San Fernando Valley Prioritizes Freeways, Then Bemoans Lack of Transit

The Daily News cites a dearth of "major Measure R projects" in the San Fernando Valley. Does Measure R's portion of the $1.3 billion-dollar 5 Freeway widening projects count as a major project? Image via Caltrans
The Daily News says there are no “major Measure R projects” in the San Fernando Valley, other than the Orange Line Extension. Does Measure R’s portion of the $1.3 billion-dollar 5 Freeway widening projects count as a major project? Nearly $1 billion goes to improvements in the SFV. Image via Caltrans brochure [PDF]
This seems to be the week that the news is that nothing happened in the San Fernando Valley. Last Thursday, SBLA reported that Metro Orange Line speed improvements are not happening yet. On Sunday, the Daily News ran a piece by Dakota Smith entitled, Lack of new San Fernando Valley rail lines draws complaints. Here’s an excerpt:

“The Valley clearly has been shortchanged by Measure R,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian, who represents parts of the Valley and serves on the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board.

Narrowly approved by voters, Measure R launched a flurry of construction projects and helped raise federal dollars to pay for new rail lines. The sales tax is expected to raise about $38 billion over 30 years.

With the exception of a new Orange Line busway extension, which opened in 2012, no major Measure R projects have broken ground in the Valley. Instead, studies are being conducted on a rail or bus line along Van Nuys Boulevard. A new Sepulveda Pass transit line is in the early planning stages.

Metro's $B capital program, including Valley freeway improvements. Image via Metro
Metro’s $14 billion capital program, including Valley freeway improvements. Image via Metro

Clearly the article is about transit investment, but I’d like to debunk this “[Except for the Orange Line,] no major Measure R projects have broken ground in the Valley” a bit. Perhaps the editors removed the word “transit,” making the sentence inaccurate?

Measure R has a reputation for being money for rail construction but, as many SBLA readers know, Metro rail capital is only 35 percent of the overall estimated $40 billion. Wholly 20 percent of Measure R goes to freeways. Metro is providing $1.5 billion to pay for 5 Freeway widening in L.A. County. Specifically, in the San Fernando Valley, according to Metro spokesperson Dave Sotero, Measure R contributes $271.5 million for the 5 Freeway improvements from the 134 to the 170, which total over $700 million.

According to Sotero, in addition to that $271.5 million, Measure R provides $90.8 million for the $161 million project improving the to the interchange between the 5 and 14 freeways.

Measure R is building transportation infrastructure in the Valley, just not so much transit infrastructure. 

While there are not so many major Valley transit groundbreakings, there are quite a few significant ways that Measure R funding serves the San Fernando Valley (see Metro Measure R Fact Sheet [PDF]):

  • Orange Line extension: The Orange Line, which the Daily News does mention, busway and bikeway were extended from Canoga Park to Chatsworth. This project was approved to get $182 million from Measure R, but Metro instead secured state funding. That $182 million remains available to be allocated by the Metro Board, which, theoretically, should keep the money programmed in the Valley.
  • Van Nuys transit corridor project: Metro is currently evaluating various options for the “East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor,” which has $68.5 million in Measure R funding.
  • Sepulveda Pass transit corridor project: Metro has $1 billion from Measure R to put toward a likely mega-tunnel connecting the Valley and the Westside, anticipated to cost “$6 billion to $8 billion… or maybe $20 billion.”
  • Bus service improvements on Van Nuys, Sepulveda, Reseda, and Lankershim, expected 2016-2018. 
  • Various other miscellaneous Measure R funding going to Valley transportation: Metrolink rail capital improvements, bus capital and operations, and Red Line subway train capital and operations. The Valley also receives a portion of other countywide expenditures, including freeway soundwall funding, and “local return” spent by the cities of Los Angeles, Burbank, San Fernando, and others.

Additional sales tax and other Metro funding have gone to various Valley transit projects including more parking and a new tunnel at North Hollywood, and a new bridge at Universal City. These projects are not Measure R funded, so in many ways, Measure R isn’t the whole story. As with the Orange Line extension, Metro, Metro’s board, and other electeds seek and obtain outside funding through various federal and state programs. Sometimes Measure R funding is offset by other monies; sometimes Measure R funding acts a local match seed for securing additional state and federal dollars.

