A study performed by USC reaffirms what transit advocates have said all along: Providing quality rail transportation reduces vehicle usage and pollution. The study specifically looked at car use before and after the opening of the Expo Line to Culver City. Of note, those who live within half a mile of a station reduced their driving by 40%, traveled 10 to 12 miles less per day and increased transit use threefold. Access to transit also increased physical activity by adding time spent walking to stations. In turn, these same individuals reduced their carbon emissions by 30%. While it is not reasonable to expect the majority of Southern Californians to be within an earshot of a rail station, the study demonstrates that better transit can improve people’s lives in tangible ways.
Finally, let us delve back into the history of Los Angeles, where more than 70 years ago the portion of the Hollywood Freeway through the Cahuenga Pass opened. At the time, the road contained railroad tracks in the median that transported Pacific Electric trains between Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. The tracks did not last long, however: Rail service ended in 1952, with the tracks paved over to provide additional traffic lanes. Fortunately, rail returned to this corridor in 2000 with the opening of the North Hollywood Red Line. In relation, a recent LA City Council motion asks to support a repeal of rail on the segment of a former railway west of North Hollywood (now occupied by the Orange Line), which has a history of its own.
A report issued by LA city budget analysts revealed that construction costs for a port terminal upgrade soared from the $245 million approved by the LA City Council in 2009 to an unseasonable $510 million. Both Councilmember Joe Buscaino and port officials agreed that the problem stemmed from builders not asking for amendments to the project sooner and the port commission dismissing the changes as inconsequential. One particular change included the installation of rail-mounted container cranes instead of rubber-tired cranes. As a means to formally incorporate the latest project changes and to control future costs, city staff will consider amending the lease made with future terminal operator TraPac. The city expects to receive $2.3 billion over the life of the lease. The City Council has since approved the changes, much to their chagrin.
Meanwhile, progress continues on the new bridge that will replace the outdated Gerald Desmond Bridge in Long Beach. It doesn’t feel that way since much of the construction is occurring well away from prying eyes. Unbeknownst to most, Terminal Island mainly consists of fill, which has sunk over the years on account of oil extraction. Currently, workers are capping oil wells and relocating utilities at the site of the future bridge, which has increased project costs by $240 million.
A messy dispute between the Ventura County Transportation Commission and the Fillmore & Western Railway could bring an end to the latter’s vintage rail service. The VCTC owns railroad tracks between Ventura and Fillmore and has leased the tracks to the railway to operate a for-profit heritage passenger train. However, the VCTC wishes to terminate the lease, claiming that Fillmore & Western has not performed the maintenance that both sides agreed to and that the railroad overcharged VCTC for the maintenance that was performed. Western& Fillmore has since sued the agency in court in an attempt to block the termination of the lease, even as the two entities continue to work out a new lease that could potentially address the above issues.
In a peculiar twist to the ongoing design of the Metro Regional Connector, Metro staff disclosed renderings of a proposed pedestrian bridge for the future 2nd/Hope Station at a recent Community Leadership Council meeting for the project. Metro added the bridge in response to Bunker Hill groups that wanted a better connection to the Broad Museum under construction and nearby attractions. Metro estimates that the bridge will cost at least $7 million and would avoid conflicts between drivers and pedestrians on Hope Street. Metro also mentioned that a contract to build the station will be awarded in April. Meanwhile, workers laid down the first piece of actual track on Phase II of the Expo Line.
In other transportation notes, another milestone on the 405 Freeway carpool lane project is reached as all ramps of the interchange at Wilshire Boulevard are complete and open for business. In San Bernardino, officials revealed that estimates for an extension of Metrolink service to Redlands have increased from the original $156 million to a range of between $200 million and $300 million. However, the project is on schedule and ready to start construction next year as a request for proposals on building the first mile of track was sent out recently.
Speaking of anticipated decisions, the Metro Board approved initial concepts for LA Union Station as part of the station’s master plan. Staff recommended that the Metro Board look further into one particular concept, which calls for building a bus plaza to the west side of existing rail tracks, vastly expanding the existing pedestrian corridor underneath the tracks into a concourse, and removing the Patsaouras Transit Plaza as a means to extend said concourse. The concept also incorporates the proposal to extend the westernmost tracks to the south as part of the Southern California Interregional Gateway project, while HSR is not mentioned. The study team will now look into specifics on the concepts, with an update due next spring.
Representatives from the National Association of Railroad Passengers toured the CAF USA plant in Elmira, NY, to take a sneak peek of the new long-distance cars CAF is manufacturing for Amtrak. The new baggage cars will also have space for 16 bicycles, improved lighting and sealed doors for climate control. The manufacture of the cars has also reinvigorated the local economy in Elmira, since CAF is using a temporarily dormant factory to build the cars, hiring at least 500 employees and enlisting local contractors to build the cars. An initial set of four cars, using an older Amtrak livery scheme, will start operations next summer, with complete roll-out of the 130 new cars coming by 2016.
As design and construction moves forward for the state high-speed rail project in Fresno, opponents and property owners continue to express resentment at the prospect of seeing the project actually happen before their very eyes. Much of the resentment is borne from previous muddled attempts by the CAHSR Authority to communicate about the project to Central Valley residents and businesses, a problem even current CEO Jeff Morales admits has contributed to increased opposition. Proponents believe that the project will give a shot in the arm to the local economy in the short term and provide better connections to economic opportunities in Southern California and the Bay Area in the long term.
While construction continues on the Pasadena to Azusa segment of the Foothill Gold Line extension, the segment further east to Claremont remains unfunded. To wit, officials from the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority are asking Metro to add the project to a list of projects that a proposed new sales tax measure could possibly fund. While the Authority is also looking into obtaining state and federal funds, CEO Habib Balian believes that funding the project locally through a ballot initiative is the best way to move forward. Balian believes construction could begin as early as 2017 if funding is secured. Gold Line officials are also discussing possible station designs for the second segment of the line.
Regarding the other end of the Gold Line, Whittier officials are anxious to have the line brought from its present terminus in East LA to their community. Metro is currently reviewing two optionsfor such a Gold Line extension, to either Montebello or Whittier. The Metro Board is expected to select one of the two routes next spring. However, even with Measure R money, construction would not begin for another 15 years. Not lost on this fact, the Whittier City Council voted to hire a lobbyist that would educate Metro, in anticipation of a route vote, on the merits of bringing the Gold Line to Whittier.