Weekly Report – August 29, 2016 – Transportation Update

Transportation Update – L.A. County

As most of the country, including California, is plagued with examples of our nation’s underinvestment in infrastructure, L.A. County’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority continues to set a higher standard. Their success can be directly attributed to their ability to develop long-term transportation strategies, secure the necessary funding streams to make them happen, while making sure they have measures in place to remain accountable for making their strategies work.

Starting with the passage of Proposition A in 1980, Proposition C in 1990 and Measure R in 2008, L.A. Metro has leveraged these revenues streams with local, state and federal funds to provide tens of millions of residents and visitors multiple transportation options. L.A. Metro’s most recent accomplishments include the extension of the Gold Line to run from East LA to Azusa; the Silver Line from El Monte to Harbor Gateway Transit Center; the Expo Line Extension to Santa Monica; the Orange Line to Chatsworth; the ExpressLanes on both the 10 and 110 freeways and the expansion of bike and pedestrian programs throughout the county.

What all of these initiatives have in common – political leaders with big dreams. In 1973, Tom Bradley’s mayoral platform promised a new subway system. Twenty years later his dream came true with the opening of the Red Line. In 1980 L.A. County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn pushed for a transit tax that helped pay for the Blue Line, which opened a decade later along an old freight corridor through the heart of his South L.A. district. In 2008 Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky lead the successful passage of Measure R, which accelerated the completion of the Expo Line to Santa Monica, and the construction time-line of the Crenshaw/LAX, Regional Connector and Purple Line Extension rail projects.

Mayor Eric Garcetti now has his own vision. He wants L.A. to be “the first postmodern city.” (Newsweek: http://goo.gl/8FLoVn) To achieve this he is leading his transportation initiative – Mobility Plan 2035 – and Measure M, which was recently placed on the November 2016 ballot. These two initiatives strive to get more Angelenos walking, cycling and using public transportation. (Kevin Faulconer, the Mayor of San Diego, has a very similar plan – http://goo.gl/TL2vbB, as do other progressive Mayors around the nation.)

To pay for all if this the Mayor and L.A. Metro is asking voters this November to approve a half-cent sales tax increase (from 9.5 percent to 10 percent) to fund, indefinitely, the continued expansion of the region’s transit network. L.A. Metro’s measure will need a 2/3 vote (current polling is in the low 70s) and if successful, it would generate at least $860 million per year to support Metro’s ~$120 billion plan to fix the county’s rail network. In addition, the Plan would fully or partially fund 10 new highway projects, including an extension of State Route 71 and a new carpool-lane interchange between the 405 and 110 freeways. The big ticket item is a $17 billion 405 Freeway tunnel. These projects would put $79.3 billion back into the economy, create an estimated 465,000 jobs and bring in $9.5 billion in tax revenue for the city, state and federal government.

Part of the justification of this push is the reality that L.A. County’s population will increase by 2.3 million people in the next 40 years and traffic congestion and the pollution it creates will only get worse without mitigation efforts. Research also shows that congestion – Angelenos spend an average of 81 hours a year stuck in traffic – severely impacts the productivity of L.A.’s workforce, which in turn hampers the region’s economic growth. Lastly, these projects are expected to appeal to the city’s growing population of millennials, who surveys indicate are more inclined to consider riding public transit systems over owning and driving a car.

At this point in time the L.A. Coalition is looking into whether we should endorse Measure M. Please let me know if you have any feedback on this endorsement discussion.

Transportation – State of California – Governor Brown and the State Legislature

Recent research shows that poor roads in California are costing motorists about $54 billion annually, that 37 percent of major roads in CA are in bad shape and a quarter of the bridges “are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.” In Los Angeles, Long Beach and Santa Ana drivers are spending $2,826 each year for vehicle repairs, personal delays and operating costs. It’s roughly the same in San Francisco and Oakland; a little less in Sacramento.

Last year Governor Brown called a special legislative session to highlight the state’s $130-billion backlog in state and local repairs, as well as the billions more in other transportation budget deficits. His goal was to accelerate the passage of a bill that would direct billions of dollars to fund these deficits, along with dollars to improve trade corridors and support public transit. The discussions produced a $3.6 billion plan, heated debate and no action.

More recently, two Democratic lawmakers unveiled their own $7.4-billion transportation plan that would increase the gas tax by 17 cents per gallon, which would be indexed to inflation, and also include: A diesel tax increase of 30 cents per gallon, also indexed to inflation, $165 annual fee for zero-emission vehicles, the creation of an Office of Transportation inspector general to oversee state spending and greater environmental streamlining for repairing existing transportation infrastructure. Democrats are just shy of the two-thirds needed to pass the measure, with 52 votes in the Assembly and 26 votes in the Senate.

This issue will continue into the 2017 legislative calendar and at the point it may be beneficial for the Coalition to voice its support of some type of action.