L.A. Metro steps into unchartered territory with unique public-private venture

Written by RT&S Staff
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LA Metro wants billions of state surplus for light-rail projects.
Steve Hymon/LACMTA

Aiming to relieve pressure on the heavily congested I-405 freeway, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) has approved two contracts for pre-development work on the Sepulveda Transit Corridor Project, using a first-of-its-kind public-private model.

This megaproject is planned to connect the San Fernando Valley with the Westside and eventually Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) via a high-speed, high-capacity public transit line. Currently, the primary travel option for most people is driving the I-405 freeway through the Sepulveda Pass, a choke point that is one of the nation’s most congested roadways. More than 400,000 people travel through this area every day to commute to work, school, and other destinations.

The Sepulveda Transit Corridor Project is funded in part by Measure M, the transportation sales tax approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2016. According to Metro, the total project will receive $9.5 billion in funding from Measure M and other local, state and federal sources.

Sepulveda Transit Corridor Partners-Bechtel was awarded a $69.9 million Pre-Development Agreement (PDA) contract to further develop its proposed heavy rail transit concept. More than 60% of this proposed rail concept would travel underground, with the remainder of the line operating in an aerial section. A Valley-to-Westside trip would take just under 20 minutes according to the team’s proposal. The estimated cost for constructing this solution is $10.8 billion.

LA SkyRail Express was awarded a $63.6 million PDA contract to further develop its proposed monorail concept that would be an aerial alignment primarily within the I-405 right-of-way between the Valley and Westside. Proposed travel times via monorail are estimated at 24 minutes and the baseline cost for building the monorail concept is $6.1 billion.

“With the Board’s action, we have reached a significant milestone in our efforts to envision, design, and develop the United States’ first Pre-Development Agreement specifically for a public transit initiative,” said Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington. “As we work diligently to create a world-class transportation system here in the Los Angeles region, we will also be creating a new market for infrastructure innovation that can potentially help us build the most challenging project Metro will ever tackle.”

Metro has said that it has “long sought to pursue” the PDA partnership model, which enables early contractor involvement and increases the likelihood that the project can be built via a public-private partnership that allows for innovations in design, engineering, construction approach, financing and operations. It’s hoped that early public-private collaboration will enhance the chances of success for the projects, as both parties can input on what is required of the new rail concepts, as well as what is feasible.

With the approval of the PDA contracts, Metro plans to begin the environmental review process this fall, where “concept designs for these and other alternatives will be advanced and/or refined through extensive, ongoing public feedback and technical investigation and analysis.”

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