In the bigger picture, I find it a bit disingenuous for Valley interests to now say they were shortchanged. The way I see it, the Valley has received modest transit investments, because the Valley really prioritized its transportation investment toward car infrastructure.

When Measure R was negotiated, Valley politicians held firm on money for Valley highways. Not so much on funding for San Fernando Valley transit infrastructure. The same was true when local politicians sought and obtained $1.1 billion in Federal transportation funding to widen the 405 Freeway. Valley electeds have made highway spending a priority. Freeway money, lots of it, is what they got.

In some cases, Valley leaders actively worked against Valley transit infrastructure, including state legislators banning subway tunneling and banning rail on the Orange Line right-of-way. The Orange Line rail ban was overturned in July 2014, long after Measure R was passed.

It is good to see Councilmember Krekorian now making Valley transit investment a priority. Valley transit riders need champions who will fight to bring the Valley’s transit system into the 21st Century.

I’ll close with a point from Yonah Freemark’s study on why U.S. light rail investments failed to shift higher percentages of people to riding transit. One of the things Freemark cites as being behind transit shortfalls is that cities building light rail also invested heavily in highways. The question I have for Valley leadership, including Councilmember Paul Krekorian and newly elected County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, whom I anticipate will serve for a long time on the Metro board: Are you willing to prioritize Valley transit investment even when and if it means less funding for Valley freeways and roads?

  • davistrain

    Back about 25 years ago, when one of LA Metro’s predecessors was holding community meetings regarding rail transit proposals, I went to some of their meetings in Pasadena. One of the LACTC reps commented on how, when they went to the San Fernando Valley, they were treated like hostile invaders, but when they came to the San Gabriel Valley, they were greeted with open arms. As it was, we had to wait until 2003 for the original Gold Line to open, and that wasn’t a sure thing, because there were some NIMBYs who tried to set obstacles in its path, but we’ve now had rail transit for ten years, and look forward to the next section opening in about a year.

  • Sirinya Matute

    I agree with Joe’s critique. Sorry Dakota; the headline was misleading.

    I don’t live in the SFV anymore, but I did and rode transit as a teenager to Birmingham High and over the hill from my parents to my job at UCLA, so I can say this: The upcoming improvements, including the realignment of the 761, are substantial, as will the formation of a route that travels between Burbank and Pasadena that isn’t a peak-hour LADOT Commuter Express. And the completion of substantial bus infrastructure like the Orange Line would have changed my adolescence in the SFV radically. I could have gotten to my high school so much more easily and independently, and the very nice bike path that accompanies it would have been a straight shot more or less from my parents’ house (thanks to the bike lanes LADOT installed along Woodman) to the school. Buses are not a bad thing, people. Not a bad thing at all.

    Nonetheless, outside of densely populated corridors like Ventura and Van Nuys, it’s challenging to operate fixed route service with headways better than 15-20 minutes. The land uses did the region in, along with public policy that basically barred Metro from building rail until very, very recently. I think Metro has done a commendable job nonetheless.

    I am disappointed by Councilmember Krekorian’s statement because he has been so good on other things, like pushing back at the mandated speed increases along boulevards in his district.

  • GlobalLA

  • GlobalLA

    Thank you Joe, informative and great article.

  • Coby King

    Joe’s article takes 1000 words to inadvertently demonstrate the simple truth that despite contributing more than 20% of Measure R’s sales tax revenue, the Valley gets millions while the rest of LA County gets billions. The fundamental accuracy of Councilman Krekorian’s statement that the Valley got shortchanged is still true. The only major project on Joe’s list of Valley projects, the Sepulveda Pass project is scheduled at end of the the Measure R timeline and will benefit the Westside as much as the Valley. Take that out, and the Valley got very little compared to the rest of the County. And given that (1) the Valley votes in higher percentages than the rest of the County, and (2) virtually every federal, state, and City of LA elected official with a district in the Valley has signed on to Valley on Track and our three priority projects, if the rest of the County wants the next measure to pass, the Valley must get its fair share. I think that’s a pretty simple message as well.

