L.A.’s 30/10 Plan Advances Suddenly with a $546 Million Loan for the Crenshaw Light Rail Project

» Federal commitment will move project forward, increasing prospects for Mayor Villaraigosa’s massive 30/10 transit plan. This could be a model for other cities, though the availability of more financing is unclear.

Los Angeles’ 30/10 plan, designed to shoehorn three decades’ worth of transit construction into just ten years, always seemed like a long-shot. Though backed by a voter-approved sales tax, the proposal would rely on the unlikely commitment of billions of dollars in loans from the federal government. In the process, L.A. County hoped to have by 2020 twelve new or extended fixed-route transit lines at the cost of some $14 billion.

Thanks to the ambitions of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the apparent willingness of the Obama Administration’s Department of Transportation, the process has suddenly made a major jump forward with the announcement today of a $546 million low-interest loan and a $20 million grant to spearhead work on the proposed Crenshaw light rail line. That $1.4 billion project will connect the city’s existing Green Line at LAX Airport with the currently under construction Expo Line at Exposition Boulevard, running through the cities of Los Angeles and Inglewood. The funding will allow the project to be completed by 2016, rather than 2018 as expected.

Observers nationwide should be evaluating the approach L.A. has taken on this project very carefully: This method, in which local governments promise a long-term revenue stream to pay back low-interest loans from Washington, could be a model for future infrastructure creation everywhere. Or it may at least allow the nation’s second-largest city to advance the fast-paced transit expansion program it has been planning.

Two financing sources made this deal possible: Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loans and the TIGER II grant program. The TIFIA funds, representing the $546 million loan, will be leveraged by the $20 million TIGER grant; they will be eventually repaid over the course of thirty years using Measure R sales tax revenues dedicated to transit by voters in 2008. TIFIA acts as something equivalent to a national infrastructure bank and has already been used to fund construction on Denver’s Union Station and San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center, two of the nation’s most impressive planned intermodal transportation hubs. TIFIA credit assistance may be able to support a total of about $2 billion in TIGER projects.

Though TIGER II grants will fund a number of new infrastructure projects (I will discuss them in further detail next week when they are officially announced), this relatively small grant for Los Angeles could be the most important because of the unique financing structure it inspires. Similar arrangements could be used to fund the construction of all of the other twelve planned transit lines in the 30/10 plan. The Westside Subway extension and the Regional Connector are likely to enter the construction phase over the next few years; each could be built more quickly if they were financed under similar schemes.

Metro L.A. claims that moving the transit construction process ahead by up to twenty years could reduce project delivery costs by almost four billion dollars in year-of-delivery dollars — from $17.5 billion to $13.7 billion. Building the lines first and then paying for them later could allow the city to profit from expanded infrastructure investments over the course of the thirty year-period of sales tax collections, rather than have the new infrastructure be spread out throughout the period. It’s a win-win situation for the city and not bad at all for the federal government, since it can continue to offer loans at low interest rates — they are virtually guaranteed to be paid back thanks to the commitment of tax funds. That means these loans don’t add to the federal deficit in the long-term.

If sales tax revenues come in as expected, L.A. will be able to collect $5.8 billion to spend on transit capital projects by 2020; in order to fund all lines, it will need another $8 billion in loans from the federal government, to be returned with interest between 2020 and 2040. Thus today’s commitment represents about one-sixteenth of the total this region hopes to receive from Washington.

This funding may or may not be enough to assure the construction of the Crenshaw line; L.A. Metro has yet to make clear whether it hopes to win New Start grants from the Federal Transit Administration to cover some of the costs of the line. Almost every major transit project in the United States has been partially funded with these allocations. Over the next ten years, the agency expects to collect a total of $1.6 billion in New Start revenues, but how they will be distributed has not been enumerated so far.

