Friday, September 25, 2009

LA seeking federal funding for Westside Subway Extension

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In a move that places Los Angeles County in contention to receive its fair share of future federal rail funding, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors voted to pursue long-term funding agreements through the US. Department of Transportation to build the Westside Subway Extension and Regional Connector projects.

The two projects are expected to score highly in the rankings necessary to secure Full Funding Grant Agreements under current federal New Starts requirements. The Federal Transit Administration administers the New Starts program for major capital transit investments nationwide. Projects eligible for future funding through this program must compete with other projects nationwide to be selected to enter into these types of contractual agreements.

Both the Westside Subway Extension and Regional Connector projects are slated to provide critically needed transit linkages for existing transit riders traveling to, from and through some of the most densely populated and commercially significant areas of Los Angeles County. They are both included in the Measure R half-cent sales tax expenditure plan and the agency's draft Long Range Transportation Plan that is scheduled for future Board consideration.

"These two projects will not only result in significantly greater connectivity in the Metro subway and light rail systems, but also will result in a dramatic increase in overall system ridership and user benefits," said Ara Najarian, Glendale City Council Member and MTA Board Chair. "In short, they are our best chance to secure future federal funds, and in so doing, will free up precious local monies for other regionally significant transportation projects."

The Board's decision to select the two local rail projects and advance those projects in the New Starts Program could establish reliable, multi-year funding as early as the federal Fiscal Year 2012. Over the past six years, for example, the agency has received an average of $80 million per year in federal rail funding through the New Starts program.

Without this federal match, the agency would be forced to utilize local funds to build heavy and light rail projects, which would make completion of the promised Measure R program of county transportation projects difficult to accomplish.

The Westside Subway Extension is estimated to cost $4.2 billion in today's dollars for completion of the Measure R segment from the current terminus of the Metro Purple Line at Wilshire/Western Station to Westwood. Measure R funds would be used to match federal funds. The project is currently in its Draft Environmental Impact Study/Environmental Impact Report phase, and the MTA Board is expected to make a decision on a preferred alignment later next year.

Ridership has been projected at 49,000 new station boardings for the Wilshire alternative to Westwood. An additional 27,000 boardings are estimated to be generated throughout the Metro system as a result of the subway extension. The project would connect key job centers such as Century City and Westwood with the growing Metro Rail system.

The $1.3-billion Regional Connector project would receive $160 million in escalated Measure R funds. Also in its Draft EIS/EIR phase, the MTA Board is expected to make a decision on a preferred alignment late next year. The project would connect the existing Metro Gold and Blue Line light rail lines through Downtown Los Angeles.

In addition to joining these two lines, the project also would enable trains to run directly between the Gold Line Eastside Extension, expected to open in 2009, and the Expo Line, which will connect Downtown L.A. to Culver City in the 2010-2011 timeframe.

The Regional Connector anticipates generating 16,000 new system-wide boardings and additional ridership on the connecting light rail lines through the county. The line would connect major downtown activity centers, provide a one-seat regional ride and reduce transit travel times by 12-20 minutes.

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