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Metro Board Wrap: If Measure R Projections Are Down, What Happens to Projects When Funds Run Out?

12:30 PM PST on February 24, 2011

During today's debate over whether or not to approve a "life of the project" budget for Phase II of the Expo Line, County Supervisor Gloria Molina used the occasion to quiz Metro staff on new projections for Measure R revenue.  Originally, the half-cent county-wide sales tax was projected to produce $40 billion in revenue over thirty years.  However, in large part due to the Great Recession and high local unemployment rates, that projection has dropped 10% in two and a half years to $36 billion.

So if the sales tax is coming in 10% lower than originally projected, then what happens to projects when Measure R funds run out.  As Metro rushes ahead with "the 30/10 Initiative" many of those sales tax dollars coming in later years, closer to 2040 than today, would likely be used up when it's time to construct projects at the tail end of the program?  Metro staff didn't really have a good answer, and neither does the Measure R Expenditure Plan nor the authorizing legislation.

If Congress and the President move to make 30/10, or Fast Forward America, a reality then the projects funded on the back-end would be highway capacity expansion projects.  Over $6.3 billion in Measure R funds are designated towards highway projects that have no timeline to begin, much less complete, construction.  Included in that list is the highly controversial "710 Gap Closure," a favorite project of Molina.

If no action is taken to accelerate transit projects, the last transit projects to be funded are the Westside Subway Extension and the Green Line Extension down to the South Bay Corridor.  The total Measure R cost of these two projects is over $5 billion with $4.074 billion going towards the Subway.  There is some irony that the project that would be most endangered would be the Westside Subway, which was the center piece of the campaign to get Measure R passed in the first place.

Other notes from the Board Meeting:

    • The Metro Board did pass a the budget for Phase II of the Expo Line.  Following this week's court victory, the Construction Authority can move forward with selecting a contractor.  The budget does not include the Bike Path, which is both still under litigation and will be built by LADOT.
    • Staff presented a plan to create a cost-estimate for the I-710 Tunnel Project in response to the request by Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian.  The proposal would have based the estimate off the expected cost of a different tunnel being built near Seattle.  Najarian was unhappy with the plan and blasted staff for proposing it.  He also wondered where the $3 billion estimate being used in the "710 conversations" came from and why Metro's cost estimates assume the tunnel will be 2,100 feet and not 2,800.  The length of the tunnel will be between those two points.  More on this, tomorrow.
    • There was an update on the TAP Program.  Not much is new since last week's Streetsblog article on the same topic. Although staff did estimate that the problems that they're having divvying up the "cash purse" between participating agencies should be resolved by the summer.
    • There was a motion for a wide-ranging study of how Metro can continue to green their operations.  A full report will come back in the May Board Meeting.

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