Measure R Acceleration Plans Aren’t a Political Slam Dunk

7_14_09_measure_r_2.jpgGraph: Metro via LAist

The Internet is abuzz with the news that Mayor Villaraigosa and his allies on the Metro Board are pushing for the acceleration of three transit projects that are partially funded with the now incoming Measure R funds.  LAist breaks down the new plans, outlined in a power point presentation for this Thursday’s Measure R Committee Meeting at Metro Headquarters.

Those projects are moving opening dates of the regional connector in downtown from 2025 to 2018, the second Gold Line Eastside Extension to 2035 to 2018 and the Green Line to LAX from 2028 to 2017.

Meanwhile, the Gold Line Foothill Extension Authority is in "Why Not Us" mode, and is demanding that their favorite project, the Gold Line Extenstion to Azusa and beyond, be similarly accelerated.

But I have a different concern than what projects are getting accelerated and what project aren’t: where is the money coming for this?  After all, we know that sales tax revenues are coming in lower than expected so it’s not like Metro is overly flush with cash right now. 

Based on what is available in the power point, available on pages 28 and 29 for those following the presentation at home, it seems the plan is to borrow against future revenue.  The interest created by the debt would be partially offset by the savings Metro will see because of avoiding the increased costs of doing construction in the future.  At this point, there are no firm figures available to show us how much debt would be accrued or if the proposed acceleration would seriously damage Metro’s ability to operate in the future; except that the accelerated project list means a $3.5 billion funding gap and a larger than anticipated operating defecit which would result in either fare increases or service cuts.  In fact, the debt created by accelerating just the Downtown Connector is over two and a quarter billion dollars over more debt.

Of course, many transit advocates think the fares are too low as it is, and want to see them go up so that the system, as a whole, can run better.  However, we have to recognize that it’s not going to be an easy political decision for the board to raise fares in the short and long terms, especially after promising to use Measure R funds to keep fares low.

Bart Reed, executive director of the Transit Coalition, explains, "They haven’t had the political courage to charge the right price for
their service.  To operate the kind of system that we need, they should
be charging $2.25 per ride.  Right now they are collecting an average
of sixty-nine cents per boarding, and they can’t run the kind of
service they’re talking about here on that amount."

All we have to evaluate these two proposals, accelerated schedule versus "strict" schedule, are these two sets of bullet points on the pros and cons of the acceleration.  According to Metro, if we accelerated the schedule here would be the results, besides having these three rail projects done earlier,

  • We would have up to $3.5 billion funding gap
  • We would incur additional debt and operating costs
  • We would save on construction escalation costs
  • We would require 2/3 vote of the Board to accelerate Measure R funds

Conversely, here is what shape following the plan as passed by the voters would have for Metro’s fiscal state:

  • Projects would be delivered in accordance with Measure R Expenditure Plan
  • After operating deficit is resolved there would be no funding shortfall
  • We would not save in construction escalation costs
  • We would not incur additional debt and operating costs

In other words, let’s not mark down "Downtown Connector Opening Party" on our calendars for 2018 just yet.  There’s a lot of big and real fiscal hurdles that Metro needs to jump through to show it can afford the acceleration before Villaraigosa can deal with the politics of trying to get 2/3 of the Board to follow his wishes.

  • Accelerating BOTH Gold Line Extensions?

    I’d rather see an acceleration of the double tracking of the San Bernadino Metrolink extension.

  • Great write-up Damien. We’re all bracing ourselves to see how this plays out (or just works out). This. Will. Be. Fun.

  • Why aren’t these funds being used as leverage for federal transportation dollars? We’re basically paying for the Expo Line ourselves when we could probably be getting some federal money.

    I’d like to see a good chunk of federal money for the subway to accelerate that timeline.

    And why wasn’t the Gold Line Foothill Extension included in the Stimulus-funding request? It’s the most shovel-ready project out there right now.

