February 25, 2016 - From the February, 2016 issue

LA Metro & CAHSRA Collaborate on Aligning Community and Transportation Investment

At the “Transit Oriented Los Angeles 2015” conference hosted by Urban Land Institute-LA in December, TPR Publisher David Abel moderated a discussion between California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales and Metro CEO Phil Washington. Washington and Morales both emphasized their focus on the positive impacts transit build-out can produce for the communities it touches, if approached with care—and the steps they are taking to meet local needs and incorporate community feedback into plans that are expected to yield a transformative impact on the Southern California region as well as the entire state. They also discussed both the agency and authority’s efforts to protect and bolster local business as rail construction occurs.


Phil Washington

“As we spend money, we’re injecting it right back into the local economy and showing progress, economic development, and opportunity.” —Jeff Morales

David Abel: Could each of you begin with a progress report on what’s being done at Metro and High-Speed Rail?

Phil Washington: I’ll start with the transit projects we’re implementing in LA County. We have five under construction right now. Two of those projects will open in the spring of next year. 

We’ve set an opening date of March 5, 2016 for the Gold Line Foothill Extension. We are pretty confident that we will exceed the ridership projections on that particular line. 

“People dismiss the Central Valley, but if it were a state, it would be the 13th largest in terms of population. It would also be the poorest state in the country. One of the big reasons is that it’s disconnected.” -Jeff Morales

We anticipate opening the Expo Line to Santa Monica in the spring of next year as well. 

Regarding the other three projects: We are nearing 50 percent completion on the Crenshaw Line. We’re very early on in construction of the Regional Connector, probably about 15-20 percent. We’re also early on in construction of the Purple Line Section 1 going west, and we are moving on Section 2, which is an additional two and a half miles. 

We’re doing lots and lots of transit projects and tons of highway projects—too many of them for me to mention.

We are working with Jeff and High-Speed Rail on Union Station and how to accommodate both our growth and also high-speed rail coming through. 

The projects that I’ve mentioned that are in progress are all Measure R projects. Now, our Board has not decided whether to put a potential measure on the ballot for November of next year. We have the authority to go on the ballot with bill AB 767 signed by our governor a month or so ago.

We have begun the process in anticipation of going on the ballot. We’ve put together some evaluation criteria. Before we started evaluating some 2300 projects, worth about $275  billion, that the Council of Governments have submitted to us, we wanted to have evaluation criteria upfront. Our Board just approved those performance metrics, centered around five things: mobility, accessibility, economy, state of good repair, and safety. 

In the first quarter of next year, we will begin modeling and sequencing projects. Who thinks I won’t get any feedback from anybody on that? 

We’re also going to start working on the other half of the pie—the local return, operations, and calls for projects. 

Our Board will need to make a decision in the June-July timeframe about whether to put this on the ballot for November 2016.

David Abel: Jeff, we’ve just heard about intra-community transportation. Give us your progress report on inter-community transportation.

Jeff Morales: We at the California High-Speed Rail Authority are making great progress as well, contrary to some reports. We are in fact building a system. We’re going to build it, and it’s going to help transform California cities. 

I always say that we have to think about not what LA is today but what it’s going to be. When you think about all the projects Phil just talked about, California as a whole—and certainly this region—is going to look a lot different in 10 or 20 years than it does today and than it has in the past. High-speed rail will be part of that.

You would think we’re doing something that no one’s ever done before, when you look at the controversy, but actually we’re competing against countries like Morocco to build high-speed rail. Every other major country has developed a system, and they do it because it makes sense—because it can connect a country and connect economies. Our system will connect California in a way that it never has been before. 

Today, we’re at least three different states within one. We’ve got a strong Southern California economy here and a strong Bay Area economy. In the middle, and left out of all of that, is the Central Valley. People dismiss the Central Valley, but if it were a state, it would be the 13th largest in terms of population.  It would also be the poorest state in the country—which is pretty remarkable when you think about California and agriculture. One of the big reasons is that it’s disconnected. Previous investments bypassed the Central Valley. When the 5 was built, it didn’t go through it; it went past it. This system will, for the first time, connect it. Fresno, a city of half a million people and a county of a million people, will now be connected to San Jose and the Silicon Valley in 40 minutes instead of a four-and-a-half-hour car ride. Down here in Palmdale, some 60,000 people a day drive down the hill or take Metrolink. It’s about a two-hour train ride. It’ll be 15 minutes on high-speed rail. That’s going to be revolutionary in terms of tying together cities and economies.

I’m excited to partner with Phil, because his background in Denver plays right into what we need to do here: making sure as we build this system that it ties in with what’s being done locally and regionally, promoting local development and urban mobility along with interregional and cross-state mobility. 

