Is Metro Ready for “30 in 10?”

4_1_10_30_IN_10.jpgIs everyone ready for 30 in 10 Except Metro?

(This is a two-part series.  Part II tomorrow Monday.- DN)

You don’t need me to tell you that there is a lot of excitement about the "30 in 10" proposal to use federal loans to get all Measure R projects completed within ten years.  The idea isn’t just gaining momentum on Capital Hill, but all of a sudden, other cities are looking to Los Angeles as a model for transit planning.  Unasked in all of this is whether or not Metro could handle construction of the Crenshaw Corridor Project, Expo Phase II, The Green Line to LAX, the Regional Connector, the I-405 Corridor Project, the Green Line South Bay Extension and, of course, the Subway to the Sea.

Transit advocates gave a mixed response when asked their thoughts on Metro’s ability to carry this load all at once.  Most of the concerns weren’t with the competence of Metro, as was brought up in a City Watch column on the same issue last week, but with other issues such as the ability to marshal the needed contractors and resources.  Others brought up the issue of operations.  If all of the needed funds were to come from Washington, how would Metro pay to run all of these new lines after they were built?

The concern isn’t limited to activists.  In December, Mayor Villaraigosa and Metro Board Chair Ara Najarian co-sponsored a motion asking Metro to bring in some auditors to determine just that.  PB America has issued a preliminary report outlining some of the changes it feels Metro needs to make to its procurement, construction and project management teams and procedures to make their process more efficient.

But that doesn’t mean that the top brass at Metro isn’t positive Measure R’s promise can be completed on an accelerated time table.  Officials from the Mayor’s office expressed confidence, after consulting with other public and some private officials, that they can meet this goal.  However, Metro is going to have to increase its efficiencies regardless of whether "30 in 10" comes to fruition.  In just the next couple of years, before Mayor Villaraigosa is term-limited out of office, Metro should have completed the Canoga Extension of the Orange Line and Phase I of the Expo Line.  In addition,

the Foothill Extension of the Gold Line, the Crenshaw Corridor project, Phase II of the Expo Line, the first phase of the Westside Subway and the Regional Connector should all have started construction.  With or without "30 in 10," Metro has its work cut out for it.

One issue that seems to be of serious concern is the competitiveness of Metro’s procurement process.  In the middle of a recession, Metro was able to get one bid for the I-405 Widening, a project that construction companies should have been jumping at.  Page 19 of the preliminary report has a couple of vague recommendations that show that while there isn’t a game plan to fix this issue, it is one that Metro and PB know needs to be addressed.

But officials concede that as currently constructed, Metro isn’t ready as of yet, but they believe it can be soon. 

Jaime de la Vega, the Deputy Mayor for Transportation for the City of Los Angeles, explains “MTA is definitely in a state of change right now. We have a new CEO and Measure R is the
first sales tax for transit in the last 18 years…Now that there’s money and political will
power and expectations that these projects will get done in a timely
manner. I think it’s doable and I
think MTA will get it done."

So, in addition to getting the "30 in 10" reforms passed in Washington, D.C.  Angelenos will also need Metro to reorganize itself before it can tackle all of these projects.  The final PB America report is due in June, then, assuming the Metro Board is on board, CEO Art Leahy will have to lead in the reorganization.

Which takes us to the next questions.  If we assume that neither funding nor Metro’s competence and organization are in question, is it possible to have every Measure R transit project ready for launch by 2020?

  • Eric B

    Even if they can physically do it, there will be some effects of having their capacity strained. If they build the lines in-house like the eastside Gold Line extension, they have more control over project details and can make mid-course changes. If they outsource it to an authority like Expo, coordination among various entities becomes more of an issue.

    Also, the authorities tend to have a one-track mind while Metro’s goals are broader. For example, the Expo Authority treats the bike path like an awkward step child. They don’t have bikeway engineers designing it, don’t seek outside expertise, and don’t work with regional or local bike planners (LADOT and Metro). In the rush to get the rail line built to CC and then SM as fast as possible, everything else is left by the wayside, missing a tremendous opportunity for multimodalism (a broader Metro goal).

    Maybe you could argue that this is an acceptable cost of expanding a system quickly, but the cost overruns and construction delays have shown we aren’t doing that well either. I support 30/10, but I’d much rather get it right in 15 than wrong in 10.

  • “Other cities are looking to Los Angeles as a model for transit planning.”

    Oh no, please tell me this isn’t another April Fools joke.

