March 19, 2007 - From the March, 2007 issue

Metro Leads Five-County Effort to Facilitate Regional Goods Movement

Though the state's attention has turned squarely towards goods movement and its impact on the Los Angeles area, local transportation agencies are not leaving all the planning up to BTH. All five county transit agencies in the L.A. metro area have been collaborating on a Multi-County Goods Movement Action Plan, which would identify key projects and work in accord with state efforts to reduce the industry's impact on local roads and communities. To discuss the MCGMAP as well as other recent developments in local transportation issues, MIR was pleased to speak with Metro CEO Roger Snoble.


Roger Snoble

The CTC has begun to allocate bond monies from Prop 1B, approved in November. How well is this process working? Does it respect the needs of Southern California?

The CTC's original staff recommendation was very light for Los Angeles County, and in most of Southern California for that matter. It took a lot of political effort to change that, and we got a much better mark out of it but still not what we consider to be our fair share. That has renewed our anxiety over the distribution of bond money for goods movement. Southern California pushed hard for this bond because we realized that something needed to be done about goods movement. It is such an important part of our economy, and it is such a major factor in the traffic on our rail and freeway systems. Much of the money that we need to fix problems associated with goods movement is going to have to come from the bonds. We are getting ready to make our case at the state level and to come up with criteria that will address the challenges in Southern California.

Of the commission's nine members, only one is from the L.A. area. How comfortable are you with that representation?

We really don't know. Two new commissioners are being appointed. It has been tradition since the founding of the commission that L.A. has had two representatives. We are concerned about the fact that we don't have two representatives now; we have one that actually resides here. That's not saying anything about the individuals that have been appointed by the governor. I don't know them; they may be sympathetic to our plight. But I think we are uncomfortable that we don't have people who reside here and understand the kind of challenges we have.

How does the Multi-County Goods Movement Action Plan fit into Metro's plans to meet the needs of Southern California and the local ports?

The five-county area felt that this area needed special concentration, and we have worked very hard, through Mobility 21 and with our elected officials, to get goods movement on the map. All of the counties around L.A. and the ports have a concern because a lot of traffic is being generated, particularly truck and rail traffic, as a result of the ports. And that impairs our ability to move regular vehicles around, but it also has a big effect with the air quality and quality of life in Southern California.

It was important that we all be involved in it, because you can't just fix one piece of it and expect the whole system to be fixed all the way to the Arizona border. So, we've come up with strategies and a plan that gives us a blueprint for meeting the challenges. We've been at this for several years to make sure that we are coordinated and making a meaningful plan, and the result is the Multi-County Goods Movement Action Plan.

What challenges does the multi-county plan prioritize and address?

It looks at the freight movement coming out of the ports, both on the rail system and on the truck system, and how we'd like to facilitate it better. It accounts for the environmental impacts, and it attempts to not only fix the capacity and traffic interface problems, but also to address some of the environmental issues that are caused by all of these trucks, trains, and ships. We wanted to look at it from a global standpoint, come up with big regional strategies, and then identify by county what we each need to do as far as specific projects to make it all come together.

The California Department of Business, Transportation, and Housing has its own Goods Movement Action Plan. How do those plans align with Metro's?

The state worked closely with us in developing this plan, and we think that the state's plan is well coordinated with what we are doing; they should complement each other. With our partners, we will break down a big statewide issue into more of a Southern California issue, and then we will break it down to a county perspective. I think it is important to note the entities that are involved in this: the Transportation Commission for Los Angeles County, Ventura County Transportation Commission, Riverside Transportation Commission, San Bernardino Association of Governments, Caltrans, and SCAG. Caltrans actually has four different districts, and we also have ongoing coordination with SANDAG, and with Imperial County.

What role should shippers and carriers play in mitigating goods movement congestion in Los Angeles County?

There is huge demand throughout the country for goods that come primarily from the Pacific Rim. Now the internet, catalogue sales, and everything else is driving goods movement and impacting us. Yet the shippers aren't paying much in the way of infrastructure improvements. Somewhere along the line we have to tap into that demand to help fund infrastructure improvements that need.

infrastructure investments are on the top of Metro's list of priorities?

The ports have several different projects that would facilitate movements at the ports, both with train and truck traffic. Beyond the port area, our biggest challenges are the Alameda Corridor East projects. The Alameda Corridor is doing its job. That gets us to Downtown Los Angeles, but we still have projects from Downtown all the way to the California border.

From the Alameda Corridor East, there is a series of grade separation projects that would eliminate the interface between the 100 freight trains and all the traffic that they currently cross. That's a huge safety issue, it's a mobility issue, and it's impacting the environment as well. Then we are doing a study on the 710 to identify how to facilitate truck movement-do we put in truck lanes that separate trucks from cars?

The governor's administration has released a list of suggested projects, which devotes more than three-quarters of the money to Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. How do the Governor's recommendations relate to Metro's priorities?

