The Metro Blue Line is in for an upgrade. Over the next several years, Metro will invest more than $850 million for 78 new train sets and to the renovation of 52 train cars. New cars will take on an appearance different from that of current ones, as they will be mainly gray (rather than white with a yellow stripe) with bright yellow fronts and backs. Of the funds for this upgrade, $13 million will go toward new overhead power lines, which flatten with use, causing power shortages and outages. Also, much excitement abounded when it was reported that the contractors in charge of building the Gold Line extension to Azusa installed the first station canopies. The construction authority behind the project hopes to open the line as early as 2015. Meanwhile, the same agency also issued a request for proposals for engineering work on the Montclair extension of the line.
At the federal level, Congress reached a deal on an omnibus budget bill that, among other things, would restore and increase funding for transit programs. The bill provides over $600 million for the TIGER program as well as more money for New Starts and Amtrak capital projects. Southern California will stand to benefit greatly, as the bill includes $130 million for the Purple Line Extension and the Metro Regional Connector. However, the federal bill contains no money for high-speed rail, though CAHSR Authority CEO Dan Richard is set to give testimony on the project at an upcoming House hearing. The bill also requires the Federal Aviation Administration to write rules that would regulate helicopter noise.
Last week the Governor released his preliminary budget for 2014 that included a proposal to invest $850 in cap-and-trade auction proceeds in transportation, energy, and natural resource projects. While the proposal overall is a strong first effort to craft an investment strategy to reduce greenhouse gases and benefit Californians there is considerable work to be done. Overall $600 million of the total would go to transportation projects:
- $100 million in Sustainable Communities including public transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects, housing, and conservation
- $200 million in clean transportation including rebates and subsidies for the purchase of low and zero emissions cars, heavy-duty vehicles, and buses
- $250 million for high-speed rail
- $50 million for intercity rail modernization
Despite $600 million going for transportation only $100 million would go into the Sustainable Communities pot to invest in expanding transit, increasing walking and biking, and building affordable homes near transit. This is far less support than is needed to support regional efforts to achieve SB 375 goals and provide real transportation and housing choices for communities.
This amount can be increased by repaying the remaining $400 million in cap-and-trade auction proceeds that was loaned to the General Fund last year or dedicating any additional proceeds from this year’s cap-and-trade auctions that are in excess of the $850 million included in the budget proposal.
Nevertheless, Brown continues to receive consternation regarding his decision to set aside $250 million for HSR. The $68-billion project is encountering opposition from environmental groups that say the benefits of the train would not come until much, much later. Environmentalists would prefer for these monies to go toward projects with more immediate benefits. The money would provide short-term funding, but does not address financing in the longer term. While not lost on this particular challenge, the Los Angeles Times believes that Brown must continue to strengthen the project’s viability, of which setting aside part of the cap-and-trade revenues is just a step in the right direction.
The Brown budget also provides a major fiduciary boost to map out earthquake faults across the state, an initiative that has languished over the past two decades. The lack of accurate maps is partly responsible for what has transpired over two transit-oriented developments in Hollywood, where city officials questioned whether or not there are active faults near or even below these projects. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti is also calling for new initiatives that would strengthen private buildings and infrastructure against large earthquakes.
San Francisco residents and transit operators have reviled seeing private buses using public facilities in transporting their workers to their jobs. Civic officials have finally found a way to at least cash in on the craze by charging companies who wish to use public bus stops as boarding areas for their employees. The 18-month-long pilot program is expected to bring in $1.5 million for San Francisco, with revenues to be spent on monitoring the program and improving bus stops.
The Transit Coalition has long explored ways to improve longer distance inter-regional mobility transit options throughout the Inland Empire. The expansion of private sector coaches and intercity bus competition can certainly address this. One sector that is performing well in terms of ridership are casino buses which ferry patrons from pick up points all over Southern California to the gaming resorts.
However, with the ridership growth came the unexpected uprising in bus collisions. During the 2013 Christmas holiday season alone, four separate reported casino bus wrecks occurred on Inland Empire highways which included fatalities. In addition, a Riverside Transit Agency bus crashed in December along State Highway Route 74 near Hemet.
