What The Infrastructure Bill Means For Public Transit In LA County
By now you probably know that Congress passed an historic $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill after months of political wrangling and more headlines about mansions and cinemas than you ever cared to read (or something like that — I stopped paying attention).
Last week’s passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act creates roughly $548 billion in new spending, and public transit systems in the U.S. are set to get a record $39 billion over the next 10 years.
Given that we live in the most populous county in the U.S., and that our regional transit agency has ambitious goals to greatly expand its transit network in the coming decades, L.A. County has a lot to gain from this new spending bill.
Stephanie Wiggins, CEO of the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Department, lauded the new federal investments as “critical in enhancing Metro’s efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change and connect disadvantaged communities to jobs, business opportunities, healthy food outlets, medical services and other necessities.”
Metro’s planning staff is now going through the over 1,000-page legislation “to assess exactly how much money the bill will bring Los Angeles County,” according to Raffi Hamparian, senior director for federal relations at L.A. Metro.
Those funding formulas are set by the government and factor in figures like land area, total population and transit system miles to determine how many federal dollars agencies get.
“We can say that the resources will be considerable,” Hamparian said, noting that the general observation “is that funding will increase across the board, about 35 to 37%.”
Hamparian said L.A. Metro has enjoyed a “robust, consistent and successful” partnership with the federal government on regional transit projects, and that puts Metro “in a perfect position to match… our local money with the federal money.”
One current example: the $10 billion project to extend the Purple (D) Line to Westwood.
“We're putting in around $6 billion of Metro money coming from mostly the taxpayers of Los Angeles County,” Hamparian said, “and we're pairing that with about $4 billion in federal.”
One key source of federal funding is the Capital Investment Grant Program administered by the Federal Transit Administration. That program typically gives out $2 billion per year, according to Hamparian, but that amount will effectively double under the new infrastructure bill, “doubling the number of projects that can be built in partnership with the federal government.”
Where Will The Money Go?
Hamparian pointed to several of Metro’s “priority transit projects” — some currently under construction, others in the planning phase — that will likely benefit from the incoming funding boost, including:
- The Regional Connector, which will allow riders to travel from Azusa to Long Beach and from East Los Angeles to Santa Monica without needing to transfer rail lines.
- The Sepulveda Transit Corridor Project, which will build a rail line between the San Fernando Valley and West L.A., creating transit access all the way to LAX.
- Electrifying Metro’s bus fleet. The agency has a goal to be 100% emission-free by 2030.
- A project in the east San Fernando Valley to bring rail transit to several communities, including San Fernando, Pacoima, Panorama City, Van Nuys and Sherman Oaks
- The West Santa Ana Branch Transit Corridor, where Metro is exploring options to build a light rail connection from southeast L.A. County into downtown L.A.
The projected openings for those projects varies from next year to a couple decades from now, but many are slated to be operational in time for the 2028 Olympics.
So a lot of money will be funneled into local projects in various forms — but how soon will L.A. County transit riders start to see the difference on their local bus and rail lines?
Hamparian expects the U.S. Department of Transportation to get this money flowing quickly once President Biden signs the bill, especially with new transportation grants, known as RAISE grants, set to be announced later this month.
I wouldn't be surprised if some of these new dollars are going to either this round of projects or the next round of projects and we start seeing the projects that we're working on — whether it's the electrification of the J Line, which runs on the 110 Freeway, or our Broadway bus corridor or some of these major enhancements that we have in our bus system, consistent with our NextGen and Better Bus Initiative. I wouldn't be surprised if patrons start seeing the benefits in a matter of months, as the federal government tries to show the American people that this bill was about mobility, not necessarily decades from now.
There could be a second new pot of money on the horizon as well — if the House votes to pass the reconciliation bill, known as the “Build Back Better Act.” That legislation includes about $10 billion in grants related to transportation and affordable housing, and could represent a source of funding for Metro to create a fully fareless transit network.
The agency is currently exploring that possibility with a pilot program that offers free transit to hundreds of thousands of K-12 and community college students.