They are recommending a series of projects such as the Alameda Corridor East Trade Corridor Plan (grade separations), the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement, and the I-710 safety and access improvements at the port terminus. Here, again, we had a great deal of input into that process.

While these projects do facilitate through-movement, until you get them all together, their impact is incremental, and they don't solve the whole problem. It takes the whole program to get the goods moving through here. The state program recognizes that most-probably about 80 percent-of the challenge is in Southern California. We have four seaports, including Port Hueneme in Ventura County and San Diego. In Northern California, the Port of Oakland is important although it doesn't have the regional or the national significance that our ports do.

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When MIR spoke with you in November, you said Metro would be competitive and would be the 1,000-pound gorilla. Which projects are you putting the full weight of Metro behind?

The ports are where we can get the containers on to a rail car or with a short truck trip to the railheads, and there are a lot of different near-dock projects that the ports want to do that would be very effective. Our biggest priorities, again, are the grade separations. We're working in conjunction with the railroads to find additional capacity for the railroads-adding second and third tracks, adding technology, and the kinds of things that improve the movement of goods.

Metro also moves passengers and deals with the congestion the surface streets of L.A. County. The public is frustrated; congestion is growing; mobility decreases every day. What good news can you give them?

Metro has a robust program, and we have been improving our system. Our ridership reflects that; there are more people on the transit system. As far as improvements are concerned, the Eastside Extension is going very well, and the Expo Line is starting. We continue with the Rapid Bus system-it's more than half complete, and three new routes are going to make a big difference coming in June. The system is operating well, but we have to keep it operating well.

The Orange Line has succeeded beyond our wildest imagination. And that makes us think that there may be other places that we can use that sort of program. Another significant solution is signal synchronization and Intelligent Transportation Systems. Technology can go a long way to help move more cars through a space. We prefer to think how we can move more people through a space, but unfortunately this is still a car-oriented area and you have to worry about individuals in cars.

For more than a decade, the transportation and congestion conversation was dominated by a buses-versus-rail debate. How would you prefer to frame the conversation today?

It's all part of transit. It's always been ridiculous to think that trains-which are really faster-moving, larger buses-are competing with buses. It's all about moving people. Our rail system and bus system function hand-in-hand. They are both the same type of tool. We are getting masses of people into one place, and we're getting them to another place in whatever the best tool is. The rail car is just an expansion of the transit system and is the proper tool when you get into heavy corridors with too many people to handle by buses alone. If we keep adding to the Rapid Bus on Wilshire pretty soon-this isn't a joke, this could happen-you could get down Wilshire faster by walking on top of buses because they'll be lined up and nothing is going to move. So, we have to look at rail because there are so many people there that need to be moved-surface isn't the best way, so it's either up or down.

In this issue of MIR, Alan Alexander discusses a unanimous recommendation to support the ‘Subway to the Sea' through Beverly Hills. Did you ever think you'd live to see that support?

I have been working with that committee for the last couple of years. It's been an interesting process. The answer is no. But, I think they have taken the appropriate approach, and they have decided that the project can help in achieve the kinds of things they want for Beverly Hills. It can facilitate better development-maybe more dense development, but better development. This might help solve some of the traffic challenges in Beverly Hills.

We've shown them the Red Line multiple times-they've seen how well it operates and how many people use it. That has made a big difference in the way they are thinking about this proposal today as opposed to 20 years ago.

How do you provide immediate congestion relief when most of these investments take years to be realized?

Big investments do take years, typically NIMBYism and that type of thing complicates them. Environmental laws stop projects rather than facilitate projects. But there are immediate things that can be done. One of them is that the drivers all look to government to solve the problem, when, in fact, the drivers are the problem. The near-term types of things we can do are carpooling, particularly on work trips. The technology that we are coming up with in synchronization is going to add more capacity without adding space.

Going back to the responsibility of the driver: better, safer driving. About half of the problems come when someone does something stupid, not because the facility can't handle the traffic. Someone makes a left hand turn in the center of a block and you have to wait through two or three lights to do that, people getting into crashes doing stupid things because they are irritated. And there are many more pedestrian accidents because there are more pedestrians. I think there are a lot of near-term things that people can take responsibility for to actually help the problem. And then we can get into bigger projects that take several years to produce results.

We talked in November about the change in Congress and potentially

greater support for Southern California from D.C. Do you think the effort this year will be more successful than in the past years?

It's certainly worth the effort. This is a national issue, particularly with respect to goods movement. There isn't a congressional district that our goods don't go to.... We will see more results as we move forward, particularly if we do a good job of educating our delegation, which Mobility 21 has been doing for the last four or five years.

Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald, who was the founder of Mobility 21 and was on the Transportation Committee, got the first piece of legislation that recognized goods movement through the projects of national significance in the last transportation bill. I think we can take that momentum and build on it. But at the end of the day, I don't think they are going to be able to pull us out of what we have to do. We're going to have to do that through state and local sources.

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