Finance Los Angeles

Los Angeles Asks Its Voters to Extend Transit Tax Far Into the Future

» Lacking the federal support to advance its transportation projects forward as quickly as the leadership — and perhaps the public — desires, L.A. County residents will vote on whether to extend a 1/2-cent sales tax for thirty more years.

Residents of Los Angeles may already pay more in sales taxes for the upkeep and expansion of their transportation system than people in any other county in the U.S. Referenda have been approved by voters in 1980, 1990, and 2008, each of which distributes a half-cent tax on every dollar in sales to the county’s transportation system, Metro. Of the total $1.8 billion per year in revenues,* about 40% are spent on expansions to the transit system, with the rest distributed to maintenance and operations of the county’s roads and transit systems.

This very public endorsement of the need to invest in transportation (Measure R, passed in 2008, required a 2/3-vote to be approved, pursuant to California law) has allowed for the planning of the nation’s most extensive rail and fixed-guideway bus expansion program. Earlier this year, the first segment of the Expo Line opened to Culver City; two other light rail expansions are under construction, and several other bus and rail lines are funded. Most importantly, a subway rail extension running under Wilshire Boulevard through West the Westside of L.A., to Westwood and U.C.L.A., is practically ready to begin construction.

But Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has been the staunchest political advocate of improved transit in L.A., has been clear that the program is not advancing quickly enough. Because of the lack of strong federal support, the full extent of the Westside Subway will not be completed until 2036; important improvements for other parts of the county will not be done until later. That’s more than thirty more years with little significant alternative to the traffic-clogged arteries so infamous in the city. Thus the county approved, the state legislature accepted, and the governor signed late last month the bill offering to the public in the form of a referendum Measure J, which will extend the Measure R tax 30 years past its original expiration date, which was supposed to be 2039.

What is to be voted on is not a new tax. Rather, if approved on November 6, it will continue assessing the 1/2-cent sales tax between 2039 and 2069. The outcome may well determine the degree to which L.A. is able to produce a truly appealing alternative to automobile travel within a reasonable amount of time.

Why pass a tax extension now, when the revenues will not begin to be collected for another 27 years? To build more quickly.

Effectively, the mayor wants to be able to “bond against” future revenues — in other words, to take out loans from the investment market that will not be paid back until beginning in 2039, in order to pay for transportation projects now. The tax extension does not appear likely to add to the list of transit projects that will be completed — it will just allow them to be completed more quickly.

Though the measure is practically sure to win a simple majority of voters, whether it will win a two-thirds majority remains to be seen. Measure R passed with only 67.2% of the vote, just enough to succeed, and that proposal actually provided funds for new projects. This referendum, on the other hand, states that it will “accelerat[e] construction of light rail/subway/airport connections within five years not twenty,” as well as improve safety on roads and keep senior, student, and disabled fares low. Will that be enough to convince voters on this matter, especially when certain local officials make the reasonable point that the proposal would “bind our hands until 2069“?

By 2040, will the county’s citizens be content with the transit system they have constructed? If so, perhaps they will be happy to continue paying taxes. If not, will they assent to essentially continue to pay off the debt on an unwanted infrastructure for another thirty years?

The referendum would extend the tax “for another 30 years or until voters decide to end it.” What if disenchanted voters decide to cut off the tax midway through its life? The county will have to find other funds to pay back the loans that were supposed to be financed through the tax revenues (and which have the county’s credit behind them), cutting down on the county’s ability to fund other priorities or requiring a separate tax increase. These uncertainties may limit investor interest in buying the county’s revenue bonds or increase the interest the county is forced to pay to take out those loans.

Moreover, the measure does not specifically guarantee that the projects promised back in 2008 will actually be delivered. Though L.A. has moved forward on a number of its recent expansion projects relatively on time and on budget, several American cities have promised far too much. Miami’s transportation referendum, passed in 2002 and supposed to fund dozens of miles of rail expansions, has produced just 2.4 miles, a major embarrassment and an affront to the voters’ original intent. The referenda results will say a lot about the public perception of Metro’s ability to produce what it has promised.

In other words, it is hardly obvious that a large majority of L.A. voters will agree to Measure J’s passage. Significant public information campaigns will be required if it is to be approved.

Yet the truth is that if L.A. wants an expanded transportation network now, rather than 30 years in the future, it has few options. It can adopt this approach, which has several demerits, as shown above. It could increase its taxes once again, but the sales tax burden is already quite high. Or it could rely on low-interest federal loans to advance projects more quickly. The latter was the solution Mayor Villaraigosa initially proposed in 2010 as “30/10” — 30 years of projects in 10 years. His proposal, which he renamed “America Fast Forward,” was politically popular enough to make it in a certain form (through an expansion of TIFIA to $1 billion) into the federal transportation bill earlier this summer, but that aid will not be adequate to fund all the projects L.A. wants — even if the U.S. DOT prioritizes the county over the rest of the country.

L.A.’s voters, then, have a choice: Take a risk by assuming that people of the future will want the investments being made today and therefore be happy to pay for them, or slow down the rate of transit expansion tremendously.