  • bzcat

    I’m all for 30/10… the sooner we have the Wilshire and 405 line the better. However, I have serious doubt about Metro’s ability to carry out all these construction projects at the same time. As an agency, Metro has pretty much bungled the TAP card implementation in the worst way imaginable. Metro can’t even get the naming of rail line correct… instead of going for the most logical and user friendly method of naming the line by destination (i.e. Valley line, Foothill line, Long Beach line, East LA line, Culver line, Redondo line etc), we have illogical colors lines that doesn’t tell you anything about where the line goes. Basically, Metro as an organization is bad at managing changes and major construction projects like the subway and 3 light rail lines at the same time is going to overwhelm the agency.

    What’s my solution? Setup a different agency that has rail and bus way construction as its sole responsibility. And unlike the Expo authority, this agency (call it LA Rapid Transit Constriction Authority or LARTCA) will be a permanent one that will exist for at least 50 years. LARTCA will essentially be the primary contractor for Metro and will report directly to the County Supervisor (not ideal… but it’s what we got) with its budget funded directly by the county through Measure R and not through Metro. With an organization like this, it can avoid all the bureaucratic layers at Metro and can focus on one thing… construction. Metro can focus on operating the trains and buses (and fixing the TAP card!). And because this is a permanent agency, it avoids the pitfall of Expo, which is that the accumulated experience on construction and managing subcontractors are lost after the line is completed. After 30/10, the agency can continue to plan and construct future lines (e.g. North Hollywood, Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena “circle line”, Huntington Ave-Alhambra line, Green line estension to Long Beach, Expo line extension down Lincoln to LAX, Red line Vermont subway extension, Wilshire line extension under Vally Blvd to City of Industry, Crenshaw line extension to Wilshire, Pico subway, Westwood, Wilshire, Santa Monica, Sepulveda busway etc. there are lots of worthy projects still no covered by 30/10)

  • Peter Smith

    this got me thinking…i’d like to see a ’30 years in 10 years’ for walk/bike infrastructure. si?

  • @bzcat

    Uh, check your history. We did this before and it didn’t work. It was called the LACTC and the RTD and led to turf battles and confusion between the two agencies. The LACTC was supposed to do planning and construction and the RTD was supposed to run everything…even though the RTD at it origin was supposed to be a planning agency as well, but never mind that.

    Even now this is causing delays because we have to deal with the Gold Line construction authority and the Expo Line construction authority. It’s just one more layer of bureaucracy and it causes incredible delays.

    Note the MTA by itself constructed the Eastside Gold LIne Extension: the work was done on time, under budget, and with NOT ONE INJURY. It seems that Metro did learn from the endless problems of the Red Line. Thankfully those are now ancient history and people don’t remember them (I think half the people living here moved here after the Red Line was finished in 2000).

    So, to sum up, not a good idea.

  • Adding to the history Scott Mercer masterfully described, at one point a somewhat separate entity along the lines of what bzcat describes (known as the Rail Construction Corp) was in charge of construction. These were the folks in charge of building the Red Line tunnel when the sinkhole on Hollywood Blvd. happened. And so it was dissolved versus the MTA directly overseeing the project.

    I shudder at the magnitude of political insider bushwhah that would be created to have a LA Rapid Transit Constriction Authority put in place. The alleged benefits don’t justify going through that. I am no fan of separate authorities and hope they are a gimmick that will fade away when the Gold Line foothill extension and Expo Lines are finished.

    One concern about 30/10 I have is can Metro hire the high quality individuals that have the experience to do the job. There are a lot of Interims in the upper management right now and in the coming weeks we’ll see if Metro can recruit the sort of folks to fill those jobs who are can do and able to make 30/10 a reality. Also Mr. Leahy will face the continuing challenge all CEO’s since Julian Burke have struggled with – getting the Board out of micromanaging and instead fixed on its role as policy makers. Over the last decade Metro has worked to repair its poor image in the industry, which often made getting the best and the brightest to come here difficult. If Leahy can continue the progress on that front 30/10 is a realistic goal.

    http://www.metro.net/about/board/executives/

  • Tommy Trojan

    @EricB The LADOT and Metro bike planners all have their hearts and minds in the right place but they are some of the most incompetent planners in the region and would cause even more delays if Expo had to work more closely with them.

