Leaders Unite at COG Summit

Collaboration. Consensus. Challenges. Communication.

By Carol Rock
Special to InterChange

Those were the cornerstones of the Valley Mobility Summit, held Oct. 22 at the Hyatt Regency Valencia, where a ballroom packed full of leaders gathered to discuss the future of transportation in Los Angeles County.
The summit was organized by the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments and involved elected representatives from member cities, including Palmdale, Santa Clarita, Glendale, Burbank and Los Angeles; consultants from various transportation projects; vendors and other decision-makers. 
Robert Scott, Executive Director of the Council, thanked major sponsors Wells Fargo, Edison, Metro and Newhall Land before welcoming the more than 200 participants. He shared briefly the group’s mission: to work together on projects that affect and benefit the varied communities of the area.
The morning’s emcee was Metrolink Chairman Richard Katz. 
“We sometimes forget there’s more to Los Angeles County than just L.A.,” Katz said, bringing Santa Clarita City Councilmember Marsha McLean, who represents the city on the COG, to the podium. 
McLean lauded the group for organizing and including the Santa Clarita Valley in planning and improving the interconnected regional transportation system.
“On your way in, you no doubt saw the freeway construction projects at the 14 and I-5 at the connection point of our valley,” she said. “We’re very excited that construction is under way on the I-5 truck lane project, which has come to fruition under the Golden State Gateway Coalition, and the leadership of Victor Lindenheim. 
“These improvements, when combined with other exciting improvements along the Interstate 5 corridor through Los Angeles, Burbank and Glendale, will not only enhance both regional traffic and freight movement but also enable the region north of downtown Los Angeles to remain economically competitive. 
“What is truly exciting is that we are seeing a number of rail and bus commuters not just coming to jobs outside of the Santa Clarita Valley, but coming into our community each day to access job centers in Santa Clarita. Clearly a regional approach to transportation benefits us all.”
Los Angeles County Fifth District Supervisor Michael Antonovich talked about the county’s involvement in developing a cohesive transportation plan involving all facets of movement — cars, trucks, buses, trains and planes. 
“We must move forward by identifying priorities for funding, strengthening unity between the two valleys and advocacy to receive our fair share of funding to complete those priorities, which are to create a regional transportation system that helps create jobs in our communities, (and) access to our schools and universities, to our airports and entertainment centers,” Antonovich said. “We need to focus on connection to Bob Hope Airport, upgrading Metrolink, completing our freeway system and coordinating our transit systems.”
Antonovich remembered his role in obtaining Burbank Airport from Lockheed and noted that the Antelope Valley line is the third-busiest line in the Metrolink system. 
“Metrolink operates 40 miles of track, 11 stations and runs 52 trains a day in the San Fernando Valley, 22 on the Ventura line and 30 on the Antelope Valley line. This service is a vital transportation link.”
The Supervisor pointed out that Metrolink was severely underfunded, especially in light of safety measures undertaken after accidents such as the September 2010 collision in Chatsworth and the need for double tracking certain segments of the system to make it run more efficiently.
Participants also learned about a situation at Union Station that could be improved with increased or extended rail.
“Currently all trains entering Union Station from the north, south, east and west have to stop,” Antonovich said, explaining the layout in which all lines terminate at the station. “This causes bottlenecks and congestion on the freeways. Run-through tracks will provide seamless service from Ventura to San Diego.”
Antonovich also touched on several projects currently under way to improve vehicular traffic, including the expansion of carpool service on the freeways. 
“The carpool lanes have been expanded to include the I-5 and the 14. Direct HOV connectors will minimize merging of cars and when the system is complete, you’ll be able to travel at 55 mph from Palmdale to San Bernardino.”
Participants were offered two breakout sessions before lunch: Valley Mobility Matrix, which covered the subjects of highways and railways in the north county, and Practical Sustainability, which included a discussion of regional “green” industries and recent technological developments in transit systems and vehicles.
Post-lunch breakouts included Goods Movement in the Digital Age, with speakers addressing rail and truck commerce, and a concentrated session on P3 and Transit-Oriented Development, which focused on strategies for Metrolink, light rail and subway.