* Thanks to the recession, revenues per referendum have declined significantly since the peak in 2007, when each tax produced more than $686 million, compared to around $602 million in 2011.

Image at top: Los Angeles Expo Line, opened for service this spring and now serving more than 18,000 riders per weekday, from Flickr user Steve Bott (cc)

60 replies on “Los Angeles Asks Its Voters to Extend Transit Tax Far Into the Future”

Hey, I had some thoughts on this that I posted on my own blog, but I’ll repost most of it here too (link if anyone’s interested:

I’ll address these in the order in which they appear, starting with the question of what happens if in 2040 L.A. County residents decide they’re actually not happy with the infrastructure that’s been built.

Firstly, based on the trajectory of urban areas over the past few decades it seems very likely that people will appreciate these transit investments and they’ll get plenty of use. As cities have grown up, particularly in their central/downtown regions, transit has become a more and more integral element of transportation and there’s no sign of this changing. Even with the advent of driverless cars there’s no changing the fact that cars take up a lot of space, and to accommodate the number of people who want to live and work in cities we need a way to move more people using roughly the same amount of space. That’s transit, and barring some incredible and unforeseen innovation in moving people from place to place, it’s going to remain transit. The only really plausible reason that a region that once wanted better transit might change its mind seems to be that it suddenly started becoming less dense and less populated, which I doubt any part of L.A. County is planning for. Building out this infrastructure (and building it quickly) actually speeds up this densification and development process, so the chances of this happening anywhere in L.A. become even less likely as the projects move forward. And let’s not forget that L.A. residents have already voted to increase their sales tax by 1/2 cent three times in the past 32 years, most recently just four years ago, so they seem to approve of what’s been built so far.

He also notes that ‘The referendum would extend the tax “for another 30 years or until voters decide to end it.”’ So, what if voters decide to end this tax? Well, I don’t think it really matters. The same thing happens as if any other source of revenue suddenly disappears: you find another way to pay for it or you make cuts elsewhere. If it’s a matter of finding another way to pay for it this might actually be a good thing, given that sales taxes are one of the most regressive ways for a government to raise revenue. If it’s a matter of making cuts then you find a way to make them, but I think this is all semantics anyway The odds of this being overturned in the future seem exceedingly low. For one, although sales tax measures for transportation investment don’t always pass, I’m not sure there’s any precedent for one actually being repealed after being approved by voters (especially by a 2/3 vote). If you know of one I’d like to hear about it, but I suspect it’s extremely uncommon if it’s happened at all.

This also fails to recognize the increased revenues that always accompany major transportation projects – between the increased values of properties near rail lines and the billions of dollars of new development that’s likely to accompany it, this isn’t just an extra cost for the county and it’s residents – it’s also a way to bring in more tax-paying residents, more businesses, and more investment. And by expediting these projects all of the attendant benefits accrue to to the county earlier (to say nothing of decreasing the amount of time that construction disrupts business and mobility in the area). You can finish the subway in 2020, or you can finish it in 2036 and miss out on those 16 years of increased revenue.

The measure also “does not specifically guarantee that the projects promised back in 2008 will actually be delivered,” but seeing this as a negative is an implicit expectation for incompetence on the part of the county’s leaders. As he notes, so far L.A. has done a good job of staying roughly on time and on budget, and just like planning for a city to decline in population even though you don’t want it to, this would be a very strange way to handle future planning. If said leaders are being poor financial stewards of the county’s major projects, we have elections to replace them with people who will (hopefully) get things right. Failsafes and backup plans are completely justified, but everything has risks and a no vote based on that fact is a recipe for stagnation and decline. This may also be viewed as a sign of adaptability and a retort to those who worry what we’ll think of these projects in thirty years – it provides room to modify and optimize plans as circumstances dictate.

As Freemark notes, if L.A. wants to get these projects done anytime soon they don’t have many other options, particularly with declining assistance from the federal government. And given the current state of the labor market and the reduced cost of contracting in this depressed economy there’s no better time than now.

Measure J or Measure R have one thing in common?
They have no intentions to address how to get people to train stations without cars.
That is the reason many car driver who wish they could dump cars vote no.
A friend who lived in Culver City told me that he would take if Expo takes him to destinations. That is trick point.
Also, even though he lives near bus stop, he still has hard time reaching the Expo station without car
That is the reason there are big parking lots at Expo stations.
I never drive a car.
i always dream LA is like New York or San Francisco.
I vote yes to support building Red Line and Gold Line.
Nothing changes.
If the measure can guarantee WLA, Pasadena, Downtown LA, and Long Beach, I will vote yes. I live in E SG valley, but I am willing to wait. However, measure J will not.
Check Pasadena and Long Beach. Why do we need big parking lots? Why there are not many public transportation service at Expo Stations?
stop lying

You state that the subway is being extended thru West LA to Westwood and UCLA. Technically this is incorrect. “West LA” is a relatively small community of Los Angeles, roughly SE of Westwood, near the 405 freeway.