The 8.5 miles of the Crenshaw Line are expected to attract between 15,200 and 21,300 daily riders, not terrible for a line of this sort, but not fantastic either considering that the shorter Expo Line Phase I is expected to move more than 40,000 daily users. A connection to Wilshire Boulevard, the primary axis of jobs in the region, could not be funded according to L.A. Metro’s financing plan, therefore limiting the use of this corridor. The future extension of the Crenshaw corridor north into Beverly Hills and south to the South Bay, however, would make it an important link in the overall regional transit system.

Whether the construction of similar projects both in L.A. and in the U.S. as a whole will be possible under such a financing schemes remains to be established. L.A. may be a special case because of the large amount of local funds it has already committed to the cause. If other cities want to speed up their transit construction programs, they may have to increase the amount of non-federal funding devoted to the projects. Moreover, Washington will have to find a way to increase its grant-making to ensure that there are enough New Start dollars to pay for a reasonable share of all of these projects.

Image above: Crenshaw Line map, from Metro LA

33 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Coolness. I hope LA gets the the Westside Subway and Regional Connector funded as well. LA needs to make a bigger splash to change the freeway culture in this Peak Oil Era.

  • Ocean Railroader

    This is a major victory for streetcars in that I bet the new light rail line is running somewhere near a old abonandoned streetcar line or most likely crosses over several of them.

    I wounder what are they going to do to the heavy rail subway in that it most likely is one of the biggest expensive pieces in the rail map.

  • Nathanael

    The Westside Subway is top priority for LA due to the sheer number of people and businesses on the corridor. The Wilshire Corridor is already running three classes of buses (Local, Rapid, and Express), two of which run every five minutes, and the other one runs every five minutes at peak, and they’re all jam-packed. I expect LA will find funding for it come hell or high water. (The corridor’s so busy that the Local and Rapid buses will probably continue to be full after the subway is built.)

    The Wilshire Corridor is such a “center” for the region that one would expect the subway to increase ridership on every connected line, except possibly the parallel Expo Line (so, Metrolink, Gold, Blue, Green).

  • Dan

    Will this line actuallyl hit the airport? Last time the light rail bypassed LAX when the taxi lobby – or so I read – decided to rally and kill the stop inside LAX.

    • Winston

      The new Century/Aviation station will be 1.3 miles from the terminal – about as far as some of the long term parking and will be connected to the terminal by a people mover that will be built by the airport. If the people mover is delayed, the shuttle bus ride would be about the same as the one from Boston’s blue line to Logan Airport.

  • FDW

    This just made my day.

  • Joseph E

    You wrote “.A. Metro has yet to make clear whether it hopes to win New Start grants from the Federal Transit Administration to cover some of the costs of the line.”

    According to what I have read at Metro’s blog (thesource.metro.net), the Crenshaw line would not qualify for New Start funding under current guidelines, due to low ridership versus cost, and there are no plans to submit it for funding in the next 2 years.

    If the New Starts formula were changed to show the impact of a future extension to Wilshire, or farther north thru West Hollywood, this line might qualify for funding. At this time Metro will be paying for the whole cost of the line with local dedicated sales taxes.

    The two projects that are being submitted for New Starts funding are the Westside subway along Wilshire to Westwood (UCLA), and the Regional Connector (a second Downtown subway, to connect 4 existing and under construction light rail lines). The Wilshire Subway will get a “medium” cost effectiveness grade, while the Regional Connector is twice as cost effective and should qualify as one of the top priorties nationally.

  • Scott Mercer

    I would also like to add the Expo line, currently under construction, was also built without federal New Starts Program money, only local and state funds.

    Also, now that the “Pink Line” (always a nickname, not an official designation) heavy rail line to West Hollywood and Hollywood is out of the picture, talk is about extending the Crenshaw line from Exposition up to Hollywood and Highland, possible as a “light rail subway.” But this would be far out in the future.

    And no, the Crenshaw line will not go all the way into LAX. The Airport will have to build a separate people mover to get people into the terminals.

