Planning and Programming Committee Recommends Metro Board Take Next Steps on Rail-to-River ATC

The Slauson corridor that runs through South L.A. takes another step forward toward becoming an Active Transportation Corridor. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
The Slauson corridor that runs through South L.A. takes another step forward toward becoming an Active Transportation Corridor. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

On October 23, 2014, the Metro Board of Directors voted to adopt the Rail to River Intermediate Active Transportation Corridor (ATC) Feasibility Study and directed staff to identify funding for full implementation of the project. The Board also authorized $2,850,000 be put towards facilitating the environmental, design, alternative route analysis, and outreach work required for the project to move forward and requested the staff report back in May of 2015.

At this past Wednesday’s Planning and Programming Committee meeting, the committee filed the requested report detailing recommendations that the Board take the next steps of applying for grants from the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Discretionary Grant (TIGER) program and the state Active Transportation Program (ATP). To facilitate the application process, staff also requested the Board authorize an allocation of $10.8 million in hard match funds in time to make the grant programs’ June 1 and June 5 deadlines.

The report suggests the Rail-to-River project has the potential to be very competitive.

Sited along an 8.3 mile section of the Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor right-of-way (ROW), it will eventually connect the Crenshaw/LAX rail line to multiple bus lines (including the Silver Line), the Blue Line, the river, Huntington Park, Maywood, and/or Vernon via a bike and pedestrian path anchored along Slauson Ave.

First proposed by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor and Metro Board Member Gloria Molina in 2012, it has the potential to effect a significant transformation in a deeply blighted and long-neglected section of South L.A.

Screenshot of proposed bikeway corridor. Phase 1 (at left) represents section that Metro could move on immediately. Phase 2 would proceed more slowly, as Metro would need to negotiate with BNSF to purchase the ROW.
The visuals included in last year’s feasibility study divide the project into two phases (to be implemented concurrently). The central segment runs along Metro’s ROW on Slauson, eventually connecting with the Crenshaw line, to the west, and possibly the river, on the east.

But it isn’t going to come all that cheaply.

Last year’s feasibility study put the total costs for the project at $34.2 million to build and $145,000 a year to maintain. The staff report submitted on Wednesday put the total project cost — now including the ROW easement acquisition (for the Phase 2 segment of the project) and the value of the Metro-owned ROW — at approximately $76.6 million.

The $9.6 million ATP grant would be applied toward the construction of Phase 1 (above) of the project: the 3.6-mile Central Segment and Western Segments of the corridor running between Long Beach Ave., on the east, and the Crenshaw/LAX Line, on the west. These segments are set to be tackled first because they presented the fewest obstacles to implementation and could most likely to be completed within four years, as Metro already owns the affected ROW.

Phase 1 funding via the ATP grant. Source: Metro
Phase 1 funding via the ATP grant. Source: Metro

The TIGER grant would be used to cover the costs of Phase 2 (below) of the project — running between Long Beach Ave., on the west, and the L.A. River (or, potentially, Malabar Yards), on the east — as well as any costs for the Phase 1 segments not covered by the ATP grant.

Phase 2: The Eastern Segment and its myriad options. (Feasibility Study)
Phase 2: The Eastern Segment and its four options. The Feasibility Study suggested Metro proceed with the Randolph St. option, although it is unclear which option Metro will finally pursue. (Feasibility Study)

Although both phases of the project will be implemented concurrently, the Phase 2 segment is expected to pose more of a challenge, as Metro will have to negotiate with at least one railway to get them to abandon their rights to the ROW.

Similar negotiations with BNSF for an inactive section of rail along the Crenshaw Line took three years and cost $4.5 million; estimates are that the process for this project could take as long as ten years, depending on which sections are ultimately abandoned. And the costs associated with easement abandonment will not be covered by the grants.

The original feasibility study came down in favor of the Randolph St. option (a Union-Pacific owned ROW) as a way to connect commuters with the river. It was the highest ranked option, when user experience, connectivity, safety, and ease of implementation were taken into account (see p. 76), and would “legitimize an existing informal active transportation corridor, serve residents and visitors to the Los Angeles River, and provide a connection to downtown Huntington Park.”

But, as seen below, the planned application for the TIGER grant sets the limit of the project at Santa Fe Ave. — the point at which an ROW heads north into Malabar Yards (controlled by BNSF) — making it unclear which of the options the active transportation corridor will ultimately take.

The TIGER Grant. Source: Metro
The TIGER Grant. Source: Metro

While it argues that funds from both ATP and TIGER will help kick off the project, the staff report acknowledges that remaining funds for the project will need to come from a variety of sources. Metro ExpressLanes Net Toll Revenue program funds (if available in the future for local matching), Measure R2, Proposition C, and public-private partnerships are a few of the potential sources.

If the Board votes in favor of the staff recommendations at the end of May, the applications will be submitted the first week of June. Notifications of any awards will be given by the end of the year. Metro staff have already developed Statements of Work for preconstruction efforts, including technical and public outreach. Requests for proposals (using the Countywide Planning Bench) are anticipated to be released in June, 2015, the Public Outreach contract is expected to be awarded in July, 2015, and the Technical contract is expected to be awarded in September, 2015. For more information on the project itself, see our past coverage here, here, and here.



A map of the Rail-to-River bike and pedestrian path planned for the Slauson corridor in South and Southeast Los Angeles. Source: Metro

Rail-to-River Route Through Huntington Park, Bell Emerges as Best Candidate; Community Meeting December 8

Spoiler alert: of the four options Metro is considering, the Randolph Street option (B4) has ranked the highest. Not only would it help connect residents to more schools and other important community destinations, it would be able to provide residents with the safest way to reach those destinations. Best of all, it would add over four miles to the bike/pedestrian path and connect users to the river and the existing bike path there.