Sun, Jul

Sepulveda Pass Transit. Why Is LA Metro Hiding Subway Alternative 6?


[This is the eleventh article in a series examining whether Metro can be a trusted steward for the Sepulveda Pass Transit project.]

LA TRANSPO - The fifteenth of my 20 questions to Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins asked: “Why are Metro Alternatives 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 being designed under $60 million Pre-Development Agreement [PDA] contracts with SkyRail and Bechtel, while Alternative 6 is being designed as a lesser-cost task under a non-PDA contract with Metro’s environmental contractor HTA Partners? It makes little sense for Metro to design one of its six alternatives using a different type of contract, especially since that alternative also uses a different older subway technology. Metro and its Board cannot think this will result in a fair comparison across all six alternatives, especially a subway under Sepulveda Blvd with driverless trains (Alternative 5) versus a subway under Van Nuys Blvd with driver-operated trains (Alternative 6). … At best this seems like Alternative 6 is being shortchanged; at worst like this created an unfair comparison. Metro unfortunately has made none of this transparent to the public.”

Metro’s answer explained what they did but never explained why they did it or keep hiding Alternative 6: “Metro recognized that it was important to advance the study of an alternative that aligned with the Measure M expenditure plan, which initially conceived of a Van Nuys alignment for the project. This alignment was also studied during the feasibility phase and remained a reasonable alternative at the conclusion of that study. Since this alternative was not being advanced by either of the PDA teams, Metro utilized existing provisions within its contract with the environmental consultant to advance study of the Van Nuys Alignment. The development of all alternatives is being done at the same level of detail for environmental analysis. Activities related to P3 are part of the PDA team contracts, while P3 elements are not part of the environmental consultant contract.”

The real problem is Metro’s earlier decision to contract with at most two PDA contractors when they already selected three distinct routes. As the table highlights, this poor decision created a complex and muddled situation. Metro has already spent $70 million with the SkyRail and Bechtel consortia to design Alternatives 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, but only $7 million with their environmental studies contractor, HTA Partners, to design Alternative 6. SkyRail and Bechtel developed detailed Public-Private Partnership (P3) financing plans for their alternatives. HTA Partners didn’t. This complicates the Metro Board’s comparison and selection of the alternative to build because Alternative 6 is an outlier.

Metro further muddled this mess by deciding to use driver-operated trains for Alternative 6, an older technology with lower passenger capacity and no potential for future capacity growth. Bechtel and SkyRail use modern driverless automated trains with potential for future capacity growth. Metro has never explained why they made this decision, so I asked them in my question – and they ignored it. What are they hiding and why are they afraid to come clean with the public?

It gets worse. In 2024, Bechtel and SkyRail have been presenting their five alternatives publicly. I’ve hosted one presentation and attended two others. Metro doesn’t allow them to tell the public much or answer hard questions, but it’s better than the zero information Metro is offering on Alternative 6. Their contractor HTA Partners is missing in action. Again, what is Metro trying to hide?

Metro’s muddling and lack of transparency have created an impossibly complicated situation for the Metro Board’s upcoming decision on which alternative to build. I hope the Board has already started to sort out this mess and develop a strong defense for their decision. They’ll need it.

(Bob Anderson is a nuclear engineer with 50 years engineering and business development expertise in the aerospace and high-technology sectors. He is VP and Transportation Committee Chair of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association. Contact him at [email protected].)