  • Steve

    Is the Crenshaw line expected to run on its own or as an Expo line spur. I don’t really know LA, but a spur looks like it would make more sense…

    • Nathanael

      The track connection will be from the Crenshaw line to the Green Line. I believe there is no track connection planned to the Expo Line (so, lots of people changing trains at Crenshaw & Expo).

  • Realist

    I’m a bit confused, perhaps there’s something I’m missing that someone can fill me in on. It would seem like the westside subway and regional connector would have much better ridership per $ / utility. The Crenshaw line doesn’t really go from anywhere to anywhere and I thought lines with anchors did better, why is it being built first? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for more lightrail and hope it gets built, I just worry about a less well performing line providing ammunition to critics to stop future lines. I’d be really interested to know why metro picked this line vs a lot of other options.

    • Tory Grattis, a Houston rail skeptic, believes that (in Houston as in LA) they build the less effective light rail lines first so that they can make sure the entire plan gets built. If due to cost overruns there’s no money after just the Wilshire subway and Regional Connector have been built, then they won’t build the Crenshaw Line or the Foothills Extension. If instead there’s no money after just Crenshaw and Foothills have been built, then they’ll say the Wilshire subway and Regional Connector are too important and find extra money for them.

      • With freeway commute hour speed slowing under 20 mph, LA is finally demanding more rail transit. People finally realize that after I-405 HOV lane through Sepulveda pass completes, there’s no more demand for LA County Freeway lane additions.

        NIMBY’s are even preventing the completion of I-710 Freeway only 2 miles between I-210 and I-10 freeways. In contrast, NIMBYs are only arguing over HRT & LRT route alignment details. So LA is really committing to build the Crenshaw Line + Green Line South Bay extension+ Purple Line + Regional Connector + Expo Line Santa Monica extension + Gold Line Azuza extension.

        An influential LA councilman on the MTA transit board is fashioning coalition between Hollywood-West Hollywood-Mid Wilshire-Crenshaw-South Bay transit folks to form a LRT route equivalent to the the Brown Line on this map, http://www.flickr.com/photos/48314275@N06/4724851423/lightbox/

        Though there is no additional Measure R tax money for it, there is political wiggle room to move loosely assigned Measure R money to such a Hollywood-Torrance line and there is a compelling federal funding reason to do so.

        The First chunk of money may come from the I-405 Sepulveda Pass LRT scheduled for 2039 completion or 30/10 plan 2018 completion. So if it has too wait until the Feds grant more Transit funds (I predict they will by 2020), no one’s expectations are up too high. Furthermore, the Sepulveda Pass. Moreover, I-405 Sepulveda Pass is already getting a billion dollar HOV upgrade from 2008-2012 that includes new several roadway overpasses. So no one in that segment can claim they aren’t getting their share of Measure R transportation funds. Even if built in the 301/10 plan, the segment would only connect the Purple Line HRT and the lower capacity Orange Line BRT by 2018 and the segment is too short to remove enough cars.

        The Second chunk of money could come from Eastside Phase 2 extension scheduled for 2035 completion or 30/10 plan 2017 completion. Gold Line Eastside Phase 1 just opened in 2009. Now that the Regional Connector will have a fully underground route connecting the Gold line to the Blue and Expo Lines, its going to greatly expand transit options for Eastside commuters to the rest of LA. Thus, no interest group can validly claim the Eastside is getting dissed if they have to wait until after 2020 for extension further east. There will be a new East LA-Santa Monica route

        In contrast, the Hollywood-West Hollywood-Crenshaw-LAX-Torrance Line would tie together a powerful constituency of transit-underserved communities, visitors would love it, and the entire route can complete in 2018. This Hollywood-Torrance LRT would intersect 2 HRT lines, 2 LRT lines and the 3rd busiest airport in the nation. I’ll repeat for emphasis, it would be LA’s first rail transit line to LAX. This patronage winner would take many cars off busy Hawthorne, La Brea, La Cienega, Fairfax and Crenshaw Blvds/Aves. And t would be easier for the MTA planners and on Wilshire Blvd businesses because they would not have to backfill engineer where the Hollywood-Torrance LRT intersects the Purple Line HRT on Wilshire Blvd (Fairfax or LaBrea).

