Los Angeles is asking for a federal loan as an advance on its transit tax revenues, in a plan that would take a 30-year rollout of transit projects to just a 10-year schedule that saves money in the process. Would a plan like that work for Sound Transit 2’s regional light rail expansion? Publicola reports that it just might:
This week, Bill LaBorde, policy director with Transportation Choices Coalition (a mass transit advocacy group), is in Washington, D.C. meeting with staff from Reps. Jim McDermott’s and Norm Dicks’ offices and Sen. Patty Murray’s office to make the pitch. (LaBorde was also planning on dropping in on Reps. Jay Inslee and Adam Smith.)
Sound Transit has not reviewed or put their official stamp of approval on TCC’s play for a light rail cash infusion from the feds to speed up construction, but LaBorde says Sound Transit told him that lacking cash flow is a factor in the elongated timeline.
Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick tells PubliCola “more money sooner is better … there are [Sound Transit] projects that could probably move faster if there was money sooner.”
However, he said Sound Transit would need to look at the details of any plan before signing off on it.
With a relatively tight schedule already, we could probably save just a few years with a federal loan, and we’ve already heard from sources at Sound Transit that experienced project managers are hard to find. But a loan of some kind may simply be needed to keep ST2 on schedule, as the “conservative” part of ST’s revenue forecasts have largely been eaten up by the deep recession well before most design work has even began.
And building sooner has some benefits…
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While getting projects done years sooner would be a boon to the region for obvious reasons, an earlier completion date would also have some less apparent benefits. Construction costs are at a low point due to the recession and getting projections done earlier would dampen the effects of inflation — which affect construction materials stronger than consumer goods as nations like China modernize.
The Transport Politic notes that this is exactly what a national infrastructure bank, which Obama and some national legislators have proposed, would be perfect for:
If anything, L.A.’s proposal is the best example yet of a project that could really take advantage of a national infrastructure bank, which could provide low-interest loans to governmental agencies to pursue major projects of future importance. The bank would be able to rely on Measure R as an assurance that it will eventually get its money back, and L.A. will be able to benefit from a quick advancement of its rail and bus systems, creating a veritable rapid transit network that in the United States would rival only New York’s in route length.
But the national infrastructure bank does not yet exist. Nor does the Federal Transit Administration have the funds or mandate to pursue a similar policy. So, unless Congress acts on its own, Los Angeles’ transit plans will continue to be relegated to a thirty-year timetable.
Congress seems unlikely to develop a national infrastructure bank in a reasonable time, so if LA is going to get a federal loan against future tax receipts it seems only fair to trade some votes for a similar plan for Seattle.