Our Transit Advocate’s Take: Is Metro Ready for “30 in 10?”

4_6_10_transport.jpgThe Measure R map. For a full sized version, check out The Transport Politic

Last week, Streetsblog dared ask the question to our city and Metro leadership, "Is Metro ready for ’30 in 10?’"  The answer was a surprising, "maybe not, but the agency is working on making the changes it needs to make."  I have to be honest.  I expected a "yes."

But we didn’t just ask Metro and City officials if Metro was ready, but also the activists that work with or advocate to Metro on a regular basis.  For the record, we did ask some of the more critical advocates, such as Damien Goodmon and the Bus Riders Union, as well as "30 in 10" architect Denny Zane but none of them chose to comment.

The range of responses from the community were varied.  Some expressed outright confidence.  Some worried about Metro’s ability to attract federal loans without a plan for how the agency will fund operations or how to marshal the necessary resources.  In each case, I have their full responses linked to at Street Heat when I mention the activist’s name within this piece.  I should note that when I asked the activists for their opinion, I made mention of a recent City Watch piece by Stephen Box claiming Metro didn’t have a chance to complete the all the projects on time.  Some responded directly to the piece, and I removed a lot of that so that this became less about the personalities, and more about Metro.

Kymberleigh Richards, from the Southern California Transit Advocates and the San Fernando Valley Metro Governance Council, went through the timelines for every project on the "30 in 10 list".  Richards finds each of them doable in a ten year timeline, if we assume that money is not an issue because the federal government gives Los Angeles the support it craves.  When i look at the way she broke down the projects, it seems a longshot that all of these breaks will happen at the same time.  But, it is possible, if we assume that the I-405 Connector project is a rapid bus project and not a rail project.

But again, a lot of things have to break Metro’s way to complete all this construction in a ten year timeline.  For example, her breakdown for the Green Line connection to LAX reads like this:

Green Line to LAX: While Metro is only in "early planning stages" on
this, a lot of work was done when the Green Line was originally built
and that created a database that can be drawn on for the engineering.
That, plus the relatively short length, means that even if the EIR/EIS
doesn’t happen until 2015 or 2016 it could be operational by decade’s
end.

The most enthusiastic support for Metro came from Bart Reed, Executive Director of The Transit Coalition, who suggested that the issues with delayed construction is a thing of the past:

…the problems with projects such as the subway in the 1990’s happened
because of political mistakes and machinations and lack of corporate
construction experience. At this time with projects built under the
current two management teams (Snoble and Leahy), it is unlikely to
repeat some of those mistakes from the 90’s, as most have learned their
lessons.

Reed also thinks the separate authorities for some projects helps relieve some of the pressure off Metro:

In reality, all these projects are staggered in delivery. And Expo and
Foothill Gold are under construction by different construction
authorities. Metro is currently building the Orange Line extension,
with the next project in queue being the Crenshaw Line. Crenshaw is
very much like the Eastside Gold Line, which Metro built on-time,
safely and on-budget.

The big, complex Connector and Subway
won’t break ground for about 4 years. The same folks that did the
Eastside Gold Line can handle these two projects. The other projects
such as the Green Line to LAX and to the Southbay will start after that.

Similarly, Ken Alpern, the Board Chair of the Transit Coalition, expresses optimism in Metro’s overall competence, even though he later expresses that he doesn’t think Metro can pull off completing "30 in 10":

Do I take issue with Metro on key points at times? Of course, but
overall I think that David Mieger and Renee Berlin and Jody Litvak and
Roderick Diaz and Alan Patashnick and the bunch are doing a great job.
I think that the Foothill Gold and Expo Authorities are carrying their
own from their end of things, and I think we’ve replaced one great CEO
with another great CEO.

But he raises the issue of whether or not Metro can afford to operate all of these new lines, and whether that issue will doom their efforts to earn loans in Washington, D.C.

A much greater and real threat is state underfunding of transit
operations…but at this time the folks at Metro are doing a pretty
good job with the tools they’ve been given.

Jerard Wright, Vice-President the Transit Coalition and Chair of the Central-Westside Metro Metro Governance Council, takes Alpern’s worry a big step farther.

No, that battle needs to be figured out or at the very least have a
preliminary plan of attack at this early stage or the very least have
options on the table to make that possible because one of the pieces
that will make a difference in securing an infrastructure bank loan are
where’s the money to operate the service? This is no different then
securing a business loan, they need to know where your revenue is
coming from and if you can afford to operate at the levels that are
needed.

Streetsblog contributer Dana Gabbard has a different concern:

There are structural limitations on massive infrastructure projects
that may be a difficult hurdle to do the work in 10 years even if the
funding stream to do so is in place. Do we have supplies of aggregate
and other materials in this state that we would need for the subway
etc., or can transport be arranged?

So summarizing last week’s story and this week’s there are some serious hurdles for Metro to over come, and that’s assuming that the Mayor can pull a rabbit out of the hat in Washington, D.C.  Over the coming weeks, we’ll take a more in-depth look at the issues outlined here and last week.

  • After I responded to Damien and he posted part one of this series I had some further thoughts which I have linked to below. Who Metro hires to oversee construction and some of the other vacant positions will be key to it being able to take on such a daunting timetable.

    http://la.streetsblog.org/2010/04/01/is-metro-ready-for-30-in-10/#comment-285921

  • glad to see everyone is on board! sheesh. with ‘advocates’ questioning the validity of transit projects, one wonders how LA has any transit at all.

    LA has the equivalent of a JSK-for-transit, except that JSK is in the mayor’s office, not just a DOT figure.

    and LA ‘advocates’ can’t bring themselves to say, ‘Yes, we can!’?

    it’s unbelievable. except it’s not unbelievable, is it?

    was Butler ‘ready’ to make a run for a national championship? not if you believed anyone but the Butler players and coach. they got ready as they progressed through The Tournament, as did Duke in the run-up to The Tournament.

    too busy to comment on the 30-in-10 plan? then it’s time for you to hang up your ‘advocate’ badge.

  • Joel

    If the “30/10” proposal get’s approval, I’d like to see this adopted in NorCal as well. We may not need to construct as many rail lines as LA Metro is proposing, but there are long delayed projects to tackle (Second transbay rail tunnel)and transit connections to establish (ANY rail service to San Jose and the North Bay). Although if we can somewhow deal with the balkanized transit agencies here and streamline the administration first, that would be a pivitol first step to any progress.

  • Jerard Wright

    Peter,

    My comment when added context, was that now projects that will take 20-30 years to begin operation will take only 10 which effects Mesaure R’s pot of Rail Operating money which was geared incrementally over 30 years.

    What I don’t want to see happen is us building the lines and then have trains parked in the yards because they can’t afford to operate them, which effects advocacy even further.

    Though within the conversation as I wrote that as an email to Damien 2-3 weeks ago, opportunities could potentially present themselves such as user fees around the parking structures at new or existing Metro stations or development cash-out around a 1/2 mile of a new or existing Metro Rail/Transitway station that can go towards the funding pot to operate a portion of the accelerated service.

    30/10 could be a side push to aggressively tell Sacramento to quit “Raiding transit monies” and to advocated a percentage of the budget or keep the gas tax pro-rated to inflation to the operations of transit lines which then would be recycled back into the state economy as more people will have disposible income to buy luxuries instead of neccessities which further increases our current sales tax revenues.

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