As covered in:
- The Wave - Judge Rules Against Street-Level Expo Line Crossings
- Daily Trojan - Commission Judge Blocks Light Rail Work at Crossings
- Our Weekly - PUC Judge Denies Expo Line Crossings
- LA Times - Judge Throws A Curve at Expo Line
- LA Watts Times - Judge Rules Expo Line Unsafe
EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE DAVID LANDS A GOOD ONE ON GOLIATH
In a landmark decision regarding the MTA/Expo Line Construction Authority's two proposed Expo Light Rail Line crossings next to 2,100-student Dorsey HS and 3,400-student Foshay Learning Center, California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Judge Kenneth Koss ruled MTA's plans unsafe, and the community and LAUSD's safety concerns valid. The ruling is a tentative decision that will either be adopted or amended by the full CPUC commission on November 21, and it is a major milestone in a heated struggle pitting a scrappy South LA community coalition with the support of LAUSD, against the MTA and their local elected leaders building the project.
Judge Koss’ influential decision recommends the CPUC deny both proposed crossings and MTA submit the appropriate environmental review documents regarding the alternative options.
This is a major battle victory in a long and unfortunate war.
We are relieved that the Judge heard the concerns of the rail safety experts, traffic experts, LAUSD and the community. And we are regretful that the Commission didn't allow hearings on any of the other crossings, and basically rubber-stamped them believing what MTA said.
Two crossings went to hearing and two crossings were found to be unsafe by the judge. We believe that as the evidentiary hearings on Farmdale and Harvard Avenues revealed, the 'evidence' used by the MTA and Expo Authority to support their assertions that they are building a safe project is both unfounded and has been manipulated. (More on that this weekend)
The manipulation of data, unfounded assertions, and dismissal of valid safety concerns for decades, speaks volumes to the deficient rail safety cost-benefit analysis that our region's transportation agencies and politicians have been implementing with impunity. Our transportation agencies’ Ford Pinto cost-benefit analysis is why the MTA's Blue Line at 90 deaths and over 821 accidents, is by far the deadliest light rail line in the country, and Metrolink is one of the deadliest commuter rail systems in the country.
MTA simply doesn't value life.
For more about our response to possible project delay, the cost of redesigning the crossings, the project's financial background, excerpts from the evidentiary hearing, and excerpts from the Judge's proposed decision, and our requests of our elected representives click here to continue reading...
RE: POSSIBLE PROJECT DELAY
If the Judge's proposed decision is adopted by full CPUC, it may delay the full opening of Phase 1 of the line to Culver City, currently scheduled to begin service in 2010.
And true to form MTA's inflated estimates of delay and cost, exaggeration of impacts of the more expensive elevated and trench options, and undervaluing of the impacts of the cheaper options is a textbook example of a public agency cooking the books. This is their attempt to blackmail the Commission into approving unsafe crossings next to our schools of all places.
First off, since when is building something more quickly more important than building it safely?
Second, let’s look at the facts: On the stand MTA's executive admitted they could build up to the previous station and begin service.
UCA/Fix Expo Question: Assuming the regulatory approvals were granted to operate the line in the segmented way that's described in Exhibit 21, wouldn't Metro then be able to operate the line in that fashion?
Expo Authority Executive Eric Olson's Answer: That would be a decision of the Metro Board to make.
UCA/Fix Expo Question: But again, physically possible; right?
Olson's Answer: I mean, as far as the construction goes, yes.
Exhibit 21 is Pg. 2.4-72 of the Expo Line EIR (large pdf) which reads:
Partial Operation Construction Option
The Partial Operation Construction Option would phase-in LRT operations in three segments as construction milestones are met. LRT operations from 7th Street/Metro Center to the Vermont Station would begin upon completion of this portion of the Project's route in approximately 2008; while LRT operations to the Crenshaw Station would begin upon completion of this segment in approximately 2010. The final segment, from Crenshaw Boulevard to the Venice/Robertson Station, would be scheduled for completion in 2012.
And more importantly, the full line to Santa Monica isn't even scheduled to open until 2014-2015 - at the earliest!
There is no need to rush to compromise safety.
It is more important that we get this right, make the appropriate investments on the front end to save lives - particularly the lives of children, so the public isn't paying on the back-end with accident lawsuits and inexplicable pain from deaths and injury. This is a 100 year project - build it right.
Furthermore, if there is a delay to the project, the delay is of MTA's own making and due to the failure of political leadership to address legitimate community concerns.
As we showed in a post earlier this week, MTA's own documents on this project prove that from its inception, the community has repeatedly and loudly said that the street-level crossings, in particularly near our schools, are not safe and were unacceptable. But out of bureaucratic arrogance and political indifference, MTA and our political leaders have fought the community at every turn.
RE: THE COST OF REDESIGNING THE CROSSINGS
In the backdrop of one of the most horrific train accidents in this country's history that cost us 26 innocent lives, seriously injured and maimed 135 people, and has made our region's public transportation agencies an embarrassment to the world, please tell us that our elected officials and transportation agency bureaucrats aren't claiming that they don't have the money to make the Expo Line safe.