  • Sam Taylor

    The sad part about Joe’s article is that Joe doesn’t comprehend that there has been a sea change of attitude in the Valley. This story isn’t about the Village Idiot Tom La Bonge asking for more freeway on-ramps or one of the Valley Red Necks asking to double deck more roads.

    This story is setting the stage for Measure R.2 and directing public opinion that the Valley is really missing rail. Yes, Sirinya, we have a second class busway from a third world country that doesn’t have local bus connection frequency or span or service on the majority of the north-south arterials.

    Yes, we have a new freeway express that takes 20 minutes longer to get to Westwood than the local Sepulveda Pass line, as the HOV Lines are at 115% capacity from Victory to Ventura (from a Caltrans document).

    Yes, in years past retired Congressmember Howard Berman put up $130 million in seed money to jump start the $1.2 billion 405 pass HOV Lane project. Yes, the majority of the Measure R projects are HOV Lanes. But, do you really think the majority of the Valley was clamoring for HOV Lanes?

    Yes, up to 2002, there were Neighborhood Opponents who didn’t want any type of transit and they were noisy! However, the minute the Red Line opened to North Hollywood, rail ridership doubled on the Red Line. North Hollywood has become a livable, walkable and almost bikable community.

    However, in the slap-dash way that Measure R.1 was constructed, the Valley got 4 defined bus corridors and the 405 transit corridor. Public opinion has been pretty significant on the East Valley Transit Corridor and the majority of attendees want a rail solution, not the bus solution offered.

    People are smart enough in the Valley to realize that the Orange Line takes 20 minutes more to get from NoHo to Warner Center as compared to the 29 minutes the Gold Line take for the same distance to get from Union Station to Sierra Madre Villa.

    Metro still attempts to short change the Valley. What about the recent attempt to open a portal from the Orange Line to the Red Line, one of the busiest transfer stations in the system? Metro planned to have only an up escalator without a down escalator. And Zev prevented this portal from even being considered for over a decade to the inconvenience of many users.

    Councilmember Krekorian has become one of the key transit voices in the Valley, where there were none in the political or business organizations for decades.

    Many of the points Joe has made are regurgitations of the old school die hards who have finally started to die off. The new era has started. Even VICA is showing leadership in championing three rail projects and Krekorian is backing a 4th rail project. The sad part is that the Valley would be the fifth or sixth largest city in the US and is lacking a rail system. Even Phoenix has a growing Light Rail system.

    Now that leadership has changed, is it unreasonable that the Valley look to get about $20 billion+ to develop a system of rail infrastructure? You can be sure that Measure R.2 will contain some serious rail projects for the Valley that were missed by previous generations.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The argument seems to be that the the San Fernando Valley portion of the city of Los Angeles is not getting its share of the highway and transit project funds from Measure R.

    Here is a link to a Metro Measure R expenditure categories attachment:

    http://media.metro.net/measure_R/documents/expenditure_plan.pdf

    On page 2, line 19, there is $13.790 billion for rail or rapid bus transit construction projects. Minus the $3.276 billion transit capital project contingency escalation amount on line 18, that leaves $10.514 billion.

    On page 3, line 40, the total Measure R funds for capital highway projects is $7.880 billion. Minus the $2.576 billion capital highway project contingency escalation amount on line 39 the total is $5.304 billion for highway construction projects.

    Adding the $10.514 billion for transit to the $5.304 for highways the total is $15.818 billion.

    The San Fernando Valley is 39% of the population of the city of Los Angeles according to county supervisor Antonovich’s office. The population of the city of Los Angeles is 3.884 million according to the Census Bureau and the county population is 10.017 million. The city of LA is about 38.8% of the population of the county. The San Fernando Valley portion of that is 15.13%.

    A 15.13% portion of that $15.818 billion for Highway and transit construction projects is $2.39 billion.

    Joe Linton has already pointed out that $1.613 billion of Measure R money that is dedicated to construction projects in the San Fernando Valley.