    • Andrew Pannell

      My understanding is that the Wilshire subway and the Downtown Connector have applied for New Start grants, so these need to be awarded before any “loans” from the 30/10 initiative are considered. Crenshaw, ineligible for New Start grants, got loans instead.

  • John

    Re: Realist

    It’s been my understanding that the Crenshaw line will connect with the Expo line and Green line in such a way as to allow direct service from downtown to LAX.

    Right now, because the Green line and Blue line do not connect directly, a transfer is needed for passengers to make a similar connection.

  • Spencer

    The Crenshaw Line will not run downtown, it will terminate at the Expo line. So a transfer will still be necessary to reach LAX from downtown.

  • Shawn

    The Crenshaw rail line will have much higher ridership than the estimates. I don’t know what the formula is for rail ridership models, but it must be more oriented toward getting people out of cars and focuses on parking garages…or something. The buses on Crenshaw along this route (south of MLK) are very frequent and packed. This will be LA’s 3rd highest ridership line after Blue and Expo. And closer to Blue and Expo than the gold and green.

  • Realist

    Hmm I hadn’t thought about a strategy where you build less effective lines first to make sure the whole system gets built…

    Also, as I understand it the Crenshaw line isn’t going to go to LAX, it’s just going to skip the airport and then meet up with the green line. If one could go from downtown to LAX in one seat the project would make more sense to me – and I mean actually go to LAX, not skip it and then wait to transfer to a slow people mover to get back to the terminal (which won’t be popular and they might not even build the people mover).

    • Nathanael

      I will say that the new planned station location on the Crenshaw/Green Lines near LAX is genuinely in walking distance of LAX, unlike the existing Aviation station on the Green Line (which requires walking along decrepit roads past unlit industrial areas and vacant lots).

      Not that LAX has made walking to it pleasant, but it’s pleasant along Century Boulevard in front of the luxury hotels, right up to the point where the giant, insane LAX highway system starts.

    • Realist,
      You underestimate the benefits of LRT lines stopping at the LAX intermodal transit center to be built at Century Blvd-Aviation Blvd. From a security for the “9-11 world we live in” perspective, its a great solution. Furthermore, modern Automate People Movers run swiftly every 3-4 minutes. If you’ve been to SFO airport and taken their APM train recently, you know what I mean.

      The LAX Intermodal Transit Center is vaguely referenced in the MTA transit plans because Los Angeles World Airports is designing it. So they, along with the FAA, will fund it. Now that the Crenshaw and South Bay Extension are moving forward, commuters are getting excited about an alternative to driving and parking at LAX.

      The MTA has been officially asked to study a 30/10 Plan revision to form a Hollywood-West Hollywood-MidWilshire-Crenshaw-Inglewood-LAX-El Segundo-Lawndale-Redondo Beach-Torrance line. That LRT line would meet every USDOT funding criteria, attract national attention as the first rapid transit line to LAX, and make a lot of politicians look good with patronage success.

  • Shawn

    I’m pretty sure that I read years ago that LAX will never have a transit line running directly to it for security reasons. The plan is to have a people mover that they can control.

    And as I previously stated this will not be a low ridership line. I’m baffled as to how a ridership model would project low ridership on a busy bus corridor that connects two rail lines and serves LAX and the South Bay.

    • You don’t need to run a line under the airport. It’s okay to run the line elevated to the terminal area – something like this.

      The only advantage of a people mover is that it can turn tighter corners than mainline rail, which may be useful in a loop serving all the terminals.

