Several members of Congress were in Los Angeles Wednesday for a meeting about the federal transportation bill. Although the legislation will affect the country as a whole, the field hearing gave an opportunity for local politicians to sound off and give suggestions on topics ranging from freight movement to infrastructure funding.
As Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and county Board of Supervisors testified, one of the region's more well-known transit lobbyists was late and stuck in traffic. Exasperating as it was for him, Bart Reed of the Transit Coalition had already put things into motion earlier that morning that local blogs picked up. "Transit Group Makes Case for 30/10, 405 Rail Line to Feds," read Curbed LA's headline, and over at LAist, a photo gallery of the dream maps quickly garnered several thousand views.
Metro is currently in the midst of a handful of projects, from planning a subway extension to the Westside with bus lanes above much of it and construction projects, including of a line between downtown and Culver City and a dedicated busway in the northwest San Fernando Valley. Building a transit system can and will take years, but one very popular notion not seeing much daylight is a link between the Valley and the Westside.
Reed said in an e-mail to the media that "by building a direct rail tunnel from the San Fernando Valley to Westwood, commuters could go from Ventura Boulevard to Wilshire Boulevard in just six minutes." In a car, that seven and a half mile journey can easily take a half hour or more during the height of rush hour.
The Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor, as it's officially called, is part of Metro's Long Range Transportation Plan and sits near the end of a long list of projects, giving it an estimated completion date of 2039. That could be significantly sped up, however, thanks to the 30/10 plan that transit groups and Villaraigosa have been pushing at the federal level. The idea is to build 12 transportation projects in 10 years -- instead of 30 -- by leveraging a 30-year voter approved sales tax called Measure R that is dedicated to transit with long-term bonds and federal loans.
The Sepulveda Pass project is on that list, meaning it could be finished 19 years earlier in 2020.
The Transit Coalition's vision is grandiose that hopes for a connected Los Angeles, from top to bottom, or Granada Hills to Long Beach. It's split up into two phases: one, which would partially be funded by 30/10, would go between Sylmar in the Northeast San Fernando Valley to the Westside; and two, which has no identified funding source, continuing to the South Bay, curving east on the outskirts of the Palos Verde Peninsula and terminating near Cal State University Long Beach.
By contrast, Metro's plans are much more meek. It calls for improving at least a four mile segment over the Santa Monica Mountains. Maybe it will be light rail, maybe some sort of bus system involving dedicated on-ramps to carpool lanes or peak-hour bus lanes on the shoulders of the freeway. It's anyone's guess how it will go. At this point the project is still in its very infancy, with Metro hoping to award a contractor with the initial Alternative Analysis study by summer.
What concerns Reed, though, is that Metro is working on another project along the same corridor to the north that he thinks should be combined. "The only way to make Southern California transit work is to have long unified corridors with one conveyance," he said after it took him 90 minutes to get from his Sylmar home to the congressional hearing in Brentwood.
That second project, which is also in its early planning stages, but scheduled for completion by 2018, is four north-south transit corridors in the east San Fernando Valley. Two of them, along Sepulveda and Van Nuys boulevards, mimic the 405 freeway, and the latter is currently under evaluation with bus lanes, light rail and a street car all on the table (heavy rail, however, has been eliminated, according to Metro).
"You don't want another Red Line to Orange Line thing happen," Reed explained of his fear. "You have 200 people who arrive on the Red Line train and they go upstairs to the Orange Line (a busway) that has the capacity of 80 people."
To Reed, it only seems obvious that at least one of the north-south corridors should connect to the Sepulveda Pass project, but this time he wants to avoid what he calls the "misplanning and miscues" that go into local transit. "Since these two projects have Measure R funding, get them to balance as one cohesive unit, rather than disjuncted transportation modes."
Renee Berlin, an Executive Officer in Metro's countywide planning office, said it's too early in the process to identify which modes each of the projects will end up being, but said they will look at transit connectivity and will base decisions on what makes sense for the corridor while keeping an open mind.
Reed certainly hopes Metro planners keep their minds open, especially considering the number of gridlocked drivers on the Sepulveda Pass and transit users found on the buses of Van Nuys Boulevard, which at 30,000 riders a day is more than the Orange Line itself. He hopes his group's vision will shape the projects before its too late. "We're offering a vision," he said, "Metro will define the project."