THE 2016 election cycle was a watershed moment for public transport in Los Angeles. The endorsement of the Measure M half-cent sales tax increase by 71.5% of the electorate in the LA County election is set to raise approximately $US 120bn over 40 years to fund transport improvement projects, including multiple rail schemes that will double the size of the current network.
Covering 6572km² Los Angeles County is home to 10 million people and is often labelled the ‘Capital of Car Culture.’ With limited and sometimes non-existent transit options in some areas, hours lost in traffic on congested highways finally convinced voters that enough was enough and that LA’s transport matrix needed to change.
Measure M followed Measure R in 2008, which laid the groundwork for these plans by introducing an initial half cent sales tax increase, which will raise $US 40bn over 30 years. Around 40% of these funds will be directed towards rail projects and initiatives. Appetite among the electorate to support public transport funding was further emphasised in 2018 when the state rejected the Proposition 6 ballot measure to repeal a petrol tax and vehicle fee increase introduced in 2017 to fund State Bill 1 (SB-1). This initiative aims to provide consistent funding - around $US 5.5bn a year - to invest in the state’s infrastructure, including supporting transit projects.
With the funding in place, a flurry of transport plans outlining the schemes that are set to benefit from this cash injection over the next few years have followed.
Construction is underway on six projects across LA and these schemes were all included in the 2014 Short Range Transportation Plan and the subsequent Measure M Ordinance released in 2016. This was followed in 2018 by the Twenty-eight by 28 plan for Metro from the office of LA mayor,
Mr Eric Garcetti. The award of the 2028 Olympic Games in September 2017 increased the desire at City Hall to speed up delivery of key Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) infrastructure projects. For example, the mayor’s plan includes all three phases of the Purple Line extension of the LA Metro as well as various new light rail lines and extensions.
Metro also set out a new long-term vision for the transit authority with the release of its 2020 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) at the end of May. A draft of the plan, which outlines investments in new infrastructure totalling $US 80bn, is currently out for public consultation and it is hoped that formal approval will take place this autumn.
The authority is also actively working on a gender action plan to address the unique needs of women using the network.
Work on the plan commenced in 2017 and is an update to Metro’s previous LRTP issued in 2009. The 2020 update is set to provide the blueprint for how Metro will spend anticipated revenues over the next 30 years and sets forth a clear vision in four areas: better transit, less congestion, complete streets, and access to opportunity.
The plan states that Metro must respond to the challenges of today and tomorrow and seek to maximise the benefits of the Measure M capital projects by including programmes such as the expansion of off-peak transit services and network capacity investments.
Following the implementation of Measure M projects, 21% of LA county residents and 36% of jobs will be within a 10-minute walk of a rail or bus service, up from 8% of residents and 16% of jobs at present. Ridership is expected to increase from 1.2 million annual trips today to 1.6 million when taking Measure M projects and future trends into account - LA’s population is expected to increase to 11.9 million by 2047. However, LRTP estimates that if the additional measures are implemented, the number of transit trips could increase by a further 1 million, or 81% per annum from current levels to around 2.5 million, including increasing the use of transit in 8.8% of commuter journeys to 14.7% by 2047.
The shift would also reduce the annual hours of road vehicle delay by 31% and greenhouse gas emissions by 19%. Increases in capacity and more frequent transit service will also result in a 7% increase in use while reducing transit fares will result in up to 25% greater use when the complete fare is subsidised. Introducing a road vehicle charging policy of 32 cents per kilometre could add an additional 18% of passengers to transit.
Other programmes which aim to improve the attractiveness of transit, include prioritising signals for light rail services, introducing integrated mobile ticketing, and developing a Mobility as a Service (MaaS) platform.
The authority is also actively working on a gender action plan to address the unique needs of women using the network to increase safety, and to improve access for disabled passengers, including the visually impaired through NaviLens wayfinding technology.
There is also a significant emphasis in LRTP on delivering a good state of repair for the network. The plan includes more than $US 200bn for operations and state of good repair schemes, as well as $US 38bn in funding for local agencies to maintain their transport systems.
The pace at which construction proceeds on the capital projects is, however, in doubt due to the continuing impact of Covid-19. Los Angeles County’s number of reported infections was continuing to increase as IRJ went to press despite the easing of lockdown measures.
Ridership across Metro’s services plummeted from 1.192 million, including 321,000 rail passengers, before the crisis to 363,800 and 94,000 rail users in March. This has steadily recovered to 495,000 by the end of May, including 131,000 rail users.