The correct term is “through the Westside”. Westside is the term used to describe the larger region in the western part of LA County. However, the definition of “Westside” varies depending on who you ask. Some say everything west of La Brea (ie, west of Hancock Park and Hollywood) is the Westside. Others say the Westside is west of La Cienega (ie, Beverly Hills/WeHo). Some others, who are clearly wrong in my opinion, use the 405 or 110 freeways as the dividing line. People who use the 405 or 110 definitions are usually LA transplants who know nothing about LA.

Not calling it a tax increase is false. Suppose payments on your 30 year mortgage were extended for another 30 years. Would you call that an increase in your debt or would you thank the bank for giving you an extension?

It is more money, a lot more money, coming from taxes. It IS a tax increase. I am not receiving any alternatives to traffic clogged freeways from Metro’s transit projects, so I will be voting no on J.

Maybe Santa Monica to Azusa has enough voting power to pass J. Because everyone north and south of the ‘selected corridor’ will probably be voting no, as they should.

It’s not a tax increase. It’s “keeping the taxes the same”. Or, if you like, “cancelling a planned decrease in taxes”.

Just like allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire *is* a tax increase, albeit a previously planned tax increase, and one which Bush signed off on, and a very good idea.

Look at it this way: your tax rate is 10% one year. Your tax rate is 10% the next year. Was there a tax increase? No.

The majority of LA *City* population will in fact be served by the planned extensions, at least once the Purple Line reaches Santa Monica; there are also planned improvements to San Fernando Valley service.

As for LA *County*, the area west of the Blue Line is getting pretty good service improvements, with more planned (Green Line extension to Torrance, for instance)

Palmdale and Lancaster have planned Metrolink improvements.

There are at least some proposed improvements on the already-supplied Metrolink services in places like Pomona and Norwalk, although perhaps not enough to satsify.

It is true that places like Lakewood and Cerritos aren’t seeing much of any improvement, so if you live there your views are entirely understandable. The area east of the Blue Line and West/South of the Metrolink Orange County Line / 91 Line haven’t gotten much of anything, as far as I can tell.

Since nearly half of the City of LA lives in the San Fernando Valley, I am not sure that a ‘majority’ of the city is being adequately served by the extensions. Planned improvements to the San Fernando Valley includes additional bus routes, no money for anything else (talk about rail is just talk because there is no funding).

Metrolink is too infrequent to be an option for many. Improving train stations and getting bigger locomotives does not help that.

It’s a hard to pill to swallow to INCREASE taxes on ourselves for another 30 years knowing that little if anything will be done to address my community’s transportation needs. I am guessing that more than 1/3 of the electorate feels that way.

If the county can announce Public Private Partnerships to help bring service to the undeserved millions, then I’m guessing they will have the votes. Two months until election day is not a lot of time to find Billions of Dollars.

What is a Public Private Partnership in your mind? Can you give some nice examples?

To me, the PPP stuff sounds like a cool name for an old principle, that the profits should be privatized and the costs should be borne by taxpayers.

But seriously, if you know of good examples of PPPs, and can tell me why they worked out well, I’m eager to be schooled.

Funny part is that Metro never considered PPP for the Sepulveda Pass. It still isn’t listed as option on their website. Shows how little regard they have for the needs of San Fernando Valley Residents.

In my opinion, use the 1-2 billion already available and extend the red line west to the 405. That will attract and handle more riders then the bus will. The redline to the 405 was one of the finalist for the burbank-chandler right of way; the busway was dismissed as ineffective (so sad that we ended up with ineffective transit’).

Well, if various jackass legislators hadn’t forced the “Orange Line” to be buses, the San Fernando Valley would already HAVE a metro rail line.

That mistake is still causing trouble, and yes, most of the improvements planned in the SFV are bus, because of this original mistake. (A few are Metrolink.)

The Sepulveda Pass line would benefit the SFV. There are, as usual, the same old forces trying to make into a bus. But if you fight to make it rail, you can get rail.

That’s only going to happen if you FUND it, though! If you vote down measure J, the result will be cheaping out and using buses.

If your bank extends your mortgage payment for another 30 years it’s because you took out a 2nd mortgage. Hopefully you used that money to buy a 2nd house.

If the sales tax gets extended you’re buying something with that money – a transit system your city desperately needs.

@LA Resident – one of the projects planned in this increase is a possible rail line connecting the valley with the Westside through the Sepulveda Pass. Also – valley residents are to blame for the fact that the orange line is a busway as opposed to light rail. It was planned as rail, but residents fought it to the point where it was downgraded to its current state. That said, the orange line connects well with the subway, metrolink and future rail lines so in many ways it does serve plenty of people in the valley and I know many who use it regularly.

I for one will be voting yes for this measure because these projects will allow us to build a regional network that can serve more county residents. Voting no really doesn’t get us anywhere. We’ll just continue to have an underdeveloped rail network for longer and will face more years of misery commuting on our clogged freeways. No thanks!

@Lawrence – The orange line mistake was twenty years ago. Many of the people who want, need, and are paying for rail today were not in the effected area two decades ago, some weren’t even alive yet. So although we live with the busway mistake, it was not our mistake.

