WTS Transportation Academy Day 2: It’s All Transit

On Wednesday, I participated in the second day of sessions as part of the WTS Orange County Transportation Academy. Although we had no site tours like the day before, I along with 24 other students learned about transit in Los Angeles as well as the proposed California High-Speed Rail project.

(Click here for recap of day one of the academy)

Our second day kicked off with a session at Metro headquarters near Union Station in Los Angeles, home of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA or better known by the general public as MTA or Metro). Metro officials from various departments took time from their busy schedules to speak to us about what they do, the projects they work on, how they carry out their jobs and more.

Metro CEO Art Leahy

Metro CEO Art Leahy briefly stopped by to welcome all of us to Metro. Leahy talked about Metro’s accomplishments in the last several years in helping revolutionize transit in a traffic-congested region with the continual expansion of the county’s rail network playing a big role in slowly changing that image.

Leahy also mentioned that with the baby boomer generation nearing retirement, job opportunities in the transportation sector will open up even more, especially for young people. This will provide them with a great opportunity to get an early start in a career in the transportation field, working in such positions as engineering, planning and management.

For each of the other presenters, I will cover just a few important points each made in their presentations.

Michelle Caldwell, chief administrative services officer for Metro, has worked there for nearly 30 years, holding many different positions throughout that time.

  • Being analytical is a talent.
  • Every task is a project.
  • “Luck is the residue of design” is a quote from Branch Rickey, former general manager for the L.A. Dodgers who was notable for bringing in Jackie Robinson to the team.
  • Less is more. When dealing with people including the board of directors for a transit agency, keep it short and simple and cut to the chase.

Roger Moliere is the chief of real property management and development for the agency. His department is in charge of dealing with real estate, property acquisitions and transit-oriented development.

  • Metro is one of the few countywide planning agencies in the United States that also deals with bikeways, highways, bus and rail transit as well as serving as an operator for those modes of transportation. Most others have separate agencies to handle the different transportation services.
  • Discussed extensively about transit-oriented development including how to make sure it fits in with the area, making sure it encourages transit use and making the areas surrounding it attractive for businesses and residents.
  • He pointed to the great successes of such developments at Hollywood/Vine and Wilshire/Vermont Red Line stations, both of which include mixed residential and business complexes with convenient transit access.
  • With federal funding for transportation declining, public-private partnerships are more important than ever before.
  • Despite making service attractive to all riders with one of the lowest fares in the nation for a large metropolitan area, Metro loses 77 cents for every dollar spent.

Doug Failing, executive director of highway project delivery who also served as Metro’s spokesman during the weekend closure of the 405 Freeway in July dubbed Carmageddon, talked about the 30/10 initiative and the highway projects the agency is working on in addition to transit projects. He was the only one of the speakers to emphasize the importance of communications in the transportation industry.

  • Weekend-long closures like the 405 Freeway closure is not a new concept at Metro as it has been something they have experimented for about eight years.
  • Engineers need to learn the importance of communication and work with people whose jobs are to reach out to the public about the work that is being done, when it is happening and how it will impact their lives.
  • Projects receive funding when it is marketed properly.
  • In the months leading up to the 405 closure, Metro communications team conducted outreach efforts to residents and others that will be impacted by the closure at places like UCLA and the Skirball Center.
  • It is always best to begin outreach efforts months in advance and repeat it over and over again until people are really aware of it.
  • Metro saved $400,000 in project costs when the construction firm reopened the freeway more than 12 hours ahead of schedule. Otherwise, the firm would have been penalized $6,000 for every 10 minutes its workers go over the deadline of Monday at 5 a.m. The workers all received bonuses for finishing early as well.

Krishniah Murthy, executive director of transit project delivery, also talked about 30/10, going over the rail projects that will be funded under this initiative.

  • 35% of Measure R revenues will go towards rail expansion, a signature part of the 30/10 initiative. The rest will go towards highway projects as well as increasing and maintaining other transit services including buses and Metrolink.
  • Sales tax revenues serve as collateral for long-term bonds and federal loans. Measure R will help pay back the federal bridge loans over a 30-year period.
  • In response to a question I asked Murthy about the potential Metro Green Line light rail extension to LAX, he told me one reason why those efforts have been repeatedly stalled is because LAX constanly changes its airport master plan, making it difficult for Metro to effectively plan a route to serve the terminals. Metro and Los Angeles World Airports, which owns and operates LAX, are still working together on bringing a direct rail connection to its airport.

Lastly, Don Sepulveda is the executive officer of regional rail. His department oversees not Metro Rail but Metrolink commuter rail, Amtrak, goods movement, LOSSAN corridor and the California High-Speed Rail project.

  • 15,000 miles of true high-speed rail exist in the world, none of which is in the United States
  • China has six of the 10 busiest ports in the world. No American ports made the cut on the top 10 list.
  • Discussed potential ways to expand Metrolink service in the county and improve safety such as grade-separation and railroad siding projects.
  • The LOSSAN corridor, stretching from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, is the second busiest rail corridor in the United States behind the Northeast Regional. This corridor alone hosts multiple commuter and inter-city rail lines as well as freight rail lines.
  • Metro’s purchase of Union Station from a private company in April allows the agency to take greater control of the facility for future expansion of rail service including the potential California High-Speed Rail service.

Following the conclusion of the session at Metro headquarters, we headed to Santa Ana via Amtrak for a presentation on the California High-Speed Rail project by former California High-Speed Rail Authority board chairman and Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle. Due to the lengthiness of this post, a separate post about that second session of the day will follow this weekend.