Goodbye, 30/10. Hello, Fast Forward America.

All pictures were taken by Darrell Clarke. Here, the committees and Villaraigosa take questions from the media. Mica is at the podium flanked by Villaraigosa and Boxer.

Goodbye “30/10” and hello “Fast Forward America.”

Congressman John Mica (R-FL) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) brought their road show to Los Angeles earlier this morning to get feedback and elicit testimony on how to improve the federal transportation bill.  While Boxer was on her “home turf,” it was Mica who sounded like a local finding time to complain about traffic, needle Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa about transit connections to LAX and repeatedly honor Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) who was attending her last public event as a Member of Congress.

While there was some talk of the need to better move freight through the Southland, much of the conversation was dominated by ways to expedite project delivery of all sorts.  There was no talk of America’s obesity epidemic, rebuilding our cities and communities or even a mention of the words “bicycle’ or “pedestrian.”  The focus was almost completely on transit and goods movement.

Back in 2008, as soon as Los Angeles County passed a half cent sales tax dedicated towards expanding it’s transportation network, the question was asked, “when are we going to start seeing projects on the ground.”  Thanks to some innovations from the Move L.A. Coalition and the support of the Los Angeles Mayor’s office, the 30/10 Initiative was born.  The plan was to leverage the funds  that would be collected over the thirty year sales tax to build the transit projects within the next ten years. By borrowing the money from the federal government up front, projects would be delivered sooner, taking advantage of today’s low construction costs and creating 160,000 construction jobs when the industry needs it most.

Because the plan would require some changes to federal law, there had always been some discussion of how these changes would help communities outside of Southern California.  Today, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa re-branded the 30/10 Initiative as a national initiative focused on putting more construction workers to work on more projects through “America Fast Forward.”

Mica and Boxer share a moment. Jane Harman prays.

America Fast Forward is a program that would leverage the funds created through local sales and gas taxes dedicated for transportation with low interest federal loans to jump start projects that already have “49%” of the project paid for at the local level.  The program has received the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO, and over 60 mayors from around the country.  In his testimony, Villaraigosa described the changes in federal transportation financing that would make America Fast Forward possible. In particular, he called for the expansion of the Transportation and Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA).

Villraigosa called for nearly tripling the TIFIA Budget to at least $350 million annually.  Later in the hearing, Boxer commented that even the $350 million number was low, prompting Villaraigosa to say that he would support as high a number as he could get. American Fast Forward also calls for:

  • Increasing the maximum percentage of the project allotment that TIFIA can fund.  Currently, TIFIA will fund up to 80% of a project with no “added points” going towards proposal with a higher local match.  Villaraigosa called for at least a 49% local match;
  • Permitting the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to approve multiple related projects at the same time. In Los Angeles County, for example, this could mean loans for the entire suite of Measure R transit projects at once, as opposed to a line-by-line piecemeal approach;
  • Allowing USDOT to grant up-front credits to projects and;
  • Authorizing USDOT to lock-in interest rates for approved projects.

“This is not an earmark, it is a template,” finished Villaraigosa, who noted throughout his presentation that this model would help the communities that have voted to help themselves.

Don Knabe, the Board Chair for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro), made the case that federal investment in communities that invest in themselves is a long-overdue idea.  “Every time we go to Washington, the feds tell us to come back with a funding source.  The voters of this county have voted to tax themselves three times in the last three decades.  Yet, we are not awarded for the leadership that this agency has shown nor the leadership our voters have shown.”

Also backing Villaraigosa and Knabe were key representatives of business and labor, respectively, Mr. Joseph A. Czyzyk, Chair of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, and Mr. Robbie Hunter, Council Representative, Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building & Construction Trades Council.

Across the “Orange Curtain” they have a different program to speed up project delivery.  Will Kempton, now the Director of the Orange County Transit Authority outlined their program for project expedition, the “Breaking Down Barriers Initiative.”  While Kempton promised a written testimony that would cover two dozen suggestions, for today’s hearing he outlined four needs to bring projects to fruition more quickly.

  • Extend and expand National Environmental Protection Act delegation to states, allowing those with strong environmental regulation to do their own environmental reviews only once, instead of an additional parallel federal review.
  • Streamline the federal funding process.
  • Overlap activities that can be overlapped.
  • Work with the environmental community to streamline permitting.

Of these, expanding the “NEPA Delegation Pilot Program” seems the most promising.  Because California’s environmental review law, CEQA, is more stringent than NEPA, California can grant both CEQA and NEPA permits at the same time.  Kempton estimated this cuts between 10 and 14 months off the delivery time for a project.

Much of the discussion on freight was about how to move freight more efficiently.  Both Knabe and Congresswoman Laura Richardson represent the areas surrounding the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and both were looking for answers on ways to move freight better.  Kathryn Phillips, from the Environmental Defense Fund, congratulated the Ports on their clean air initiatives. However, no panelists offered specific proposals for how to move freight through Los Angeles better. That said, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Penn.) noted that 40 percent of goods that arrive through L.A.’s ports end up east of the Mississippi River, so goods movement in Los Angeles should be a national priority.

As touched on earlier, the complete lack of any discussion about urban mobility in the form of creating better communities, creating walkable and bikeable streets and just encouraging options to the automobile was jarring.  Los Angeles is in the early stages of a Livable Streets renaissance, with a progressive bike plan and news of the My Figueroa project dominating the local Streetsblog in 2011.  The only thing that L.A. needs is a true funding commitment to create sustainable urban communities, but today talk of that commitment was nowhere to be found.

  • 1) Mica needs to put his money where his mouth is and make sure that Los Angeles gets more federal funding for those transit connections to LAX he was complaining about.

    2) I’m sensing a bit of tunnel vision in Streetsblog’s coverage. Yes, I’m sure that there wasn’t much said about bicycling.

    However, rail transit construction is the more expensive part of bringing Los Angeles into the 21st century, and as such, bus and rail transit is the part which really needs people like Mayor Villaraigosa to cheerlead for it at the national level.

    Given the typical length of a Los Angeles commute, converting people from car to subway will be a lot easier than converting them from car to bike.

  • I think Damien showed a significant amount of excitement towards Fast Forward America. It’s worth noting that despite some good statements from the president that livability, and bike and ped issues aren’t on the radar for Mica/Boxer and their Committees. T 4 America has their work cut out for them between now and September.

  • The entire time I was there I was hoping for some mention of Complete Streets, Livable Communities, Smart Growth, etc… I agree that mass transit (specifically rail) needs to serve as a backbone for a sustainable transportation system. However, we need to ensure the “gaps” are filled in with robust bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure throughout the city. You can submit your written comments to Sen. Barbara Boxer in support of these ideas in the next two weeks. I encourage all those who care about Streetsblog’s mission take this to heart.

    Here’s the link: http://boxer.senate.gov/en/contact/policycomments.cfm

  • My feeling was that 100% of the hearing was spent figuring out how finance mega-transit projects. Which is fine for one hearing and makes sense somewhat given the stated transportation priorities of the mayor and Metro.

    Where it really hurts is knowing that there’s no Jim Oberstar in the back room this time around slipping in $50 million here and there for livability, bike and ped.

  • If you build the transit mega-projects, then that will add significantly to the livability of sustainable neighborhoods.

    Part of the problem with Los Angeles’ current TODs is that they are islands in a sea of auto-oriented development, so that even if people move to Little Tokyo or some other transit-friendly area of the city, they might still feel like they need a car if they travel to the areas not comfortably served by subway, light rail or rapid bus.

  • James, if you look at the other articles at DC Streetsblog on the hearings, you’ll see that L.A. was actually by far the most progressive of these hearings to date. I am, quite honestly, thrilled with Villaraigosa’s vision for transit funding, and I think nationalizing the movement is brilliant. I don’t know who in his office has come up with this stuff, but bully for them. I hope this article didn’t sound negative, because that’s neither how I feel or what I think about what happened.

    That being said, a total lack of livability issues being addressed (including TOD, mixed use development, etc…) sometimes made the hearing sound like a jobs hearing. The vision for transportation should be (has to be) so much more than that.

  • Thank you for that additional comment, Damien. That clarifies a lot.

    I do think that sometimes the transit advocacy community can get too bogged down in analyzing individual “trees” when clearly the entire transit “forest” seems to be constantly under attack!

  • Eric B

    As far as “livability” goes, I think Mica needs to stay away from it with a 10-foot pole if he hopes to have a bill that his majority will pass out of the House. For whatever reason, the term has failed to catch on outside of blue-leaning parts of the country, and so it makes sense for a Republican committee chairman to not speak in terms his constituents don’t understand or embrace.

    The trick for national bike/ped advocates will be to make a hard economic case for the cost-effectiveness of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy put out a great report in the lead-up to the 2009 Oberstar bill. Talking about “livability”, equity, and complete streets has traction with urban-oriented Democrats. Talking about efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and subsidies will have traction among the Republicans that aren’t purely blinded by ideology.

    The most effective advocates can talk about their programs in whatever prevailing political terminology happens to govern the debate. Want to spend less on transportation? Put resources into the most efficient, cost-effective modes. Want to reduce health costs (#1 contributor to federal deficit)? Put resources into community-based prevention–i.e. encouraging walking and biking. Want to improve the effectiveness of federal transportation dollars? Require projects to compete for funding based on merit.

    These are all progressive ideas with the potential for support among (at least fiscal) conservatives. The trick is all in the framing.

    And Carter is right to mourn the loss of Jim Oberstar, who never missed an opportunity for bike/ped funding. Now the movement needs to grow beyond relying on the pet support of one member of Congress.

  • Matt

    With Mica needling Mayor V on the airport connection, I’d respectively say that is what 30/10 is all about (increasing the speed of the construction of the Green Line and Crenshaw Line into a LAX people mover system). If Congress and this next transport bill would actually make 30/10 a reality, the question would be moot. I think it is more appropriate for Villaraigosa to ask Mica the question than the other way around.

  • Erik G.

    THanks to Darrell Clarke for the Boxer-on-a-Box angle!

  • I have long thought 30/10 could be the beginning of a grand coalition of key regions that have their own mega projects needing accelerated funding (NY 2nd Ave. subway, Bay Area BART to San Jose) to help create an alliance with enough political mojo to make possible expanding new starts, etc. Fast Forward America sounds like something in line with that vision.

  • Clutch J

    As opposed to goods movement and key road or transit capital projects, bike-ped or even broader livable communities issues don’t yet have widespread traction among DC insiders as being of national concern.

  • Eric B

    Oberstar’s proposed $50 billion Metropolitan Mobility and Access program would have provided a direct means to deal with the 50% of trips under 3 miles, while couching these local investments in terms of an issue of national significance: “urban congestion” (whatever that means).

    The broad authority would have left it up to local governments and MPOs like SCAG to propose solutions, rather than state highway departments. The broad eligibility for everything from highways to transit to bike/ped meant that enterprising local governments could use it for game-changing transformations. That does bring us back to a debate about local vs. state vs. federal control of transportation investments, but at least it puts the decision-making at the level most friendly to bike/ped. Given Metro and SCAG’s recent attention to bike/ped issues, this would be very favorable to LA, even if less so in other auto-centric regions.

    I hope Mica keeps the thrust of the MMA program idea and the broad eligibility. A threat is that in the name of eliminating waste, the eligibility criteria would be drawn narrowly to favor the status quo. That would be unacceptable.

  • I want to drive

    While most people would agree that good rail system will encourage people to convert from cars to public transportation. However, if trains don’t go many places, people will still switch to cars. Many people take red line because people can actually hope out the stations and transfer the buses to get to many places in downtown LA. If people kept educating train is the only solution, many people will not switch to the public transportation mode if the train don’t go to the destination.
    We need good local bus connection between each train station to fill in gap.
    We need good local bus connection to transport people from stations to the destinations and vice versa.
    It is done in Vancouver and DC, but many people in LA just have fantasy that trains will make people to leave their cars. Many public transportation in so many area in LA are 100 times worst than WLA. Those people are not going to switch to cars even if they could drive to the Union station nearby. Look at the gold line stations, could people get out stations and take easy bus ride to many parts of Pasadena/S Pasadena.
    Building rails without caring about local bus connection is like building intestate freeway without building surface street.
    For many non choice riders, their best dream is be able to drive. That dream will not go away even if all those rails are built.
    Oh, do any one of you know MTA is going to cut the bus service. Many will argue who are there is rail, why bother bus. They are causing traffic anyway. Well they transport people around to where the rails don’t reach. Without those buses, people have to walk

  • LazyReader

    New rail transit lines often never relieve congestion because they simply do not attract enough people out of their cars to make a difference. And what about the tourists who just rent a car. In 2008, L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa told voters that extending the city’s Red Line would relieve congestion. Voters believed that and supported a sales-tax increase to build it. Now the environmental impact report finds that the subway line will increase rush-hour traffic speeds on parallel streets by only 0.3 mph.

    http://www.laweekly.com/2010-09-23/news/9-billion-subway-to-sea-rip-off/

  • If I’m on the subway, it doesn’t really matter if the street above it has traffic moving at 15, 25 or 35 mph, does it?

  • LazyReader

    We have millions of people from thousands of origins going to thousands of destinations, you can’t build rail to every one. It’s nice to know the red and purple line can take me to Kodak theater when I receive my Academy Award.

  • LazyReader

    Seldom do people talk about the bus.

    http://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=1554

  • James van Scoyoc

    No it can’t–they always close Hollywood/Highland on Oscar Night.

  • James van Scoyoc

    I don’t think anyone really expects a rail line to relieve surface congestion, because that isn’t what we see in cities like New York or Tokyo where they have excellent rail transit.  

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