  • I share Dan’s sentiment… Gold line East 2 is not a priority and accelerating it instead of Purple line and Crenshaw line is crazy on so many level. It’s all about bang-for-the-buck for Measure R money. If you take politic out of the equation, Downtown connector clearly will benefit the most people – primarily SGV residents who work in Downtown and Westside… follow closely by Purple line extension to Century City – again, primarily benefiting SGV residents who now must drive almost 2 hours to get to their jobs. Why the politicians in SGV can’t see this is beyond me. Do we need to make Gloria Molina and other elected mouth breathers in SGV to ride the 720 from end to end to see how many of their constituents will benefit from accelerating the right projects?

  • @ Rich:
    1. Federal funds happen in a cycle of 6 years. In the last Transportation cycle, LA got about $500 million to build the East LA Gold Line and some smaller projects. If the Expo Line were to be a Federal Project, that authorization may not happen until 2010-11 or so. Phase I of Expo will be mostly done next year and Phase II will be under construction. Following you suggestion, we’d be waiting at least another 5 years. I know you don’t want that outcome, federal funds or not.

    2. The Subway towards the Sea to Fairfax will be ready for Federal Funds somewhere in 2014-15. This project has a long process. The Federal Funds are actually necessary to get STTS to Fairfax.

    3. The Foothill Gold Line has real work to get it Shovel Ready. About a years worth of work. Therefore, it is almost, but not really Shovel Ready.

    @ Dan:
    Metrolink projects don’t come out of the same pot.

  • Gold line extensions????

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  • I realize the pots of money are different, but I was making a point about how intra-county Metrolink service and more frequent San Bernadino Metrolink service made possible by double tracking the line is a higher priority, in my lowly opinion, than extending the Gold Line all the way to Montclair.

    I have long ago accepted that the Gold Line to Montclair is politically inevtiable.

  • Interurbans

    The Gold Line Foothill extention yes, the Gold Line East LA extension east of Atlantic no. You already have a 40 minute trip from Atlantic so who will want to take an hour ride to work on the east LA extension from beyond Atlantic?

    The Downtown Connector is a win win for all and needs to be frought to the tob of the list. After Expo phase II and before the subway to the sea and the Crenshaw or the Green Line to the Airport.

    The Gold Line Foothill Extension is a low cost line and can be built along with the Downtown Connector in sages.

  • Interurbans

    The MetroLink San Bernardino Line was originally a Double Track line to Baldwin Park as a Pacific Electric high speed interurban line to San Bernardino. When the San Bernardino 10 Freeway was built in the early 1950’s it was built with a double track in the center for the PE line. The right of way for double track was in the center of the freeway until Cal Trans built the bus way in the 1970’s and took the double track line and made it into a single track line at the cost of many millions of dollars. They also routed the line away from its straight shot through El Monte to Baldwin Park and routed it north to connect with the SP main line railroad which today causes MetroLink to take a big detour around El Monte. We again can thank Cal Trans for their wisdom in the past of distorting any alternative to driving.

  • Re-double tracking the San Bernadino Line is in Metrolink’s 30 year plan. Here’s hoping they succeed.

  • Todd K.

    I take issue with Bart Reed promoting fare increase to $2.25 per ride. What’s the point of taking public transport if driving a beater is cheaper and more convenient.

  • I think if they quickly *implement* the bus only Wilshire Rapid lane ( a very doable, quick to implement measure) – that would surely cause a sizeable outcry from enough auto drivers to kick the train plan into gear.

  • Spokker

    “What’s the point of taking public transport if driving a beater is cheaper and more convenient.”

    It isn’t, even at $2.25 a ride. Regular users of transit will have a monthly pass, which is an even greater savings.

    Remember, you have to buy the goddamn car first, which many people can’t do. And even if they buy a used car, they might not be able to pay the thousand bucks to get it fixed when it finally craps out on them.

    The city’s potholes are not kind to tires. Stop and go traffic is not kind to brakes and engines. The heat is not kind to cooling systems. Driving in LA sucks ass.

  • Adam Smith

    Well, riding the bus system, I notice that like one in six fareboxes are out of order, so they are unable to collect fares from cash paying passengers. THAT might be a source of revenue they could tap into…

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