The authority has delayed the approval of its fiscal 2021 budget until September due to the continuing uncertainty caused by the crisis. LA Metro CEO, Mr Phil Washington, told Metro’s monthly board meeting on June 25 that sales tax revenues for March and April were down 30%. Reports from the May meeting estimated that the authority would lose $US 1bn in sales tax revenues in March and April and a further $US 1bn by the end of the year and Washington said that the projections of the impact are at the higher end of this estimate.
In a webinar hosted by the US High Speed Rail Association on May 5, Washington, said the crisis had led to an assessment of what the authority would be able to procure over the next 12 months. However, even if there are deferrals for six, eight or even 12 months, Washington said that these remain long-term projects which will be delivered. He added that the crisis could potentially result in a fall in procurement costs for the authority.
“Even though we are going through this process of determining the impact of Covid-19, we still see a lot of work that will be coming out.”Mr Phil Washington, LA Metro CEO
“We are going to be doing procurement and releasing about 75 different solicitations in the next 24 months,” Washington said. “Those contracts will range from $US 250,000 to $US 750m and a large number are in the $US 1-10m range, so small businesses will be engaged as well along with large [prime contractors]. Even though we are going through this process of determining the impact of Covid-19, we still see a lot of work that will be coming out and we are preparing for those solicitations right now.”
Washington told the webinar that the emphasis on each of the transit projects underway across Los Angeles is on creating Transit Orientated Communities (TOC) and an understanding of how density of population can help with transit ridership.
Metro’s work in this area was initiated by the TOC Demonstration programme, which was initiated in 2015, and identified 15 stations to research and practice the concept. Washington said the pilot extended the typical radius for such a scheme from 800m to 3.2km to see what authorities could do to instigate use of the transit network and investment in these specific communities.
“We know we don’t control the entire area around the station, but we can control and instigate what is going on,” Washington said. “For example, in south LA around one of our stations we are asking what we can do to go to a Kroger or Ralphs [grocery chains] to say that we are about to invest in this area, we need you to come into what is otherwise a food desert and think about putting a store a block away from our station.”
The LRTP ‘complete streets’ and ‘access to opportunities’ elements reflect Washington’s sentiment.
The plan includes $US 7bn for active transport projects, including the 9km cycleway to connect Fairview Heights on the under-construction Crenshaw Line to Slauson A station on the Blue Line in South LA, the LA River Path as well as other bicycle and pedestrian programmes. LRTP also emphasises how TOC will serve low-income and minority regions of LA County, which have traditionally suffered from under-investment and reduced access to housing and opportunity. These communities make up 30% of the population and, with only 10% having access to private vehicles, are strong users of Metro’s services.
Metro’s TOC Policy was adopted in June 2018 and formalised the authority’s commitment to partner with the 88 cities and unincorporated areas to support TOC activities. The policy evolved the authority’s Joint Development programme, an initiative dating back to the 2000s, and which delivered five rounds of funding worth nearly $US 24m in the Transit Orientated Development Planning Grant Program between 2012 and 2018. 15 property projects have been completed, including at Hollywood/ Vine on the Red Line where 375 apartments, 78 affordable housing units, a 305-room hotel, 143 condominiums, 17,983m² of ground floor retail and a bus layover facility were developed. A further 11 sites are under construction while five expect to issue an RFP in the next one to three years.
LA Metro is also engaged with local municipalities to develop a TOC Tax Increment Financing (TIF) pilot programme, whereby anticipated increases in property taxes are used to reinvest in a defined area’s infrastructure.
“If traditional riders who live in our areas, are pushed out because of gentrification or whatever, and this mostly happens in communities of colour, the further and further they are pushed out from the urban core it impacts my bottom line because I have to put transit out there,” Washington said. “So, don’t tell me I shouldn’t be involved in it. I have got to be involved in it because I have got to service those areas further and further from the urban core.”
“We know that the private sector has money, that they want to invest, and I can think of no better investment than infrastructure.”Phil Washington
Perhaps the epitome of the TOC approach is the renovation of Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. Metro purchased the station site in 2011 and Washington said it has the potential to generate a second downtown area. He references possible commercial developments in and around the station site as well as the planned introduction of a light rail line between the station and City Hall.
Financing for the project, which is estimated to cost $US 1bn in the first phase, is likely to take on the form of a “financing lasagne” according to Washington, and is similar to the project to redevelop Denver’s Union Station, which Washington oversaw during his time in Colorado. Although on a much bigger scale than that project, it is hoped the redevelopment of LA’s station, which was built in 1939 and is known as the last great railway station in north America, follows a similarly successful path.