People often cite Metrolink as a reason why The Valley shouldn’t have dedicated transportation rail lines. If Metrolink were so good, then perhaps all of the Metro system should follow the Metrolink model: limited stations, trains spaced several hours apart; no weekend service, service stopping as early as 6:30, and no more than 50% subsidy.

Metrolink is something, but it is far from effective urban transit. The San Fernando Valley is classified urban because of it’s high density. They should have mass urban transit like so many other places in the county are getting. Until then, NO ON MEASURE J!

I’ve been following the discussion regarding a Measure R extension for a long time, and I’m still unclear about one thing: why can’t the MTA just borrow against the existing tax in order to accelerate construction, with asking for an extension?

With the “America Fast Forward” plan, the MTA had hoped to take out federal loans and to pay them off with revenue from Measure R. The federal loans never materialized, but the only difference now is that the MTA hopes to borrow from bondholders instead. So why is a tax extension needed if the loans are essentially the same (although they’re coming from different creditors)? What am I missing?

Someone probably knows for sure, but my understanding is that if the tax is scheduled to end in 2039 that means you’ve got 27 more years of revenue coming in. Let’s just make things easy and say the average revenue over that time is $2 billion and that half of it is going to need to be spent on maintenance and operations, leaving $27 billion for capital investment over those 27 years. That’s probably all that LA can really bond against, and in fact it would probably have to be lower because you have to account for interest rates and such as well as the uncertainty of how consistent that revenue will be (recessions, etc.).

If you extend taxing authority by 30 years you can now bond against $57 billion in expected capital-directed revenue, although the uncertainty is even greater in this case so I suspect that would lower the actual amount even further. But you get the idea. Someone let me know if this is just completely wrong, but it makes sense to me.

I’m afraid your answer doesn’t really answer my question. The only difference between the former plan (America Fast Forward) and the current plan (Measure R extension) is that the MTA will borrow from private bondholders rather than the federal government. So why is the current tax inadequate for paying back private loans, even though it would have been enough to cover federal loans? (Granted, private investors might demand higher interest than the federal government, but the difference couldn’t possibly be large enough to warrant a 30-year extension.)

So, again, what am I missing?

Sorry, I see that I did misunderstand. That’s a question that I’m less sure about, although I suspect that besides the increased interest rates and lack of any federal/state matching, it also has to do with the dropoff in sales tax revenue. As Freemark noted, revenues per referendum have declined by about $84 million, or a total of roughly $250 million per year. Since maintenance and operation costs aren’t changing that’s probably all coming out of capital-directed money, amounting to a nearly $8 billion dollar shortfall.

If we assume the same yearly revenue (not adjusting for inflation here) of $602 million, and 60% continues to be directed toward operations and maintenance, we’re left with 40% for expansion projects, or $240.8 million. Multiply that by 30 years and you get a little more than $7 billion. So, that could be it.

I doubt that any shortfalls from the weak economy would justify this large an extension. The original Measure R is projected to raise $40 billion over its life, so an extension would presumably raise roughly the same amount (actually, it should be significantly higher because of inflation and population growth, but for the sake of argument let’s say it’s only $40 billion). That’s still a huge amount of money–way more than what’s needed to cover shortfalls or borrowing costs. It should in fact be enough to pay for a whole slew of additional transit projects, but the MTA (and this article) has explicitly said that an extension won’t be used for that. So I imagine that I’m missing something really obvious, but why exactly is all this money needed?

It is, or it WAS projected to raise that much? Either way, I presume that number is in nominal dollars, given that there’s no other way for the $602 million per year it raised in 2011 to add up to $40 billion in 30 years. So that $8 billion shortfall I estimated needs to be adjusted to nominal dollars too, which probably puts it in the range of… $17 billion or so? But was that $40 billion dollar projection before or after the recession?

I’m just throwing out ideas for why the added money might be needed. The recession seems a likely culprit for a big part of it, although I’d think they’d mention that. Certainly it’s not the whole story though, since it seems they really had expected federal help in the form of both loans and grants.

Good points. Basically we are, more or less doubling the amount of money. Plus, a lot of measure R money is going to fund operations and build road projects. There will be twice as much of this too. Also, several of the transit projects will not be accelerated because they are already going to be built in the next 10 years (Gold LIne Foot Hill extension, Crenshaw Line, DownTown Regional Connector, and Expo Phase 2, as Steve Hymon has said on Metro’s “The Soruce”). Even setting aside your good point about why the federal loans would work without an extension, you have to ask why we need this to cover the extra cost of paying interest on loans that equal only a fraction of the measure R moneys. What am I missing? I don’t think measure J will accelerate the highway projects. In addition to the expensive Wilshire subway, there is a billion for the 405 bus way, 100 million for LAX connection, 100 million for the north-south Valley probable bus way, plus around another billion for two other light rail extensions. So 2.2 billion plus the subway. The first third of the subway is going to be built in the next 10 years with or without an extension of the tax, so we need to borrow a total 6.2 billion? Sorry I’m doing all these numbers from memory, but I think you get my point.

The Fed loans are materializing in the form of TIFIA loan program that received an increase in borrowing capacity through MAP-21 to take advantage of this.