    Expo is by no means perfect but it was designed and created in a time when bike and pedestrian improvements weren’t as much of a “buzz” word or priority as it may now seem. Hence the construction timelines, multimodal stakeholder buy-in, and funding for those improvements were never addressed in the early stages. I’m not saying there aren’t problems regarding Expo, but before you put a lot of blame on them you should realize there are even more problems with LADOT and MTA that are holding up the construction.

    So don’t bag on the authorities until you actually understand the issues at hand.

  • Eric B

    @Tommy Trojan,
    I was trying to describe the institutional barriers to better collaboration between the authorities and the various agencies. Who is more or less competent is really irrelevant given the constraints we place on all of them through the bureaucratic structure.

    “Expo is by no means perfect but it was designed and created in a time when bike and pedestrian improvements weren’t as much of a “buzz” word or priority as it may now seem.”
    This is simply wrong. Look at the first conceptions of the Exposition multimodal “transit parkway” concept in Metro’s original planning documents. The project originally envisioned was quite ahead of its time in calling for a continuous bikeway, beautiful public art and landscaping, and multimodal hubs at the various stations. Venice/Robertson in particular will include a “clean mobility center” a la Bikestation. We would’ve been revolutionary had the project broken ground earlier. Now it will just be “about time.”

    Expo’s charge, based on the structure of the authority, is to build the rail line as fast as possible. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it does come at the expense of other opportunities. Maybe some of the oversights will be fixed later, maybe they won’t. This isn’t an indictment of the engineers, just the effect of agency structure that is single-tracked. I hope that the 30/10 folks can take this into account when establishing the various processes for expediting each project.

    “So don’t bag on the authorities until you actually understand the issues at hand.”
    Really??? These are exactly the issues that I’ve spent months studying and talking to Metro, LADOT, and Expo Authority planners. I won’t make any assumptions about your involvement in this project, so don’t attack mine.

  • Tommy Trojan

    @EricB

    Everyone, esp. public citizens, tend to isolate the design and plans of that which they are most emotionally attached too or have the most interest in when discussing major infrastructure projects.

    You can take a look at every major infrastructure project in the US and in their original concept they are typically have many multimodal features. However, once funding (my involvement), is discussed and realistic parameters are set forth along with contingency, which is often not discussed, all the extra multi-modal options will be scrapped. It’s the nature of the beast. So to discuss original concepts or conceptions and use that as an argument to support a project as being multi-modal is sadly not a good way to go about this.

    But, why would a new authority like Expo work well for other 30/10 projects? Simply because the money will already be there and those multimodal features that tend to get scrapped due to fragmented funding will no longer be as big of an issue. As well, there is a significant amount of cost savings that will only happen if these projects move with a brisk construction timeline. These savings come from items such as lower real estate values, and the large availability of very smart engineers, designers, and planners that are now willing to work on public projects.

    With that, its evident from your previous post that you’re main concern is issues regarding bicycles. It looks like you’ve done your homework so you would know of the plethora of other issues that the Expo authority has to deal with, both political in institution and in public. As a rail authority, Expo is doing a decent job, so comments like;

    “For example, the Expo Authority treats the bike path like an awkward step child. They don’t have bikeway engineers designing it, don’t seek outside expertise, and don’t work with regional or local bike planners (LADOT and Metro). In the rush to get the rail line built to CC and then SM as fast as possible, everything else is left by the wayside, missing a tremendous opportunity for multimodalism (a broader Metro goal).”

    As well, unless if you work for Metro, which I doubt from your statements, you would know that as much as multimodalism is touted as a goal, it is not a main MTA or LADOT goal at the present moment.

  • I dunno. So this would work by getting federal loans secured by Measure R money? Those loans would have to be paid back with interest, potentially reducing the total amount that could be built. Are construction costs going to rise faster than inflation over the next 30 years?

    It’s nice to have stuff more quickly, but there’s also something to be said for steering clear of unnecessary debt. For once we pass a tax to pay for something instead of borrowing with no payback plan, and now we’re trying to indebt ourselves because we want it now?

    Patience is a virtue, and there’s no such thing as free money (although I’m always open to federal grants (as opposed to loans) :). The most fiscally responsible way to get thirty years of transit capital projects in ten years is probably to tax ourselves more.

  • Matt

    Chewie,

    The loans from the feds would be low interest, so there likely would be a significant savings given the savings in construction cost inflation. We know right now that the economy is rather weak and will likely be so for at least the next year or two, but it may take many years to get to the employment situation we were in say in 2005.