It’s a busy time for the LA Metro office and its chief, Art Leahy. With Carmaggedon II quickly approaching, a state high speed rail approved, subway projects all over the city, and new toll roads being initiated on the Harbor Freeway this year, it’s a wonder how Leahy has time to answer our questions.
Recently, the Metro’s regional connector was given a huge stamp of approval this last month from the Federal Transit Authority and coming in at a $1.37-billion budget. Metro has called the connector "one of the region’s most significant transit projects."
Also this last month, construction began on the Crenshaw Light Rail Line which would serve the Crenshaw Corridor, Inglewood, Westchester and parts of LAX. The $1.72-billion project and the labor agreements state that the agency’s contractors must hire union workers with 30 percent of the workers coming from ZIP codes with high unemployment rates. However, with all the good comes the alarming.
The Expo/Blue Line junction in Downtown LA has run the risk of the trains jumping off the tracks. The Metro and the Expo Construction Authority claim that safety has never been compromised.
Highlights from the conversation:
Discussing I-405's end of September shutdown:
"The major worry we have is that people will say, 'Gosh, it was a piece of cake last time, I don't need to worry this time.' If that happens we're going to have a mess on our hands. People need to stay away from the area."
"Last year, half the bridge was torn down, so we then could build the new bridge portion and move the utilities over to the new bridge. Now we need to tear down the remainder of the old bridge so we can complete the new bridge."
"It's the same thing. Ten mile closure, basically Friday night until Sunday, Monday morning if necessary. I think this one is not as likely as the previous one to be done early, so it may go into early Monday morning."
Leahy talks upcoming rail projects:
"Our projects are paid for by Measure R. We are advancing right now a dozen transit rail construction projects and 15 highway projects. The MTA board voted just recently to put an extension of Measure R on the ballot for the purpose of creating a revenue stream that we can bond against, so as to accelerate the transit and even the highway projects."
"San Gabriel gets the very first Measure R rail project. The Gold Line to Azusa is under construction right now. In addition to that, we're working on the early phases of the east side extension on the southern half of the San Gabriel Valley to points east."
"In the coming months with the MTA board, we will be talking about a public/private partnership on a tunnel under the Sepulveda Pass, that would run from the San Fernando Valley down to the Westside of Los Angeles."
Has ridership improved with new project completions?
"It's going great; I'm very happy with it. We opened up [the Expo Line] just a few weeks ago really. June was the first full month of operation. We're already carrying close to 17,000 people a day on that line. Rail ridership overall is up about 6 percent, against a year ago. We're seeing increases on bus as well, and by the way, we're seeing much improved deficiency on buses as well. We do have one of the biggest bus fleets in the world."
Metro's decision to run later hours starting this weekend:
"We began to run more frequent service until midnight last fall. Beginning this weekend, Friday and Saturday nights, we're going to run until 2 a.m."
"If you think about it, we're really achieving critical mass. You can go from North Hollywood to Hollywood. Hollywood and Highland is like Times Square. L.A. Live, Pasadena, Culver City, soon Santa Monica, Long Beach – all these things are opening, and L.A.'s becoming really a 24-hour city, like New York is, so we want to make sure that people have our services available."
Leahy details a partnership with USC during the university's football season:
"Very soon the USC football season begins. We met with USC a few weeks ago ... We're going to jointly promote service to that event. They draw about 80,000 people a game, so we think this is a great opportunity to market our rail lines and our bus lines to people who don't use them today."
"What it really means is that you can tailgate now in Culver City, or Downtown L.A., or at Olvera Street, or East L.A., and then go to a football game. So these are really community events, and we've become part of that."
Isn't it poignant that we're replicating some of the old transit systems taken apart so long ago?
"It sure is. Transit ridership in L.A. peaked in 1945 – that was a national trend. After WWII was an era of cheap fuel, plentiful land, of high speeds on the roads and freeways, so nobody could have imagined 1955, what we face today. For whatever reason, we've got to go back and figure out how to build a place where you don't have to have a car to go anywhere."
On work building express lanes between the south bay and Downtown L.A. and charging a toll:
"These lanes are high-occupancy vehicle lanes, carpool lanes. They were funded by the federal government for that purpose. What we're going to be embarking upon is an experiment to test what is called 'congestion pricing' – which works very well, by the way, in other places like Orange County – testing that to see whether we might be able to increase the capacity of the toll lanes by allowing two kinds of people on the road. One is the carpool lanes, which will be free like they are today, but in addition to that, we'll allow people who want to pay a toll, even though they have only one person in the car, to access now the high-occupancy toll lane [HOV lanes]."
"For the first time in the country we believe, we are offering a subsidy for those who can't pay the full toll. It's more than half. We're selling the cards, the transponders, for $40 initial price. For those who are less well off, it's only going to be $15 to start."
Listen to the rest of Patt's conversation with Leahy to learn more about Metro changes.
Metro is trying to make Los Angeles more accessible one project at a time. Will these new trains make you think twice about your mode of transportation?
Arthur Leahy, chief executive officer, Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority