Metro’s map of subregions and regional facilities. Source: Metro handout [PDF]
There is an item that was bounced around at the Metro Board last month regarding freeway projects and whether they are “regional” or “subregional” facilities. Lakewood City Councilmember and Metro Boardmember Diane DuBois is pushing for L.A. freeway-widening projects to be classified as “regional” rather than “subregional” projects. Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin raised some issues over this re-classification. The final decision is likely to come back to the Metro Board for a showdown in April.
All of this is pretty wonky. It does have implications on transportation funding priorities, including how transit projects compete with highway projects over scarce flexible Metro dollars.
In Metro’s 2001 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), Metro divided L.A. County nine sub-regions (map above):
- Arroyo Verdugo (Glendale, Burbank, and adjacent areas)
- Central Los Angeles
- Gateway Cities (Long Beach, and most of South East L.A. County)
- Las Virgenes / Malibu
- North Los Angeles County
- San Fernando Valley
- San Gabriel Valley
- South Bay
- Westside Cities
These sub-regions were mainly used for long term planning, but, since the 2008 Measure R transportation sales tax, the sub-regions have also been woven into the way Metro funds projects.
After Measure R passed, Metro adopted what’s called its Measure R Cost Containment Policy (the full formal name is the Unified Cost Management Process and Policy for Measure R Projects.) That policy bills itself as a “new step-by-step cost management process will require the MTA Board to review and consider approval of project cost estimates against funding resources at key milestone points throughout the environmental, design, and construction phases of the Measure R transit and highway projects.” These transit and highway projects, are, of course, often multi-billion dollar projects. Examples include $2.8 billion to extend the Purple Line subway four miles, and $3.3 billion to widen about 70 miles of the 5 Freeway. Multi-billion dollar projects are prone to massive cost overruns.
So, according to the cost containment policy, when a Metro Measure R project’s costs increase above what has been approved, the agency looks to take specific measures to either lower the costs or get money to cover the overruns. The policy specifies that cost overruns will be met through the following sources in the following order:
- Value Engineering and or scope reductions;
- New local agency funding resources;
- Shorter segmentation;
- Other cost reductions within the same transit or highway corridor;
- Other cost reductions within the same sub-region;
- Countywide transit cost reductions or other funds will be sought using pre-established priorities.
These are jargony. The crux of the matter is that item 5 (and, to an extent, items 2 and 4) means that when projects exceed their budgets, costs will be covered within the sub-region. One project’s overruns will reduce the budget for other projects in the same sub-region where the project is located.
In January, the Metro board established a special set of regional projects immune to the sub-regional cost overrun procedure. All airports, sea-ports, and Union Station are classified as “regional” projects (see map above), because theoretically everyone in the county benefits from, for example, LAX and Port of Long Beach improvements. For these regional projects “cost increases to Measure R funded projects… are exempt from the corridor and subregional cost reduction requirements. Cost increases regarding these projects will be addressed from the regional programs share.”
Metro boardmember, and Lakewood City Councilmember, Diane Dubois, along with boardmembers Don Knabe and Ara Najarian, introduced a motion [PDF] that would essentially classify “[i]nterstates, freeways or highways” as regional projects, hence “highway sub-regional funding will not be subject to the Unified Cost Management Process and Policy.” Though the motion requested that Metro staff analyze and report back, it clearly specified that highways would become exempt from the cost containment process in the meantime. Read more…