The core reason why we’re doing this now while the economy is at a down period is to take advantage of lower interest rates because of more available funds to borrow against (60 years vs 30 years).

This is no different than putting a down payment on a car or house, the greater the down payment you put up-front, the lower the borrowing costs over the period of time over the length of time.

And by building this infrastructure the greater likelihood that it would stimulate the local economy improving the sales tax receipts to do the other things related with this transit sales tax such as Local Return and Monies for transit operations.

What Measure J does is give MTA a blank check for the future, when the jury is still out on construction quality and timeliness. Examples include El Monte Station which is now over a year later, Expo Phase I which was two years late getting to Culver City, and the Silver Line which has still not seen the BRT amenities promised to it when it opened almost three year ago. Of course, going back to the 90’s you had the Hollywood Boulevard subway sinkhole debacle.

You are enshrining the present percentage of rail vs. bus, when arguably bus needs to be strengthened and enhanced in a non revenue neutral way, but with more funds to add more night and weekend service (MTA may have the worst night headways of any major city, with major streets like Valley getting a bus an hour after 9 p.m.) And, not that it will change any minds around here, but highway needs are neglected. Overall this looks like a rehash of the 1992 “lines everywhere on a map” days, which ultimately led to cancellation of almost all of the rail system when the economy collapsed in the mid 90’s – never mind if it makes any sense, like the West Santa Ana Branch Corridor. Big ticket transit needs to be better thought out and developed gradually, with bang for the buck improvements like Transportation Systems Management, bike lanes, and transit stop amenities instead to decrease drive alone share as well.

The only sense in which highway needs are neglected in LA is that there are nowhere near enough decent sidewalks and bike lanes. (Those are legally part of “highways”, since all roads are legally “highways”.)

Despite my above confusions, I am going to vote for it too. Whatever shortcomings there maybe in how measure R money is going to be spent, I think accelerating the Wilshire subway alone justifies it. Some of the other projects, maybe it would be better to wait till we have the money and political will to do them the right way. For example, I’d rather wait on the 405 line so that it would be part of an integrated north-south rail line rather than a bus way. Not that there is anything wrong with true bus ways, LA really needs them as part of a complete transit system!

As I predict Measure R produces the following results:
No local public transportation service improvement
more bus service cut.
I expect Measure J has same effect.
I will vote No
BTW I have vote yes to help building Red Line and Gold Line.
I kept seeing the freeway improvement and more bus service cut.

As a person who never drive in my life, I got tired that LA has spent too much money on rail project and ignore the local bus service. Translation, car orientation public transportation
Imagine a person is born at the election day, and Measure J is passed. The person will turn 57 in 2009. That person still has to struggle if he/she does not drive.
Don’t tell me about the population in WLA or along the blue line. How many people can get to Purple line, Blue lines, or Expo without cars. You definitely need cars to get to Gold Line. Check the fancy parking lots. Don’t forget about Metro aggressive cut on bus service. Funny couple of them were actual vital services that will take people from train stations to local areas. They were cut because people could drive to stations
I have lived in WLA, Burbank, Pasadena, and SG valley. Every time there is public transportation improvement, I fail to see it benefit the people who truly need, non car drivers.
BTW, I always live near walk and near bus stops. That still does not help.
Why the so call LA public transportation supporters want to punish the non car drivers

If LA were willing to remove lanes from cars to make bus lanes, it could improve bus service a lot very cheaply.

LA is, for whatever reason, unwilling to do this. There’s really no point in putting money into bus service when it just gets stuck behind cars; it ends up being a permanent money sink.

Here’s the thing: whenever there’s a rail service improvement, it benefits non-drivers living nearby! Great! Then, of course, richer people move in (because it’s attractive)…. it’s very hard to have a service which benefits people who can’t *afford* cars. The only way to do that is to have rail *everywhere*.

@Lawrence – A few valley residents opposed the light rail line, just like a few Westside residents opposed the subway. The actual deed was by a Valley politician, just like a Westside politician put the kibosh on the subway. Valley folks are no more responsible for the bus (vs rail) than Westside folks are responsible for the brevity of the Purple line.

Unfortunately both Measure R and J are just as much about highway improvements as they are about transit construction. This is often not discussed much, which is too bad. Its a bit of false advertising to call it a transit tax.

This is, indeed, very unfortunate. But that’s Los Angeles for you.

That might be a reason to vote no, but only if it’s very clear that an alternative “all public transportation” option is being advocated.

Not really true. Measure R has just 20% going to carpool lanes, highways, sound walls and goods movement. Of course, busses can use carpool lanes, but even if you don’t consider that – 40% goes to rail expansion including Metrolink. Another 20% goes to bus operations, although a lot of this I believe has been used to keep fares from rising. Cities get 15% and can use for a variety of purposes including resurfacing and bike projects.

Matt, I’m assuming you are responding to my comment. So in terms of new capital projects I think your numbers back up my statement… 40% is for rail expansion, half as much for highway projects. When people voted for measure R I’m not sure most people were thinking of new highways. And that’s the most damning part of it, beyond percentage allocations. Did anyone think measure R was going to fund the building of new major freeways? Problem is that’s exactly what it’s doing.

