Valley project – and zero for the other two. The Southeast Gateway Line serves majority-minority, lower-income underserved communities. The critical project got zero funding because its prior name caused state transit officials to believe it was in Orange County. The project’s Measure M estimate is $4.1 billion. The Metro Board approved its $9.1 billion cost last year – more than double its budget – a bargain by Metro overrun standards.

Ask Metro about funding a project and they’ll say: “Trust us, we’ll get it.” That’s never the right answer – and doubly so for Measure M’s costliest project through the Pass. If Metro selects a subway, they need to ask for $24 billion or more. The Metro Board and public must demand Metro provide their funding plan now. My third question asked Metro for their plan. Their response: “This project will be funded in part by Measure M … This funding plan will leverage Measure M funds with other sources of funding including local, state, and federal sources. This is a standard industry practice …” This non-answer demonstrates Metro’s utter disregard for financial accountability.

Here’s a novel idea. The Metro Board says it’s time for Metro to become the financially accountable and transparent agency it should always have been. The Board draws a line in the sand and says no more unaffordable projects. They select a fully affordable alternative for the Sepulveda Pass because for once a Metro project has such a viable, affordable alternative. They ensure that Metro cleans up its finances and secures additional funding to complete its ongoing unaffordable projects, like the Southeast Gateway. They work to secure additional federal and state funding – not for unaffordable projects – but for new affordable transit projects in other underserved parts of the county. This idea requires vision and leadership – but maybe miracles can happen.

(Bob Anderson is a nuclear engineer with 50 years engineering and business development expertise in the aerospace and high-technology sectors. He is VP and Transportation Committee Chair of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association. Contact him at [email protected].)