    The San Fernando Valley is not some island that is disconnected from the rest of Los Angeles. If there are highway or transit projects in Los Angeles that are not in the SFV, this can improve the mobility of people who live in the SFV.

  • GlobalLA

    The SFV got what it deserved. They created noise when they had opportunity for rail now they got the bus. Quit whining, next time NIMBYs should think more about the future instead of only the present. Rail doesn’t work with NIMBYs and areas full of SFRs.

  • Matt

    The reality was that with Measure R, they could only expand the current system and not build any orphan rail lines which make no sense. That meant there could only be an extension from North Hollywood. That pretty much meant an extension to Burbank Airport, which only has modest support. Above ground rail was banned on the Orange Line corridor so that was out.

    Previously, the Valley came out strong against rail. They did get 2 Metrolink lines, which is more than the Westside or South Bay got. In Measure R, because rail projects were not possible they did get a lot of money for their numerous freeways, which were built and paid for by a previous generation mostly in the City, when the Valley had few people and few tax dollars going to build those projects.

    It is good that the Valley leadership and people have changed their minds on rail transit and they should get some projects in the Measure R2. However, I think Measure R2 is a long shot at best. It is very tough to get 2/3 vote on a tax increase and the sales tax already has 1.5% going to Metro. A lot of people think that is enough, especially with transit to get some of the Cap and Trade funds.

  • Mark

    Joe: Your blog post fails to understand that the I-5 improvements are considered as part of the “Arroyo-Verdugo” area (Glendale/Burbank/La Canada) and the 5/14 interchange is considered as part of the “North Los Angeles County” (Santa Clarita/Palmdale/Lancaster) area. Councilman Krekorian is referring to the SFV that is City of LA, not these adjacent areas.

    You really don’t have a clue how Measure R was put together, unfortunately. Funding for transit was drained from the SFV to pay for transit projects in LA City on the other side of the hill, specifically the subway and Crenshaw lines. The SFV received a pittance because then-Mayor Villaraigosa took his share of Measure R funds to pay for those projects and didn’t have much left over for the SFV.

  • Bhdfgnf334

    Rail ridership doubled on the red line because of your so-called “third world” orange line. Did you really think those 60k riders all came from north Hollywood? That’s what Union station handles every 24 hours, with all the Amtrak and metrolink and buses, no metro station even comes close.

    Bus rapid transit was chosen for the valley because the valley’s density didn’t justify high capacity rail, and there were no major destinations besides red line transfer. If it’s too slow, the problem is signal priority, not the vehicles (buses).

  • Rail ridership jumped significantly after the Red Line opened to NoHo and long before the Orange Li(n)e (route 901) busway opened. And BRT was selected because is was the only Camel (remember how those are said to be designed) which could pass through the eye of the needle that Yaroslavsky, Robbins and Waxman had created.

  • Actually,the Valley did have a transit voice before Paul Krekorian. Unfortunately it was an entity that goes by the name “Galpin Ford”

  • “No Horns, No Bells. Slow trains to 20 (mph)!” was the banner posted along the Pasadena Gold Line IIRC.

  • If only there was an intact rail corridor through the SFV that might be widened , have stations added at key intersections and upgraded to handle more frequent traffic. Oh, wait, what was this “Metrolink Capital Improvements” that Joe did mention? Not one but two such corridors? One of which is on the National Amtrak Intercity network, and the other which is going to be a part of the California HSR project?

    Now if only we had a unified national tranportation policy in this republic…

  • Alex Brideau III

    I remember seeing that banner.

  • Seems to me the way to weigh in on this issue with heavy hitters is attending the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments ad hoc transportation committee meeting Friday afternoon in Burbank.

    http://static.squarespace.com/static/527132c6e4b04f27206365b1/t/54ac2bdde4b0ac4256f58a72/1420569581382/Jan+2015+Transporation+Committee+Agenda.pdf

  • Manny Ojeda Jr

    I think you need to take into account the fact that a lot of people in the valley dont pay attention to these kinds of issues. Thats why i’m glad that we got these new representatives to get us more transit options.

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