Even in the Pro-Measure R commercials it was pretty clear there were highway projects. Your statement that Measure R is about highway construction as much as transit is just plain wrong. Even in the highway portion, you have carpool lanes that busses can use and grade separating rail movement from roads. Also, the 710 expansion will likely not happen. The Metro Board was already looking into transferring these monies to rail possibly. You say Measure R is going to build new major freeways. Other than the 710 expansion, the only other project that you can say this of is High Desert Corridor. From what I understand they may be able to loop in the Desert Xpress in here as well.

Ugh, and sorry, the mobile version of the website doesn’t really make clear which comment replies are attached to (hence my first sentence), but now that I’m on my laptop, I realize its abundantly clear.

Minus the 710 all of the Highways under Measure R are mostly fixes and adjustments to on-ramps, off-ramps and interchanges to the existing freeways which provide no new net road/lane capacity. In addition the High Desert Corridor funding under Measure R is only for the Environmental work.

Along with Measure J extending Expo Line to Santa Monica and Blue Line to Azuza, My understanding is that Measure J plus a priority position for Transit funding in the Interim Surface Transportation Bill should extend the Purple Line to Wilshire/La Cienega in the Miracle Mile district, start construction of subway regional connector for light rail downtown. Those projects represent tangible congestion relief and alternatives to driving.

With that broad, tangible project completion unfolding, I will vote Yes for Measure R for several additional reasons:

1. Even after the Sepulveda Pass I-405 Highway project completes in 2013, it will remain congested. (The project MAY hoever, still justify its expense on the basis closing the HOV lane gap, making ingress/egress easier to Wilshire Blvd, expanding each narrow lane out to the standard CalTrans width for safety and replacing obsolete overpasses at Sunset Blvd and Mulholland Drive.)

2. LA County population is increasing. Without more rail and rapid bus transit than Measure J funds, congestion will reduce average freeway speed below 20 mph for 8 commute hours per weekday on key freeways, rippling across the freeway network.

3. When the next Surface Transportation Bill passes Congress around 10/14, it will likely have larger Transit per year funding for 6 years. Cities/counties like LA, SF and Chicago who committing major local dollars to high merit Rapid Transit projects will be in the driver’s seat when the USDOT co-funds projects with matching grants.

4. Measure R + more Federal Transit grants will accelerate highway congestion & pollution relief benefits derived from a robust Rail Transit + BRT network that unfolds in roughly two-year chunks from 2014-2030.

Also note: California High Speed Rail recently approved for funding disbursement, makes substantial speed improvements to Metrolink in the Palmdale-Sylmar-Downtown-Norwalk/Santa Fe Springs-Anaheim corridor. Metrolink schedule frequency in the corridor will likely 3-4X, bringing more transit equity to those areas as well.

Matt, you might be right about the commercials, but almost everyone talks about Measure R as if it were a transit measure. The article above emphasizes this point as well. Other than the 710 extension from Alhambra to Pasadena (which is a huge new construction highway project), there is the high desert corridor as you mentioned (I haven’t heard of any official word on including XpressWest on this… please share if you know something), and potentially a new 4-lane addition to the 710 from the Ports up to the 60, likely dedicated to truck traffic. If we’re going to talk about the measures as transit taxes, these kinds of projects simply don’t belong.

Yu-Han, the Metro board recently revised the original Measure R law to allow transfers from the highway allocation to transit projects. That is how the Gold Line to Claremont will be funded. It’s possible (if public opinion and political winds are blowing in the right direction) that if Measure J passes, Metro will raid the highway funds even further to speed up transit projects.
I worry that with South Pasadenans so dead set against it, the 710 tunnel will be the project to have its funds yanked away. There are (very) few highway projects with merit, but this is one of them, spanning an up-till-now very problematic gap in the highway network that forces cars and 18-wheelers onto surface streets. They’d be getting the longest road tunnel in the entire United States; a wonder of engineering running 100 feet beneath their feet, with zero impact on their quality of life (maybe even positive, as it’ll take cars and trucks off their streets). Compare that to the treatment inner-cities got when they stood in the path of a highway – it’s hard to chalk the opposition up to anything other then suburban privilege and fear of change (in addition to misinformation spread by the opposition).

That’s the problem. Why should we leave it to the whims of a non-directly elected Metro board to dictate how to spend billions of dollars that we voted to tax upon ourselves? I read somewhere that they also inserted some language that allows them to pull the money the _other_ way as well, ie from transit to highway.

As for the 710, why would you want to build a 8-10 lane freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena? Its not like there’s a huge amount of congestion there with commuters, etc. If you want to solve commuter congestion, spend some money and finish the SR-2 to the 101 and onwards to the 405 through Beverly Hills and West LA, as originally planned. Now THAT would be a big “gap” in the originally planned highway system, that, if filled, would reduce surface street congestion. Somehow I doubt anyone’s going to support that one, yes? :-)

Mostly, the 710 north and south projects are probably about moving freight, which is a goal that Metro and Caltrans are trying very hard to hide, for the north section at least.

