After tunneling over 1,000 feet since starting work in August, an obstruction is blocking the path of Bertha, the tunnel-boring machine currently digging a highway underneath downtown Seattle. No one is exactly sure what is in the way, but engineers are working to solve the mystery. Wells from above ground will pump out groundwater to make conditions in front of the TBM safe for workers to enter and find out what the problem is. In the meantime, residents are having fun with the matter and recently tried to guess what could be blocking Bertha’s way. One TV station made its own suggestion as to what the obstruction could be in an appeal to Seahawks fans.
The 91 Express Lane extension project entered into its construction phase with a groundbreaking ceremony. Riverside County officials have long proposed extending the HOT lanes from the Orange County line east into Corona with a direct access ramp at the I-15 freeway to/from the south. The groundbreaking was more ceremonial than literal as the event took place on the top deck of the Corona Transit Center parking structure, away from the actual freeway. Transit center and Metrolink station patrons were a bit upset that their parking structure was unavailable during a regular business day even as officials previously notified them to park at the neighboring train stations as an alternative.
Late public dissent over the high occupancy toll lane proposal has begun to surface, potentially caused in part by the negative public reaction of Orange County’s now-shelved I-405 HOT lane proposal. Project 91 is nearly identical to the I-405 Improvement Project. Proposals include doubling the capacity and converting the existing 2+ carpool lane into a 3+ HOT lane, add a general purpose lane, and add additional auxiliary lanes. Numerous bridges will be upgraded as well.
Ordinarily, the Transit Coalition would oppose the conversion of an existing carpool lane into a transponder-mandated HOT lane. Look at what resulted in LA last year. However unlike the I-10, I-110, and the I-405 corridors, when the 91 becomes congested–which it does during commute hours, many holidays, weekends, and hot summer days–the carpool lane is just as slow as the general purpose lanes. 2+ carpool demands are so high that they exceed capacity for the corridor. With the addition of a general purpose lane, the traffic chaos caused by the displacement of 2-person and non-registered 3+ carpoolers from the high occupancy lanes will be minimal for the short term. Meanwhile, Riverside officials should plan between now and opening day a strong marketing campaign to convert the 2-person carpools into 3+. At a later time, public officials from all levels can pay off the bond debt so that the 91 can financially support free non-transponder 3+ carpooling with robust transit infrastructure.
Thanks to the BART strikes and the ongoing cat fight between train operators and management and similar actions elsewhere, public opinion on unionized labor has taken a big hit. In a recent poll, 45% of respondents believe unions do more harm than good, up from 35% in March 2011. 44% of those polled believe that transit workers should not be allowed to strike, compared to 47% who believe they should. Not lost on this sentiment, State Senator Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) proposed legislation that would prohibit transit unions from striking. Union representatives lambasted the proposal by noting that no similar checks are proposed for management.
Consternation continues over the recent rulings against the state high-speed rail project. To summarize, two state rulings prohibit the state HSR Authority from using bond money to fund construction of the first segment between Madera and Fresno, though design and property acquisition were allowed to continue. Another ruling, this time by the federal Surface Transportation Board, prevents the Authority from going through with construction because 5 miles of the previously approved route still require a completed environmental document. Undaunted, Authority CEO Dan Richard replied that these issues are typical of large public works projects. Richard believes that construction can start with federal grants and challenges can be countered in the coming months.
Stuart Flashman, an attorney who has represented clients in relation to HSR issues, asserts that the CAHSRA should start from scratch, scuttle the current route (which serves multiple population centers) and instead use a direct route using the I-5 and the Altamont Pass. Flashman claims that Central Valley cities should embrace upgraded Amtrak service as an alternative to HSR, despite the fact that even less funds for capital improvements towards the existing passenger rail network are available.
Apart from Metro’s efforts to direct LA Union Station’s future role in regional transportation, not much is discussed when considering the iconic station as a public space. However, a recent film screening hosted at the former ticket hall reexamined how the station can be used to unite disparate persons through entertainment. The station has a long history as a filming site and continues to be popular for film and television production. The screening was meant to be seen as a way for travelers to connect with the station, its glamorous past and its promising future. Sadly, some of that excitement has been recently muted by new regulations that discourage transients from using the station.
With gate latching at Red and Purple Line stations now complete, Metro focuses its attention to the Blue Line, where select stations will be latched starting this week. However, some Blue Line stations will not have latched gates because they are too small to host turnstiles. Thus, passengers entering through said stations will still use the honor fare system. (Contrary to the linked report, gate latching at Green Line stations has been delayed.) As with other latched stations, passengers must use TAP cards with loaded fares to enter the station.
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.
KCET’s Social Focus section takes a look at an oddity in Downtown LA’s street grid: Broadway Place, a diagonal street that connected Olympic/Broadway with Main Street. Broadway once had its southern end at what was then known as Tenth Street, but business owners clamored for a direct connection to Main Street in order to enhance connections to southern Los Angeles, a connection that was ultimately provided by Broadway Place. However, a southward extension of Broadway proper made the connection redundant. Los Angeles eventually vacated the street, thus removing it from the street grid, during the last decade. The former street is now part of a parking lot.
In other opinions, an op-ed published by the Los Angeles Daily News laments the lack of accurate real-time traffic information caused by damaged sensors on roadways. Thanks to the advent of GPS and maps on smartphones, drivers increasingly depend on these systems to travel in the most efficient manner possible. Ideally, when these sensors work properly, drivers can be more confident in the information they receive, which in turn would help them find alternate routes and make the road system more efficient by evenly spreading out traffic. Also, Los Angeles Times readers react to the Metro-North train in New York that crashed due to excessive speed, leading to four deaths and scores of injuries.
A report from the US Department of Commerce concluded that the trade outlook for the country is becoming better and better thanks to increased consumer demand and increased availability of petroleum from the US. Exports of goods and services reached a new high of $192.7 billion, while imports rose more modestly, to $233.3 billion, suggesting a more stable global economy. The outlook will be a boon to American manufacturers, even as the national economy grows at a weak pace.