Advocating in Sacramento for LA’s Transit System of Tomorrow

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In Sacramento, LA County Supervisor and Metro Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas has a productive meeting on public transit projects with California State Transportation Agency Secretary Brian Kelly, accompanied by Metro CEO Phil Washington

As the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s new chairman of the board, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas met with state officials in Sacramento Monday to unveil his vision for Los Angeles County’s rapidly expanding public transit system and to seek millions in grant funding for various projects.

“LA County deserves a safe, reliable and affordable public transit system that increases mobility throughout the region, and is a catalyst for economic development,” he told officials, including California State Transportation Agency Secretary Brian Kelly and several members of the state Senate and Assembly at the Capitol.

Together with Metro Chief Executive Officer Phil Washington, the supervisor endorsed SB 767, which would allow Metro to seek a new sales tax via ballot measure to pay for additional rail and highway improvements; and AB1X-2, which would allow Metro to continue using private investment to hasten the construction of certain projects. The bills have been championed by state Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon and Assemblyman Henry Perea, respectively.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who assumed the chairmanship of Metro’s Board of Directors on July 1, also advocated for $8.6 million in grants for the Rail to River project, which would transform a blighted stretch of unused railroad tracks in South LA into a greenbelt with walkways and bikeways.

The proposed renovation of the Rosa Parks Station in Willowbrook received part of a $38.5 million grant last week, but the supervisor told state officials at least $3.5 million more is needed to complete the project.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ trip coincided with the “extraordinary” legislative session called by Governor Jerry Brown to discuss California’s transportation infrastructure needs, and how to pay for it.

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Good News Coming to Willowbrook

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The Rosa Parks Station renovation project received a major boost Tuesday with a $38.5 million grant from the California Transportation Commission. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will oversee the construction of the project, which is expected to cost between $40-$45 million. The station is the 4th busiest in Los Angeles County with more than 30,000 riders a day. Built more than 25 years ago, the station will be transformed from its current outdated layout to a more user friendly, safe and modern design. The state grant will also be used to fund traffic signal improvements along the entire Blue Line.

The station’s  new configuration will improve commuter access as well as bring a focus on better security with improved lighting, a Sheriff’s substation and improved streetscapes to make it more rider friendly. The master plan, which was approved in 2011 by the Metro Board, will also have a central plaza and pedestrian access to the nearby shopping center on Wilmington Avenue.

“I am grateful to the state’s transportation commission for this support which will go a long way towards funding this very worthy project,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who assumed the Metro Chairmanship role July 1. “The riders that use this station deserve to have first class amenities and services. I look forward to beginning the hard work of renovation and making this station a gem among Metro’s stations.”

The overall improvements include:

  • A platform extension with a shade canopy, signal improvements and a new at-grade pedestrian crossing for the Blue Line. New elevators, escalators and stairs for the Green Line will be built.
  • Better lighting and improved pedestrian access for all riders.
  • A new Metro Customer Service Center as well as a transit security facility and a Sheriff’s substation.
  • A bike hub.
  • More parking.
  • New civic art to decorate the station.

WB_rendering-pylonsConstruction is scheduled to begin in 2017 and is expected to be completed by 2018. The Rosa Parks station renovation project is part of nearly a $1 billion investment that seeks to improve the quality of life for the Willowbrook community by promoting health and wellness, economic development opportunities, job creation and improving public safety. Already, more than $650 million has been invested in the MLK Medical Campus, which houses the new MLK Community Hospital, Outpatient Center, a Center for Public Health and Mental Health Urgent Care Center and plans for a new senior housing complex with a new library have also been approved.

The Expo Line is Coming Soon to Santa Monica

DJB_2307The nightmarish commute between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica could soon take no more than 46 minutes – even during rush hour – with Expo Line Phase Two opening in spring 2016.

On Monday, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Mayor Eric Garcetti boarded one of the new trains being tested on the tracks in Palms. Councilmen Mike Bonin and Paul Koretz joined them.

“The dream that many of us have had for a long time – to be able to ride the train from downtown Los Angeles all the way to Santa Monica – is almost a reality,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who became chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors July 1.

“Now almost 92 percent complete, Expo Line Phase Two will be delivered on time and on budget,” he added. “Not only will it shorten commutes and increase mobility in one of the county’s most congested travel corridors, it’s also creating jobs in the community.”

DJA_0072Under construction since fall 2011, the $1.5-billion project has created more than 3,000 jobs and provided work to about 300 small businesses. About half of those hired live within a five-mile radius of the project, or in zip codes with high rates of unemployment.

“Expo Line Phase Two puts people to work, greens the environment, and ultimately gets people where they need to be, both safely and efficiently,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “That’s the triple bottom line.”

The Exposition Construction Authority, an independent transportation planning, design and construction agency, contracted with Skanska-Rados Joint Venture to build the new rail line. This fall, it will turn over the system to Metro.

