Several public transportation studies long show that establishing a bus rapid transit alternative for the Magnolia and University Avenue corridors in the City of Riverside is desirable and feasible. The Riverside Transit Agency has been exploring this alternative for a number of years now and has begun plans to start peak-hour limited stop runs for the corridor. That won’t happen until January 2015 under the current economic climate. The hold-up of getting BRT or even limited stop runs of existing services onto Riverside’s streets has long been funding. We really cannot fault either RTA or the Riverside County Transportation Commission on this. Both local agencies are at the mercy of a stubbornly soft Inland Empire economy which provides the local resources. The misspending of transportation dollars at the state level which we pay into also contributes to this madness. The City of Riverside will need to coordinate RTA’s RapidLink plans into its Riverside Reconnects project, even if that means using articulated buses as the selected technology in lieu of the streetcar. By the way, here’s our take and position on the city’s streetcar proposal.
Fred Gurzeler wrote a series of columns for CityWatch describing the long history of the former railroad on which the Expo Line will run. The right-of-way’s history can be traced back to 1875, when the Los Angeles Independence Railroad built the railway as a means to establish a new port in Santa Monica that would allow the railroad to compete with Southern Pacific Railroad. Passenger service by the Los Angeles Pacific began in 1908, with Pacific Electric Railway acquiring the line in 1911. As early as 1924, PE tried to abandon the line, citing perceived low ridership, only for regulators to deny the move, stating that the line should stay to serve future development. Despite said development actually coming in later years, PE stopped service in 1953.
However, freight service continued on the line even as the Santa Monica Freeway was concurrently built, over the objections of residential groups. Also, Southern Pacific, which acquired the remaining assets of PE, was fierce in keeping the line open exclusively for freight use, despite initial grumblings from officials and citizens to resume passenger service in some way. However, after some arm-twisting, Southern Pacific opted to sell off the right-of-way, which was the real turn of events for resumption of passenger service, according to Gurzeler. This action led to a chain of events culminating in the approval of at least part of the line in 2000 and subsequent construction. Despite opposition from Cheviot Hills homeowners, the success of then-built rail lines and their increasing popularity provided the support proponents needed to finally get the Expo Line going.
In light of this, Transit Coalition Chair Ken Alpern warns that the fight for the Expo Line has not ended. Even if all legal challenges have been quashed, residents must still work towards other solutions that can turn the line into a friendly neighbor. Alpern recognized that, unlike older generations that tend to flatly object to projects, the newer generation of Angelenos take a more nuanced view of transportation and tend to be pro-bike, pro-transit and pro-car. This in turn makes them more eager to develop solutions that balance the needs of all transportation users. That said, a recent meeting of Expo Line proponents made known their desire for more parking at stations, increased connectivity by means other than the automobile and landscaping improvements. These would require initiatives from the office of the LA mayor, according to Alpern.
The railroad industry is seeking a 5-year extension on the installation of a collision-avoidance system in the nation’s railroads. Following the 2008 Metrolink train crash that killed 25 and injured 135, Congress approved legislation mandating the installation of such a system by 2015. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) said an extension may give the industry additional time to lobby against the implementation of the system. The American Public Transportation Association, on the other hand, sees that the mandate pushes commuter railroads to pick between either meeting the deadline or completing maintenance projects. Metrolink has budgeted $210 million for the project.
Governor Jerry Brown last Saturday approved legislation allowing electric cars and low-emission vehicles to have access to carpool lanes for an additional four years. Brown also signed 20 pieces of related legislation, including permitting certain low-emission vehicles to use diamond lanes until 2019. However, he vetoed a bill that would have let individual motorists use the carpool lanes on two LA freeways during off-peak hours.
A poll found that 52% of respondents wish to stop the $68-billion bullet train project that would run from Los Angeles to the Bay Area. The same poll found that since voters approved funding in 2008, 70% of respondents would like the project put on the ballot again. Concerns are tied to the hard economic times: If citizens have to cut on expenses, so should the government. The train would run at 220 mph and begin transporting passengers in 2028.
An increasing amount of crude oil is being transported into California via rail as more and more oil is obtained from fields in North Dakota and other states. The increase in oil transport in this fashion is partly due to successful opposition to pipelines that could carry oil between states. However, oil transport via rail is being scrutinized following an oil train explosion in Quebec in July, which left at least 42 people dead.
New condos may be in the future for Downtown San Diego. Nat Bosa, a Canadian developer, plans on a 41-story building close to the waterfront by 2016. Bosa’s willingness to invest is attributable to the recovery in the downtown market. Although foreclosures were prevalent when the housing market crashed, values have begun rising again. Units are to start in the $700,000s.
A proposed site for a Century City tower may lie above an active fault line. The Los Angeles City Council said when it approved the building in 2009, it did not mandate a prior fault investigation. The Santa Monica fault is approximately 25 miles in length and runs from the Pacific Ocean to Century City. Seismologists say this fault may be able to produce an earthquake with a magnitude exceeding 7.0. Experts said that the area in which the tower would be built is in a zone of earthquake faults.
New enhancements are in place at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. Improvements to the terminal cost $1.9 billion and included multimedia displays and 42 high-end vendors, such as Michael Kors and Hugo Boss. However, a survey revealed that some amenities requested by frequent fliers were not added. Among these requests were more charging stations, better Wi-Fi, desks to do work for business travelers, and printing stations.
The government shut-down is underway as Congress continues debating a plan for government spending covering the first few months of the 2014 fiscal year, which started today, October 1.
Regardless of what happens, it looks like transportation programs will be cut as a result of sequestration. Sequestration requires at least a 7% cut for discretionary programs to meet the FY14 budget caps. For many programs this will mean a 7% cut from the FY2012 funding levels for 2014, deeper than the 5% required for the expired 2013 fiscal year. As severe as the cuts in FY14 are, they are only the leading edge of devastating cuts to come if Congress does not agree on a long-term way to provide the transportation trust fund with more, dedicated revenues. Relying only on existing revenue from the federal gas tax would lead to massive cuts to highway and transit projects starting next fall in FY15.
In general, programs funded from the highway trust fund are not subject to the sequester. Federal-aid highway programs and core transit formula programs funded by the trust fund were not cut in this last year. In fact, funding for those programs increased slightly over their FY2012 levels to match the authorized levels in MAP-21. In addition, Amtrak will also continue to run during the shutdown. However, the sequester will hamper certain functions of the Federal Transit Administration, including doling out transit grants, which would seriously affect the progress of the Wilshire Subway and the Regional Connector, among other things.
However, in FY 2014, because fuel tax revenues won’t be sufficient for the funding levels authorized by MAP-21 for those programs, MAP-21 also called for a transfer of $12.6 billion from the general fund into the Highway Trust Fund. That $12.6 billion is subject to the sequester, and will face cuts of over $900 million. Unlike other programs, though, this cut does not directly lead to cuts in funding for highway and transit projects. What it will do is speed up the timeline for the Highway Trust Fund going broke, creating the potential for greater cuts or the need for similarly large transfers of general funds — a difficult proposition. In fact, some are concerned that, due to sequestration, the Trust Fund may not remain solvent through even this next fiscal year as originally expected when MAP-21 was enacted.