      • John W

        Or this? Take a look at how the shadows fall in the top half of the image.

      • Is there a 50% chance that a portion of returned ARC transit money to the USDOT will fund the Crenshaw line extension up to Wilshire Blvd? That would fill a Metrorail connectivity hole and significantly drive patronage numbers.

        Maybe the MTA won’t say anything until the Metro Light Rail corridor study completes for to select:

        San Vicente Blvd-Santa Monica Blvd-Hollywood
        vs.
        San Vincete Blvd-LaBrea Ave-Hollywood

        Since the MTA has not signaled that they are studying a San Vincente Blvd-Fairfax Ave alignment (that I favor), its one indicator they favor the San Vincete Blvd-LaBrea Ave alignment, which likely has a better estimated patron/mile cost and fewer construction delay risks. I also suspect, that excluding San Vincente Blvd, the MTA would like most of the Light Rail from Mid-City to Hollywood to run underground.

        If they do pick the San Vincete Blvd-LaBrea Ave-Hollywood alignment, I hope they also pick a Street Car alignment for Santa Monica Blvd.

  • Donk

    History: This line was only proposed as a political compromise for the former County Supervisor in this district. There was never a study done comparing the viability of a route up Crenshaw compared to other N-S streets that intersect the expo line, such as La Brea, La Cienega, Sepulveda, 405, etc.

    The line was originally intended to go straight down Crenshaw to the Green Line, but got re-routed along a former rail ROW towards LAX. On the N end the line will dead-end at the Expo line (I believe there is too much capacity on the Flower segment of the line to accommodate a 3rd line).

    The reason this is getting funded first is because it was in the queue to be funded first (after the Expo Phase II) due again to political reasons. This line is completely useless, and will be the worst performing line in LA, with no real operational purpose to it. This reminds me of poor planning just for the sake of building something, like most lines of the Silicon Valley VTA system. The only useful part is the segment on Aviation and maybe into downtown Inglewood.

    Even if this does one day curve NE towards West Hollywood, what is the point of having it go through Crenshaw/Expo on the way back SE to LAX? A line straight N-S from LAX to WeHo or Westwood would have made much more sense for most commuters in LA.

    This clearly should have been a BRT line, but this would not have been politically palatable because it would have been seen as giving a poor neighborhood an inferior bus while giving the more wealthy Westside a subway…Even though this makes WAY more sense as a BRT line.

    Shawn made a comment about how this will have high ridership due to the Crenshaw bus line having high ridership. But the 210/710 line goes straight down Crenshaw, not to Inglewood/LAX. This will do nothing but be a $1.4M line on a map.

    • Donk,

      If the Crenshaw line existed in a vacuum that ended at LAX and Expo Line, you would have valid point about patronage underperformance. But having the benefit of knowing the MTA’s 28 October 2010 decision and reasoning, those will not be the endpoints.

      The MTA is now studying a Hollywood-West Hollywood-MidWilshire-Crenshaw-Inglewood-LAX-El Segundo-Lawndale-Redondo Beach-Torrance LRT line with substantial underground and underpasses to support 4-car trains. From Mid-Wilshire to Santa Monica Blvd corridor, the alignments being studied are Fairfax and LaBrea. Call it the “Rose Line” for now.

      The Rose Line, would connect LAX, Red, Purple, Expo and Green Lines. It would also remove lots of auto traffic from Hawthorne/LaBrea, Fairfax and La Cienega Blvd. In the future, the line could connect with a Santa Monica Blvd Streetcar and Venice Blvd Streetcar.

      If you suggest the Rose line would be “completely useless … worst performing line in LA” or just serving poor folks LRT for political purposes, you are utterly misinformed.

  • Carter

    Alon,

    Everything I’ve read suggests that Metro wouldn’t have *started* building the Crenshaw Line until the 2020s. So this funding would be much more than a two-year acceleration as. Though, now having gone back to look at the Measure R outlays on Metro’s website, all I can find for Crenshaw is an “accelerated” time frame of 2016-18.