Phase 1 of the Expo Line stretches 8.6 miles and carries close to 30,000 passengers daily between downtown Los Angeles to Culver City. Phase 2 is a 6.6-mile extension to downtown Santa Monica that runs mostly parallel to the Interstate 10, giving commuters an alternative to the freeway. Its terminus is just a few blocks from the Santa Monica Pier, prompting Mayor Garcetti to say it can take passengers “from Grand (Avenue) to the sand.”

Both phases combined are projected to carry 64,000 passengers daily between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica by 2030.

Mayor Garcetti added Metro’s rail system is in the midst of an unprecedented expansion. Thanks to Measure R — a half-cent sales tax that voters agreed to pay over 30 years for transportation improvements — the Crenshaw/LAX Line, Regional Connector, and Purple Line Extension are simultaneously under construction, and more projects are in the pipeline.

“It is one of the largest public works programs in the US right now,” Mayor Garcetti said. “We’re putting Angelenos back to work, putting the recession in the rear view mirror, helping people get home faster to have dinner with their families, and providing traffic relief in the car capital of the world.”

Getting Ready for the Big Dig at Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project

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What’s as long as ten school buses placed end to end, as tall as four people standing on each other’s shoulders, and powerful enough to drill a hole the length of 30 football fields?

It’s the tunnel-boring machine that, starting this fall, will excavate the two-mile-long underground section of the $2-billion Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has all sorts of fun facts about the TBM, but nothing to distinguish it – not even a name. That’s about to change.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 2.44.26 PMThis week, Metro is launching a contest for students to name the TBM, and embellish it. Preschool through elementary school students are invited to create an art illustration that will be printed on the TBM, while middle school and high school students will compete in an essay/video contest to name the TBM, and make history in the process.

Like ships, TBMs are named before being put to work for the first time, to bring good luck. Traditionally, a female name is chosen because the patron saint for underground workers is Saint Barbara.

With a front end like a massive cheese grater, and operated by a crew of 15, the TBM will drill through the earth about 80 feet below Crenshaw Boulevard. It will take about a year to dig a two-mile long path for trains to run from the Crenshaw/Expo station, past the Crenshaw/MLK station, and finally to the Crenshaw/Vernon station. The rail line ascends to street level beyond that point.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 2.46.23 PMEntries for the naming contest and art contest will be accepted until September 1. Contestants are encouraged to be clever, creative, original, and emphasize the significance of the rail line to the community. Winners will be selected shortly before the TBM is lowered into the ground.

Slated for completion in 2019, the 8.5-mile Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project would be the first to serve the Crenshaw District and Inglewood since streetcars were decommissioned in the 1950’s.

Funded through Measure R, a half-cent sales tax approved by voters, it is projected to have a daily ridership of 13,000 to 16,000. It will have eight stations, the northernmost connecting to the Expo Line, and southernmost to the Green Line, not far from Los Angeles International Airport.

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CREDIT: Walsh/Shea Corridor Constructors, contractor for the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project

Board of Supervisors Approves Wage Increase for Caregivers

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 recently to approve a raise for In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) caregivers, who currently receive a “poverty wage” of only $9.65 per hour – not including health benefits – to look after low-income patients who are blind, disabled, or over age 65, allowing them to remain safely in their own home instead of going into an expensive nursing home or other forms of institutionalized care.

Acting on a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis, the board approved an increase to $11 per hour by February 2016 and $11.18 per hour by February 2017 – contingent on the State of California continuing to cover 65 percent of the non-federal cost of the IHSS program.

photo 1 (2)“What we seek to accomplish today is to put homecare workers on a path to $15 per hour, a wage that shows we are serious about lifting people out of poverty,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said to applause from members of the audience at the Hall of Administration.

In a May 19 Op-Ed in the Huffington Post, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas laid out his case for addressing wage stagnation and income inequality, particularly for caregivers working under the IHSS program, which is funded and administered by the federal, state, and county governments.

“These workers, who take care of the most vulnerable elderly residents among us, are being paid less than $10 an hour or $20,000 per year… which is less than the federal poverty level for a family of three,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas wrote in the Op-Ed. “How is it that we tolerate this kind of wage for those who take care of our grandparents, parents and – relatively soon – us baby boomers?”

In their motion, Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Solis – the latter a former Labor Secretary in the Obama administration, said the current wage of $9.65 per hour “consigns caregivers to a life of poverty.”

photo (1)“At this wage level, many home care workers are forced to rely on public assistance programs to make ends meet,” the supervisors said in the motion.

The state is already slated to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10 per hour, effective January 2016. Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Solis’ motion, approved Tuesday, bumps up the wage of IHSS caregivers to $11, effective February 2016, and then to $11.18, effective February 2017, the maximum permissible wage under state law governing the IHSS program.

To cover the county’s share of the increase, the board would have to add $11.9 million to the Department of Public Social Services budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, and another $30.6 million in the next fiscal year. The money would be disbursed by the Personal Assistance Services Council, established by the board in 1997 as the employer of record for caregivers, who are hired directly by IHSS patients.

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