Private finance will play a role in Link US and this mirrors Metro’s developing approach to financing other upcoming transit schemes in LA.
Of the $US 400bn expected investment in infrastructure in LA county over the next 30 years, sales tax is expected to cover $US 193.7bn or 48%. The state will provide $US 80.7bn, or 20%, and the federal government $US 33.4bn (8%). Financing proceeds $US 25.6bn (7%) and other local sources $US 66.8bn (17%), both of which could include private funds, make up the remainder.
Metro says that with Measure M offering a guaranteed source of funding over the next 40 years it is in an advantageous position compared with other transit authorities. Rather than relying on the private sector to deliver projects outright, Metro is looking at how private sector finance can speed up its plans. Indeed, there may be a greater onus on the private sector to step in to support schemes that may suffer from funding shortfalls due to Covid-19.
Although not a Metro project, the LAX automated peoplemover project is LA’s first notable transit project to proceed as a public-private partnership (PPP). Washington says he is targeting three projects to use the funding method in the initial phase: phase 1 of the Sepulveda Transit Corridor, phase 1 of the West Santa Ana Branch transit corridor, and the East San Fernando Valley Light Rail Project.
“We know that the private sector has money, that they want to invest, and I can think of no better investment than infrastructure,” Washington said. “Infrastructure will be here for the next 100 years and we will always have the need to move massive amounts of people.”
While Covid-19 presents an extraordinary set of circumstances, it also underlines the fragility of wider infrastructure funding in LA and the United States as a whole. Washington offered a metaphor of a three-legged stool to describe the current funding situation for US infrastructure. He said the unprecedented support at the ballot box to finance public transport shows the clear commitment from the public to expand transit options.
Also, armed with a substantial tax cut from the federal government, the private sector - the second leg - has the cash ready to support these schemes. The only element where there is uncertainty is the lack of a long-term infrastructure bill that provides the impetus to proceed.
There are signs that this could be about to change. President Donald Trump is calling for a possible $US 1 trillion infrastructure commitment as a means of stimulating a recovering economy. The Democrats have also put forward a $US 500bn plan to renew infrastructure spending. And with an existing infrastructure spending law expiring on September 30, and the presidential election looming in November, calls for infrastructure investment are likely to grow louder on both sides of the aisle.
Washington told the June 25 board meeting that while the pace of project development will likely slow in the coming months, the emphasis is on getting proposed schemes to “shovel-ready status.” “We believe that we will be able to take advantage of a stimulus from Washington and a transport infrastructure bill as well,” he said.
Despite the current difficulties, the prospects for US transit development and LA’s ambitious expansion agenda continue to look promising, although the situation could easily change as the full scale of the Covid-19 financial wreckage becomes clear.
Los Angeles Metro’s capital projects take shape
LOS Angeles Metro is set to construct or update 22 transit corridors and add 170km to the region’s rail network over the next 30 years. The projects will expand coverage to 200 stations and the network to nearly 390km in what the authority says is “the most aggressive transit expansion plan in the nation.”
The following projects, which are at various stages of development, are included in the plan.
Westside D Line (Purple) metro extension
Section 1 (Wilshire/Western - Wilshire/La Cienega) Status: Under Construction; length: 6.3km cost: $US 2.779bn opening: 2023
Section 2 (Wilshire/La Cienega - Century City/Constellation) length: 4.2km; cost: $US 2.441bn; opening: 2026
Section 3 (Century City/Constellation to Westwood/VA Hospital) length: 4.2km; cost: $US 3.224bn; opening: 2026
The entirely underground project will add nine stations, running east-west along Wilshire Boulevard through Miracle Mile, Beverly Hills and Westwood.
Construction is divided into three phases. The first section is funded through the Measure R initiative, federal New Starts funding and a low interest federal loan. The project will add three stations and is on schedule to be completed by 2023.
Tutor Perini and O&G Industries joint venture is delivering the second phase, which will add another two stations, and is funded through a federal grant and loan worth nearly $US 1.5bn. The Wilshire Boulevard/Rodeo Drive station is now running seven months ahead of schedule following the completion of key work following an indefinite closure of Wilshire Boulevard introduced during the height of the Covid-19 lockdown.
The third section will add an additional two stations. The Tutor Perini and O&G Industries joint venture is also building this phase under a $US 1.4bn contract awarded in May 2019. Metro approved a $US 3.2bn revised budget for the project in February 2019.
