US: LA’s Sepulveda Transit Corridor Generates Debate by Steve Hymon

Metro staff continue to refine the concepts for the Sepulveda Transit Corridor project that will build a heavy rail line or monorail between the Van Nuys Metrolink Station in the San Fernando Valley and the Expo Line on the Westside — and eventually all the way to LAX.

We have news involving routes, station locations, cost estimates and potential rail yard locations. There is also an upcoming round of community meetings (dates and times are the bottom of the post) in which the public is invited to comment on any aspect of the project.

The bottom line is we want to know what you think of the routes, the type of transit, potential station locations, things you think we should be considering or anything else! If not attending a meeting, you can comment online by leaving a comment with this post or using the project’s official online comment form.

Before we dive into those details, let’s provide a quick refresher on the project’s process so far.

Earlier this year, Metro narrowed the list of potential routes and types of transit to four. Three of the routes would use heavy rail — the same kind of trains used on the Red/Purple Line subway — and the other route would be a monorail. All four routes would extend to the Van Nuys Metrolink Station to help reduce overcrowding on the future light rail line between Van Nuys and the Sylmar/Metrolink Station (called the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor). 

The travel times for this project would be fast — likely quicker than driving on the 405 at most times of the day— and ridership is expected to be as high as our busiest transit line, the Red/Purple Line subway. Before you ask: yes, Metro is working with UCLA to find a station site on campus and that station is expected to be the busiest non-transfer stations in the Metro system.

As far as project news:

•We now have some very early cost estimates for the four refined concepts and they range between $9.4 billion and $13.8 billion. 
Point of emphasis: the word “estimates.” This project is nowhere near the design or engineering phases and Metro has yet to do any value engineering on the project to help contain costs. 

The Measure M spending plan commits about $5.7 billion to the project from local sales taxes and other sources. Measure M assumed additional funding would be needed for some projects and the Measure M cost estimates for this project and some others were done before planning began or advanced on some projects.

•Why is the project expensive? 
One big reason: the Valley to Westside phase of the project is 13 to 15 miles long, running between the Van Nuys Metrolink Station and the Expo Line after studies indicated ridership demand was there. Two of the alternatives are also entirely underground. More tunneling adds expense. 

•One way to tackle the funding issue is being considered when staff are asking the Metro Board to approve using a Predevelopment Agreement (PDA) in which the agency would bring in a private firm or firms to help advance the design of the individual concepts.

The idea behind this approach is that early involvement from the private sector could help find ways to improve the project and lower costs. If the PDA is successful in developing a feasible project that is chosen by the Metro Board of Directors, the firm would then have a chance to make Metro an offer to build the project as a Public Private Partnership (P3). The private sector partner would also supply a portion of financing as well as potentially operate and maintain the project. Metro could accept the offer, refuse it or pursue another concept for the project altogether.

As part of Metro’s PDA approach, the public will still have every opportunity to comment on proposals, just like with any of our projects. Metro will have final say on all project design decisions, as well as running the project’s environmental review process. The Metro Board will be making the ultimate decision about what the project will be and how to proceed with the PDA partner.

•In response to public comments, Metro staff are also studying adding a station at or near Santa Monica Boulevard that would be in between the planned stations at the Purple Line and the Expo Line. Metro is still working on whether the first segment of the Sepulveda Project between the Valley and Westside would end at the Expo Line’s Bundy or Sepulveda stations.

•Metro has also begun looking for sites for a rail yard for this project where rail vehicles can be inspected, cleaned, maintained and stored when not in service.

One common question we’ve received is why Metro can’t use one of its existing rail yards or the one that Metro will build in Van Nuys as part of the future light rail line between Van Nuys and the Sylmar/San Fernando Metrolink station.

The answer is simple: none of these yards would have enough space to hold another fleet of heavy rail or monorail vehicles.

A maintenance and storage yard is an absolute must for the project. It can’t be built without it. These potential locations are not set in stone, and others may also be identified during the project’s formal environmental studies.

•Another question we’re getting: why not put the project down the middle of the 405 between the Valley and Westside?

The monorail alternative proposes a stretch alongside the 405 between Ventura Boulevard and Getty Center Drive. The middle of the freeway presents some challenges, which will be discussed as part of this round of meetings: 

—Under Measure M ExpressLanes are already planned for the 405 to replace the current HOV lanes. There isn’t enough space on the 405 for both ExpressLanes and a new transit line without again widening the freeway. The most recent widening of the 405 — to add the northbound HOV lane between the 10 and the 101 — was completed in 2014 and we don’t believe the public is eager to endure another widening anytime soon.

—Columns to support an aerial structure on the 405 would likely interfere with sight lines for motorists and thus violate Caltrans design standards for new projects. There is also a drainage pipe in the median that prevents flooding on the freeway that would have to be relocated to accommodate columns. That would expand construction into adjacent lanes and likely require extended lane closures.

—Metro has built transit projects in freeway medians (parts of the Green Line, Gold Line and the Harbor Transitway used by the Silver Line) and has generally found that riders do not like the noise, ambiance or accessibility of such stations. 

•On the subject of parking, Metro has studied how riders would reach the first phase between the Valley and Westside.

The vast majority would either use transit or walk and bike. We’ve found that only two percent of riders would drive to the line. This, in large part, is due to how the Sepulveda alternatives focus on connecting to other existing or planned high-capacity transit lines in both the Valley and the Westside.

•Metro is also studying routes for the second phase of the project between the Expo Line and LAX. At the public’s request, a third route option is now being studied that would partially follow Overland Avenue — this is possible only if the Expo Line’s Sepulveda Station is used for this project. 

•The Metro Board of Directors later this year will decide which concepts for Sepulveda to send into the project’s formal environmental studies. The Board could select any or all from the above routes and the Board has the discretion to add other options. 

*Source: The Source Blog

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