We live in a democracy where, unfortunately, infrastructure projects move through a political process that demands neither value or efficiency, but whatever is most likely to get legislators reelected. That’s why CAHSR is following a $60 billion route through the central valley rather than SNCF’s $20 billion route up the coast. It’s the price we pay for living in a (federalist) democracy. European countries get around this with strong regional planning, the kind unacceptable to most Americans.
And please, stop with the theatrics, the highway will fill a *gap* between Alhambra and Pasadena, but in reality it will travel from Northern California (via the 5) to Long Beach. The 710 in it’s current form huge waste of highway capacity, the tunnel will help leverage the highway capacity that *already exists* by filling the Pasadena-Alhambra gap. Also, I don’t know the exact details, but I HIGHLY doubt the longest road tunnel in the U.S. will have more than 3 lanes in each direction (with full shoulders).
There’s a reason why there are no serious proposals to connect the 2 with the 101. The second the two are connected, traffic on the 2 will get just as bad as the rest of the area’s highways. The 101 is already the most congested highway in country, and you want to add even MORE traffic? And you might be the first person to since the 60’s to be serious about a highway through West LA. Building highways to solve congestion will ALWAYS just induce more people to drive. A westside highway and 101/2 connection would be just a congested and traffic filled as the 405, it would encourage more people to drive, and it would suck away tens of billions transportation dollars that would otherwise go towards expanding public transit.
The 710 is different. You are correct, it’s largely about moving freight – that is why it’s so important (as opposed building more commuter highways, as you suggest). While an extension of the Alameda rail corridor to the east or north would be far more preferable, the money just isn’t there (in fact a freight rail grade-separation called the Alameda East project through the SGV had its funds raided as well, I believe also to help fund the Gold Line extension). A huge portion of trucks up the 5 through some of the densest parts of the city. The 710 is important just in that it will shift away dirty truck traffic to less dense areas.

nbluth, you misinterpreted both my points, and I think you’ll agree with me more than you think:

1. Legislature deciding routes is one thing, a non-elected board filled with appointees deciding how to move money around is an entirely different matter, one which I would not vote in favor of.

More importantly,
2. the SR-2 comment was exactly to illustrate the fallacy of building more and more freeways. As you yourself correctly point out, the moment we build another freeway in LA, it will be filled to the brim (and more) with traffic. The 710 extension is projected by Metro itself to operate at Level F the moment it opens. So, if you believe what you say, then I think you’ll agree with me that the 710 extension would be a waste of money. Money better spent on rail and transit.

Just to fill in the details, the current plans are indeed to have 4 lanes in each direction for the 710 tunnel, with 2 stacked on top of another 2 in a big tube, each level with shoulders. Trucks would go on the top level.

The 710 is not a waste of capacity. It is highly highly utilized, moving freight from LB to the 60 & 10, and then points east. Hence Caltrans wishes to expand it further, also using Measure R/J funds… which is one of the other big freeway projects in the measure. We might end up with 10 lanes there, PLUS an additional 4-lane elevated freight-only new freeway alongside the original route.

Finally, I doubt the 710 tunnel will be more cost effective than an Alameda Corridor “North” project. I’m originally from Boston, and I’m sure you’ve heard of our little Big Dig. I can’t see how the 710 tunnel could be completed for any less than 25B or so, and that’s fairly conservative. Metro at one point several years ago speculated 22B. That’s a LOT of rail improvements you can buy with that money, probably enough to grade separate the corridor from LA downtown through Palmdale… while you’re at it, save some money and construct CAHSR at the same time since its the same alignment! Win-win.

nbluth wrote,

“… infrastructure projects move through a political process that demands neither value or efficiency, but whatever is most likely to get legislators reelected. That’s why CAHSR is following a $60 billion route through the central valley rather than SNCF’s $20 billion route up the coast.”

I sharply disagree with your implication that California HSR going to more Central Valley cities does not provide value of efficiency. Central Valley cities are forecast to add 15 million residents by 2035-ish. That means Palmdale-Lancaster, Bakersfield, Merced, Fresno, Modesto, Stockton and Sacramento metro areas are each headed to 1-3 million pop. Those population levels each justify a station.

Since CAHSR stopping at those locations will be cost effective per patron-mile, those state taxpayers fair share of transportation benefit.

I think many transit agencies might have spending public goodwill with this practice of promising to deliver the Garden of Eden of transit with taxes people will barely notice.

We saw that in Miami, we’re seeing it in Denver and to a lesser extent in Los Angeles. Fair enough, the financial crisis smashed all revenue predictions – though it also, allegedly, reduces construction costs to some extent.

Still, I think such initiatives of transit-for-rail should have a more clearly defined set of priorities for building the infrastructure and some early sunshine provision if those goals aren’t met. That could entice voters to support even larger marginal tax increases because they’d know if projects didn’t get delivered on x years, the taxes collected to finance them would be cancelled.

As for now, it seems transit agencies have a “in your face” attitude of saying: “sorry, I know I promised to deliver 70 miles of rail lines, but costs increased on the first 20 and we spent all we had, but, hey, you need to give me more money because else you will spend even more time in congestion“.