Tell us that they've learned their lesson - unfortunately the hard way.
Tell us that they're not still of the mindset that has led to hundreds of preventable deaths on our tracks like last month’s Chatsworth accident. Tell us they don’t still believe that time and money is more important than saving peoples lives and limbs.
This is the problem with the term "safe." It is by definition a relative term subject to misinterpretation by elected officials.
For example, before the Chatsworth accident it was too expensive to implement positive train control and that segment of track was 'safe.' After the tragedy it is clearly unsafe and the cost of the technology is a drop in the bucket. It shouldn't take multiple deaths and worldwide embarrassment to make our elected officials realize that.
RE: BACKGROUND REGARDING THE FINANCIAL HISTORY OF THE PROJECT
In 2004, MTA pulled this project out of the federal New Starts program, in the process walking away from $320 million federal dollars, saying they'd build the project primarily with state and local money instead, because they wanted to speed up construction. That doesn't sound like an agency that can't afford to build grade separation to me. That sounds like an agency with plenty of financial options.
In the past year alone, MTA has appropriated $222 million extra dollars to the now $862 million project, including $54 million to add an overpass in Culver City to Phase 1 of Expo. And they appropriated these funds while telling us with a straight face that there's no money for additional grade separation in South LA.
It is insulting to the intelligence of the people that have followed this issue to suggest this multi-billion dollar agency led by the most powerful politicians in the county, can't find a way to make the Expo Line safe in our community - particularly right next to our schools.
MTA has the resources. MTA has many options - they can scale the project back for one. The fundamental problem is MTA has and unfortunately continues to lack a concern for safety in South LA.
RE: EXPERT EXCERPTS FROM THE EVIDENTIARY HEARING
At the evidentiary hearing three expert witnesses testified on behalf of the community group including Professor Najmedin Meshkati, an internationally renowned expert in human risk analysis and creator of USC’s Transportation System safety program, Ed Ruszak an nationally-renowned expert in traffic impacts and vehicular accident causation, and West Point graduate and retired Major Russ Quimby, who for 22 years led the rail and rail-transit accident investigation group at the National Transportation Safety Board before he retired in 2007.
Quimby testified that there was a high risk of catastrophic accident from MTA’s street-level crossing plan at Farmdale Ave, which abuts the school's property line, and where after-school every day 700 hundreds of students flood the narrow sidewalks in 15 minutes at rates as high as 108 per minute:
As proposed, the Farmdale Avenue crossing creates a high risk that students will be injured and killed because the proposed safety mitigation measures essentially put the burden on students to maintain their own safety. The proposed crossing also creates a higher risk of a catastrophic accident. [....](More excerpts from Quimby's testimony.)
By 'catastrophic accident,' I mean an accident involving fatalities and/or injuries to a large number of people. As proposed, the at-grade Farmdale Avenue crossing creates the notable risk that a catastrophic accident may well occur under one of several different scenarios."
EXCERPTS FROM THE JUDGE'S DRAFT DECISION (link to the full draft decision)
"Expo Authority proposed a state-of-the-art system of gates and other warning devices at the Farmdale crossing, including swing gates to allow pedestrians to exit the rail right-of-way when all other gates are down. All of these gates, however, can be avoided easily by pedestrians. Considering the large number of crossings during peak periods, and the student populations using the crossing, we find that any system of gates or other warning devices at-grade would not eliminate all potential safety hazards."
"The parties discussed several other crossings at or near school sites along other light-rail lines. However, none of these cases presented the unique characteristics of the proposed Farmdale crossing at Dorsey. This issue, therefore, provided little or no weight in our determination of practicability."
"A.07-05-013, for authority to construct an at-grade crossing at Farmdale Ave. in the City of Los Angeles, should be denied.
"Authorization to construct a light rail line over an existing pedestrian tunnel crossing at Harvard Blvd., in the City of Los Angeles, requested in A.06-12-020, should be denied."
OUR FINAL PLEA TO THE CITY COUNCIL
Prior to the issuance of the decision, we delivered a statement on Wednesday before the LA City Council challenging the other members of the chamber to intervene and persuade our local black council members and MTA who have ignored legitimate concerns and data and instead, "declared war on the very community they were elected to serve and the neighborhood council system in general."
We believe it is now incumbent upon our elected officials from the council members to the congressional leaders, to do the responsible thing and listen to the safety concerns expressed by the experts and Judge, and take into account the impacts to the community and schools of the grade separated options. This is a transportation project that will impact this community and serve this region for 100 years. It is important we have a safe light rail line that is a compliment and a good neighbor to the South LA communities that it passes through.
Our intent is to now go back to the community and discuss this draft decision further, but for now we are relieved that MTA’s unsafe street-level crossing was denied – it is a cause for celebration. Today the judge choose life over the risk of death next to our schools.
Stay tuned for the next community meeting, likely the week after the election.