Every participant went away with new information, including updates on the proposed High Speed Rail project being championed by Gov. Jerry Brown. 
Jeff Morales, the former Director of Caltrans and the current CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, gave an update on the sometimes controversial project that he was recently named to lead. Money from the federal and state governments have been budgeted and private funding will be essential for completion of the privately run system.
“Supervisor Antonovich touched on partnerships and that’s important. High-speed rail is what California does,” Morales said. “It’s one of the things that has made California the ninth largest economy in the world and the equivalent of one of its superpowers internationally. High-speed rail is the next stage of that; it’s an important investment. It’s not really about getting people from Point A to Point B, but about connecting economies within the state, making us more efficient, and more competitive in the future.”
Morales said work on the system would begin with the construction of a dedicated system in the middle of the state, which, he said, would bring “tens of thousands of jobs to the Central Valley,” and predicted that it would do the same when the system expanded to Southern California.
“We have shifted focus on this program,” he continued. “It had been planned in a vacuum, but what we’ve done now is make it part of the statewide transportation system. In parts, it will be a blended system, incorporating existing rail into the system. We are putting money to work, starting in the Central Valley. Our highest priority is going to be closing the gap between Northern and Southern California.”
Right now, passengers can purchase a train ticket from Sacramento to Los Angeles, but the train stops in Bakersfield, where passengers take buses to downtown Los Angeles. 
“Our highest priority is to move that forward, linking up 8 million people in the Central Valley,” he said, adding that as the high-speed rail approaches the Tehachapi mountains, it will begin the process of linking into the existing Metrolink system. 
Morales also touted the dependability of rail transportation, saying that the air corridor between the Bay Area and Los Angeles is the second-busiest in the country, but that one out of every four flights is delayed, sometimes up to an hour.
“High-speed rail will provide reliable point-to-point service,” he said. “Ultimately the plan is to connect the entire state, including Sacramento and San Diego.”
UPS President for Central California, Noel Massey, spoke of the necessity for a comprehensive plan now.
“If you have a short vision on transportation infrastructure, you’re going to miss a few things,” Massey said. “If the world outside is changing faster than you are inside your company, you’re probably doomed.”
One of the Summit’s central themes was a concept of a Valley Mobility Matrix, bringing together all the players to make everything run seamlessly. Scott outlined the group’s working goal for the matrix.
“The idea is for us to develop a plan, or matrix, for transportation and transit, ideally it would go back to the ’50s and forward to 2050,” Scott said. “It would provide a snapshot, a history, a wish list and a vision of where we were, where we are and where we want to go, something we can refer to.”
The matrix would be more than a status report, including proposed projects such as creating a connection between the Orange Line and Gold Line or improvements on the 405 at the Sepulveda Pass. 
“The next time somebody calls for ‘shovel-ready projects’ we would have this ready,” Scott said. “It will generate additional revenues and address issues that have not previously been addressed.”
Victor Lindenheim, Executive Director of the Golden State Gateway Coalition, said the matrix has been in the works for a long time.
“The matrix is a grid, an inventory of transportation projects and their status, such as the I-5 north capacity improvements. With all these things on paper, we can boil it down to two or three we can unite on and work together on them.” 

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A few days after the summit, Scott talked about the importance of such gatherings.

“In the past, this region has not had a voice, but now we can speak in a cohesive unit. This summit brought people together that needed to be in the same room – high-speed rail, conventional rail, highway and leadership – and got everybody on the same page, agreeing upon how the parts fit together,” he said.

“It’s all about connectivity – how the pieces need to fit. We are trying to come up with a consolidated plan: not parochial, not political, but practical. It was a great group effort. We need to focus on public/private partnerships; if projects can pay for themselves, there will always be a private incentive for investment. In these days of constrained government, we have to look for ways to finance.”

Scott also noted that he was pleased with the success of the summit, evidenced by the reluctance of people to conclude their breakout discussions, staying nearly an hour after the official closing time.