Because of this serious situation, regulators and lawmakers at the state and federal level are being pressured to act. Existing law on inspection of fleets needs to be better enforced. Accountability of the proper training of casino bus drivers needs better oversight. Officials also need to be careful not to drive out the industry by over-regulating the market. Drawing a sound solution will require productive debate between the affected parties.
During December, the LAPD cracked down on jaywalking in Downtown LA, with officers handing scofflaws tickets for even the most minor infractions. What was more troublesome, however, are the outrageous fines levied onto those who were ticketed. This could not have come at a worse time, as Downtown LA is reinventing itself as a pedestrian-friendly destination and an explosion in the residential population has made street-side businesses more viable. The Los Angeles Daily News editorial board expressed its discontent, stating that the crackdown seriously jeopardizes efforts to make LA more comfortable for people who walk.
However, the lack of safe sidewalks across Los Angeles has also hampered the creation of an attractive walking environment. City leaders are currently crafting a ballot measure that would authorize the city to issue $3 billion in bonds for street repairs. Those interested in better pedestrian environments see this proposal as an opportunity to repair and install sidewalks. The proposal could also set aside money for bike facilities, if advocates clamor for their inclusion in the bond measure.
Gas prices in Los Angeles and Orange Counties continue to climb, leading to a new record for New Year’s Day. Prices reached $3.694 per gallon, surpassing the previous record of $3.655 per gallon in 2012. However, AAA projects that drivers will have lower fueling costs in 2014, with AAA attributing the price decreases to increased oil production within the United States. Indeed, said production increase is already producing economic results as oil import decreases drive the national trade deficit to a 4-year low.
Despite this development, columnist Andrew Korfhage warns that the advent of climate change must expedite our exit from dependency on this energy source. While smaller governments enact their own projects to combat climate change, the federal government remains indifferent to the looming problem. In light of this, Korfhage suggests individuals take matters into their own hands. Specifically, the author believes financiers at all levels should divest from companies directly or tangentially linked to the fossil fuel industry and instead invest in those that produce clean energy products.
One such local initiative has taken effect across the ports of California. The state is enforcing a new mandate requiring ships to use energy from portside electric sources instead of their own engines. Shore power, or cold ironing as this method is also known, was developed by the Navy with the explicit purpose of reducing fuel consumption. However, port officials are implementing the technology to improve the health of residents in surrounding neighborhoods who must otherwise grapple with the effects of port pollution. Proponents cite that ships connected to electrical sources at the ports while docked reduce emissions by as much as 95%. However, officials have yet to find long-term power sources for the new mandate and must also communicate the changes to international shippers.
Even as the Purple Line extension gets most of the attention, the LADOT will start major work on a series of bus lanes along Wilshire Boulevard. One such set of bus lanes opened last year in Koreatown. Notably, the bus lanes will run only within the boundary of the City of Los Angeles, meaning that no such lanes will exist in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. Moreover, a portion of Wilshire Boulevard through Westwood will not get such lanes either due to community opposition. When complete in early 2015, the lanes could reduce travel times by as much as 24%.
Proponents of an alternative form of transport known as Hyperloop hope that the negative news on statewide HSR can bring good tidings to their nascent efforts. The brain child of entrepreneur Elon Musk, the Hyperloop would consist of vacuum tubes that suction pods of passengers over the I-5 right-of-way to their destinations. To determine the concept’s viability, Musk united architectural, engineering and physics scholars to design a prototype. A discussion on the Hyperloop concept will be held at UCLA on Wednesday, January 15, with more details available in Upcoming Events.
Governor Jerry Brown will release a proposed budget on Friday that will prominently feature revenues from the cap-and-trade auction held last year. Part of the budget calls for spending $250 million this year on high-speed rail, irking some environmentalists and pundits. This is despite the fact that the $250 million represents only 17% of the cap-and-trade funds. The rest will be spent on initiatives that would combat climate change such as forest management and home improvements.
The new year will prove pivotal for the HSR project, as Brown will most likely run again for office amidst a wave of support from prospective voters. Whoever challenges Brown to the governorship is bound to use his support of the controversial project as an expression of his perceived lack of fiscal control. Opponents will cite declining support among voters as a means to undermine his potential campaign. Additionally, the authority in charge of overseeing construction has yet to make a definitive decision as to when the project will break ground, frustrating project observers.