We’re transitioning away from looking at high-speed rail as something to get people from San Francisco to LA and instead, seeing it as tying together the state and reinforcing what’s happening in our cities.

David Abel: Jeff, I don’t believe there is anyone in the audience today from Fresno. Given that, how would you present the progress report to an audience in Los Angeles, and give them a sense of urgency and importance? 

Jeff Morales: One of the scary things about Fresno is that, in growing, it’s consumed 50,000 acres of farmland by sprawling outwards over the last few decades. We’re looking to reorient that growth back toward downtowns. 

One of the things we’re doing is promoting local benefit as construction happens. We have a 30-percent small-business goal. A small business, almost by definition, is going to be a local business. That means work is happening right in the community. We also have targeted hiring programs to make sure our workers are coming from the local economy. As we spend money, we’re injecting it right back into the local economy and showing progress, economic development, and opportunity.

Longer-term, it’s about jobs. It’s about the opportunity to actually be tied together as an economy. 

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There was a study about a year ago about the Northeast Corridor. From Washington to Boston, it’s one contiguous economy tied together by the rail system of the Northeast Corridor. Because of it, mid-size cities like Newark, Baltimore, and Wilmington, can have thriving economies. They’re tied to Philadelphia, Washington, and New York. We don’t have that here in California. 

That’s what our system is going to do—replicate what’s on the East Coast. It’s going to create a stronger economy and stronger cities.

David Abel: Phil, what’s in it for the communities served by Metro during construction? How do you work with them constructively?

Phil Washington: I don’t think there’s any argument that transportation build-out is an investment. It’s an investment in terms of job creation, long-term care, and maintenance. I think the job is communicating to communities that the payoff is beneficial. 

Construction may last four or five years but we’re building systems that will last the next 100 years. Systems in the northeast have been around over that long. 

The other big piece is about “transit-oriented communities.” This idea says that we are looking beyond and taking a more holistic view. It’s not just transit-oriented development, which is a subset of transit-oriented communities. 

David Abel: Could you share about the Business Interruption Fund? People in this audience have investments on the streets, and are impacted by a four- or five-year construction period. Talk a little bit about that challenge.

Phil Washington: The Metro Board instituted a Business Interruption Fund to compensate businesses that are adjacent to and impacted by construction. We recognize that there are going to be impacts of construction. We are very proud of the fund. 

Just this week, we are awarding a Business Interruption Fund award for the first business in Little Tokyo. 

I’ll also mention the Business Solutions Center that we started on the Crenshaw Line to help small businesses understand how to do work with us. This is all community-focused. 

David Abel: Jeff, talk about that same disruption and how agencies like yours ought to address it.

Jeff Morales: There’s no question that when you build anything, you create a disruption. We’re doing something on a scale that, if not fully unprecedented, certainly hasn’t been done in a very long time: buying a dedicated right-of-way up and down the state. 

Starting in the Central Valley, where we’ve started construction, we’ve made commitments to avoid businesses, relocate them, or mitigate the impacts. We’ve worked closely with cities to do that. 

I’m very pleased that in Fresno, which is where we’re starting, we’ve been able to keep 98 percent of all the impacted businesses right there, and get them in better situations by working with them. It’s a really important aspect of the program, because you can get off on the wrong foot very quickly by disrupting communities without them seeing the benefits. 

David Abel: Phil, let’s return to your explanation of transit-oriented communities. 

Phil Washington: We want to look at the community within a radius of two miles of our transportation investment. Working with the community to develop our asset is very, very important, instead of coming in, plopping it down, and saying, “we don’t care what you all are doing around us.” 

We will work with property owners in the community and other public agency property owners in the vicinity of our transportation asset to make that area very vibrant, very conducive, and very fitting for the community.

We have initiated a pilot program for transit-oriented communities where we selected eight or nine sites around the county. Instead of putting in a ton of parking, maybe we’ll work with the community to lease parking around the area. Maybe our station can be developed to look more like the community. 

We also want to ask: What does our transportation asset do for the community? If you have an underground station, can affordable or mixed-income housing be built there? The idea that we are not just the T in TOD. 

There is a clash now, I believe, between transit traditionalists and folks like me. We’re not just transit. We have to be concerned about what goes on around our station. We know that the lower the income, the more those folks ride transit. 

We also know that there’s gentrification going on in our major cities around the country, where we put in transportation assets and then people are displaced or there’s demographic shifts. So we build the asset, and the very folks that we build it for are displaced away from it. 

We want to limit that. The Metro Board has been great in saying that property we own, for the most part, will be used for affordable housing. I think that is the way to go. Displacement and gentrification around our transportation asset does have a bottom-line impact on us. As those transit-dependent folks are displaced further and further away from the transportation asset, then I have to put a bus out there to address it.

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© 2019 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.