    Hmmm…

    Above all, thanks for you thoughts.

    Carter

  • Matt

    Overall, not the greatest line in terms of ridership. It should do okay once the full Expo Line is up and running though and this cannot be figured into the current ridership figures. I do agree that this line has been pushed forward by political favortism for the area even though it is just a feeder line. Either way, it will never be a great line for LAX passengers with all the transfers necessary to actually get to this line and then the airport.

    I’d prefer the Regional Connector or Westside Extension get going ahead of this, but Crenshaw is farther along with their environmental docs.

  • Scott Mercer

    This line will only get significant (rather than anemic) ridership if two things happen

    a) LAX builds the people mover
    b) The line is extended further north than Exposition, at least to Wilshire so it can meet the subway. Ideally, it should go to meet the Red Line at Hollywood and Highland. Then you would get a two seat ride from Hollywood to LAX (Crenhaw line + people mover).

    In the case the line will function as both an airport line and a north/south connector line further to the west than the Blue Line. You wouldn’t have to go all the way downtown from Hollywood to get to the Green Line.

  • Hopefully this line will be extended northwest via SanVicente Blvd. to Santa Monica Blvd. then northeast on Santa Monica Blvd. to Hollywood.

  • A few comments about the line “missing” LAX so let’s set the record straight. The Crenshaw corridor project will in fact run right on LAX property via Aviation Blvd to reach the Green Line station at Imperial/Aviation. The proposed Century/Aviation station will in fact be build on LAX land or right next to it.

    LAX is working on its own multi-modal transit center at this location which will relocate all rental car desks as well as City bus center. And the long range plan for LAX also include a People Mover to this location.

    So to recap… even without LAX’s People Mover, the Century/Aviation station will be one of the busiest in the whole system with 2 existing/funded LRT lines (Green and whatever color Crenshaw will be assigned), 2 proposed but currently unfunded LRT lines (405 line and Downtown LA Express via Harbor Subdivision), plus about 20 different bus lines. Century/Aviation will be a hub for local commuters even without LAX.

    See this Google Map I created for the “big picture”. Note the Century/Aviation location and what it could mean when the entire system is build out.

    http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=109982261189696647553.000492747cf29fbd56df1&ll=34.048535,-118.319836&spn=0.091598,0.181789&z=13

  • bzcat,

    You might want to modify your map,

    The MTA ruled out the dog-leg Pink Line alignment (San Vincente Blvd-Santa Monica Blvd). For lower cost/patron/mile, the MTA is studying a Pink-Crenshaw Line that turns north from San Vincente up Fairfax or LaBrea, then turns east on Santa MonicaBlvd, then turns north again to Hollywood & Highland for an underground transfer to the Red Line.

    After the pink Line was rejected, Dan Wentzel proposed that the MTA study a streetcar line for Century City-Beverly Hills-West Hollywood (via Santa Monica Blvd)-Hollywood (via Sunset Blvd)-Silver Lake-Echo Park-Downtown LA. Its much less expensive, less disruptive, and has fantastic commuter and tourist potential, while connecting several LRT and HRT lines. So I think it has chops.

    I see you have the proposed Venice Streetcar line and Beach Cities LRT line. What about the Ventura Blvd Streetcar line? Also, the LRT from downtown to Burbank is more likely to cross Magnolia to connect with the Red Line and Orange Line at North Hollywood Station.

    Just suggestions.

  • Anandakos

    I’m hoping they’ll run some trains directly to the CBD during the rush hour, making the Crenshaw line a “Y” route from the Expo line.

    During non-peak hours it doesn’t make sense, of course; downtown LA isn’t much of a non-commuter attraction. But at the peaks it would offer the folks along it a one-seat ride while increasing the frequency on the inner part of the Expo line.

    We’ll see if others agree.

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