Gold Line - Foothill Extension to Pomona and Montclair
Status: Under Construction; length: 19.8km; cost: $US 2.058bn; opening: 2025/2028
The project broke ground in December 2017 and major construction on the extension of the Gold Line from Glendora to Montclair is set to get underway this month. The line will follow the right of way of the former Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (ATSF) line which was purchased by Metro in the early 1990s. The line will offer a 40-minute journey time between Montclair and downtown Pasadena, and 1h 15min to downtown LA. The stretch to Pomona is scheduled to open in 2025, extending to Montclair by 2028.
Status: Under Construction; length: 3km; cost: $US 1.756bn; opening: 2022
The underground light rail line extends from the Metro Gold Line Little Tokyo/ Arts District station to the 7th Street/ Metro Center station in downtown Los Angeles, allowing passengers to transfer to Blue, Expo, Red and Purple lines, bypassing Union Station.
Metro confirmed that the project was two-thirds complete last month and is on schedule to open in 2022. The project is set to reconfigure three existing light rail lines into two lines, one running north-south and the other east-west, eliminating the need for many passengers to make an additional change to connect with metro Red/Purple Line.
Link US project to update Union Station
Status: planned; cost: $US 1bn in the first phase.
This project involves converting the Union Station terminal into a through station by extending existing tracks over the US 101 freeway to provide a second connection to the station. This will increase capacity by 60% for Metrolink, Amtrak, LA Metro and future California High Speed trains, supporting an expected ridership increase from 110,000 each weekday currently to more than 200,000 by 2040. Additional platforms will also be built, the pedestrian passage beneath the tracks will be expanded and escalators and lifts installed.
California State Transportation Agency (CalSta), Metro and California High-Speed Rail Authority agreed to release $US 423m Proposition 1A funds to support the project in September 2019.
East San Fernando Valley Light Rail Project
Status: planned; length: 14.4km; cost: $US 1.56bn; opening: 2027
The line will run north-south along Van Nuys Boulevard and San Fernando Road and will include 14 stations. The project is currently in the advanced engineering phase. Construction is expected to start in 2022.
West Santa Ana Branch Transit Corridor
Status: planned; length: 30.5km cost: $US 1.25bn (first phase) $US 5.06bn (second phase); opening: 2028/2041
The line will connect downtown with Artesia in southeast LA and will include 12 new stations as well as five park and ride facilities. The first phase is the southern portion from Pioneer to Slauson on the Blue Line and will use the old Red Car right-of-way owned by Ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach and Metro. Metro expects to issue a draft environmental impact study for the project by the end of the year.
Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project:
Status: Under Construction; length: 13.7km; cost: $US 2.058bn; opening: 2021
The north-south light rail line, which is expected to open in 2021, will extend from the Expo Line to the Green Line, serving the districts of Leimert Park, Hyde Park, and Inglewood, with a station to connect with Los Angeles International airport’s automated peoplemover. The line is expected to carry 13,000-16,000 passengers per day.
Construction was around 95% complete as IRJ went to press. However, Metro confirmed in April that contractors are redoing work along the route, delaying completion by a further year. Issues include settlement in walls supporting a bridge and incorrect installation of concrete slabs used to stabilise and anchor the track on bridges and in tunnels at “several hundred locations.” Earlier problems with electrical substations and utilities had pushed the scheduled opening back from 2019 to spring 2020.
Los Angeles International Airport peoplemover
Status: under construction; length: 3.6km; cost: $US 1.95bn (PPP); opening: 2023
The 3.6km elevated automated peoplemover will have six stations linking LAX airport terminals with a new centralised car rental facility, new pickup and drop-off locations for airport parking, and the Crenshaw Line. Bombardier is supplying 44 four-car trains, which are expected to carry up to 10,000 passengers per hour, operating every two minutes. The supplier is also providing its Cityflo 650 automatic train control system and signalling.
Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) agreed a $US 4.9bn public-private partnership contract with an ACS Group/Hochtief-led consortium in July 2018. The consortium will design, build, finance, operate and maintain the line. The project is the first peoplemover to be procured through a PPP in the US.
Sepulveda Transit Corridor
Status: planned; length: 21.7-25.4km; cost: $US 7.685bn (first phase) $US 10.587bn (second phase); opening: 2033/2057
Four options have been selected in a feasibility study for the first phase of this heavy rail or driverless monorail project, which will connect with Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley, passing through the Sepulveda Pass, to the Expo and Purple lines in Westside. A one-way journey would take less than half an hour.
Metro selected five potential partners to assist with project planning and design with up to two expected to be selected this year.