Transit projects can even win the goodwill of drivers not planning to use them ever, if they can be convinced by facts and experience that such projects will make existing roads emptier (= better) for them.

To decongest auto traffic in the I-405 Corridor, America’s busiest freeway, LA Metrorail must be completely grade-seperated (subway & elevated) from at least Amtrak-Metrolink Van Nuys Station south to LAX Airport. When additional funds become available, Metrorail should extend north from Van Nuys Station to the Metrolink-CA High Speed Rail Sylmar station.

That said, assume that 8-car platform Heavy Rail approach will cost 2X the amount of 4-car platform Light Rail approach and take twice as long to build, due to competing local demands to extend the Light Rail component of LA Metro’s mixed mode network. Also note, I-405 corridor in San Fernando Valley is not as densely developed as the Wilshire Corridor, so its harder to forecast patronage per mile as high as the Purple Line extension — also harder to qualify for a larger chunk of federal funds. Thus, it will also be harder to convince other LA County communities to wait their turn, when over $1 billion is currently been spent upgrading I-405 Sepulveda Pass.

Which LA Metrorail approach would you favor, Heavy Rail or Light Rail?

I think it’s time for us transit advocates to stop claiming transit to decongest highways because it rarely ever does. There may be limited cases (in smaller cities) in which it might have an effect, but with a highway like the 405, any commuters who switch to rail will quickly be replaced by other drivers and traffic will be just as bad. We should be emphasizing instead that people should have *choice* in their commute, whether that be the train, car, bus, bike, etc. To me, claiming that transit expansion is a way to reduce highway congestion is not just a stretch of the truth but a lie, and that makes us no better than the liars over at Reason.
And I could be wrong, but I was under the impression that Metro isn’t even considering heavy rail for the Sepulveda Pass. The last alternatives to come out only had light rail, BRT and managed lanes (I definitely remember heavy rail wasn’t being considered anymore/had been dropped). Can anyone confirm? I think light rail is fine for the Sepulveda Pass, especially if it can be built faster than HRT, but somewhere down the line it will necessitate a third tunnel to the Valley, possibly from Laurel Canyon Blvd, under the mountains to San Vicente, continuing south to the Crenshaw Line (with a connection to Expo).

Under most conditions, you make a good case that Transit projects don’t decongest highways. But it is fact that they prevent highway congestion from getting worse when they are a viable alternative to a huge mount of concentrated roadway traffic that has to cross a bridge, tunnel or go through a mountain pass.

Everyone knows that NYC would grind to a halt without transit. In fact, if you only took out the transit tunnels crossing the Hudson River, the roadway bridges & tollways into NYC could not handle the load. Here is another fact closer to LA. If not for San Francisco BART transit system, a second San Francisco Bay Bridge would be required.

I-405 Sepulveda Pass to LAX roughly concentrates the same degree of commuter traffic in a corridor as commuters crossings the San Francisco Bay. But I-405 Freeway does not have LA Metro offloading 250-300K of those commuters.

So it is accurate to state that a grade-seperated Metrorail HRT or LRT solution in the I-405 Corridor from Sylmar-Van Nuys-Sherman Oaks-Westwood-Culver City-LAX, can prevent roadway congestion from getting worse. And if LA County passes the Transportation tax extension and gets a larger justifiable share of USDOT Transit funding, LA can flesh out a Rail-BRT transit network by 2025 and onwards, whose congestion mitigation benefits make the entire LA freeway network more tolerable.

Given population in large metro areas is increasing, perhaps we should use the term “Congestion Mitigation” instead of “Congestion Relief.”

for the people on the train it provides huge amounts of congestion relief. They don’t experience any highway congestion.

tl;dr No HRT for SFV. Only buses. No on J.

@ThomasD: You are correct. The report did not mention Heavy Rail Transit. HRT may be overkill at this time because HRT can handle 300K passengers, which would essentially empty out the 405.

I’m not saying that HRT wouldn’t be eventually needed, given that the SFV’s population growth is exceeding projections while SFV jobs are growing at a slower rate (more and more people will need to commute out of the valley for work).

Add to that that a light rail line will spur development in an area already getting built with multi-story 100+ unit apartment buildings, and the light rail will probably exceed its capacity shortly, much like the orange line did (and the orange line did it without the new development that rail will bring).

Maybe that is another reason why the SFV is getting buses and not automobile alternatives; if you give them what they need today, they’ll just need more tomorrow. Whereas buses will be overfilled faster than a developer could get a permit.

We can’t go spending money in the North anyhow, than who will pay for all the infrastructure in the south. My prediction is that Metro chooses the cheapest option, driving buses on the shoulder (try not to laugh), and reallocates the billions saved to other southern projects which are over budget.

I would bet my last dollar that there’s at least 50K of daily passengers would would use a grade-seperated 4-car LRT through the Van Nuys-Sherman Oak-Westwood-Century City-LAX corridor.

The results of Metro’s Sepulveda Pass Study will determine however, if 2030-40 traffic would likely be 100K+ daily to justify a the more expensive HRT solution. There study should also make reasonable estimates of how much an LRT or HRT solution would induce development will to help drive those numbers.

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