Tube or monorail? Two teams in long race to get Los Angeles moving

The I-405 in LA has been named the busiest interstate in any American city (VinceZen/Dreamstime)
Los Angeles transit authority LA Metro (‘Metro’) has given the go-ahead to two big-hitting consortia to develop their competing ideas for a privately financed, high-capacity rail system between the San Fernando Valley and the city’s Westside, the aim being to ease congestion on the notorious Interstate 405, which has been dubbed the busiest interstate in any American city.

One consortium, led by Bechtel, proposes an underground metro system and the other, led by PPP investor John Laing and including Skanska, wants to build an above-ground monorail.

Earlier in the year, Metro approved ‘pre-development agreements’ (PDAs) to the two consortia to develop their concepts. These saw the Bechtel team getting $69.9m and the John Laing team $63.6m.

Metro wants the first phase of the roughly 20-mile mass transit scheme, known as the Sepulveda Transit Corridor, to start carrying people between 2033-35, with a second phase extending the line from the Westside to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) operating by 2057-59.

The budget for the new railway currently stands at $9.5bn, which is to be met by a transportation sales tax called ‘Measure M’, approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2016, and other local, state and federal sources.

The competing teams now enter a phase involving environmental reviews, concept refining, public consultation and technical analysis, which the John Laing consortium said would take “one-to-two years”.

Each team’s goal is to be named ‘Locally Preferred Alternative’, giving them the chance to submit a proposal to build and potentially finance the project, although Metro retains the right to choose a different project and delivery method if it wants.

Announcing the notice to proceed, Metro said pre-development agreements allow early contractor involvement and “increase the likelihood that the project can be built via a public-private partnership that allows for innovations in design, engineering, construction approach, financing and operations”.

“With our partner teams now able to begin refining their concepts, Metro can begin preparing for the environmental phase — the first step in delivering a project that will address our notorious traffic problems in the Sepulveda Pass, 405 and neighboring communities,” said Metro Board Chair Hilda L. Solis.

“This project will offer a tremendous alternative to driving in the region and will bring new transit opportunities to a car-centric region that places transit riders at the forefront.”

The Bechtel consortium is called Sepulveda Transit Corridor Partners (STCP) and includes Meridiam Sepulveda and American Triple I (ATI) as equity members and Mott MacDonald, T.Y. Lin and Systra for the engineering.

The monorail is promoted by LA SkyRail Express (LASRE), comprising John Laing, Skanska, BYD, Gensler, HDR, ACI and Innova.

Image: The I-405 in LA has been named the busiest interstate in any American city (VinceZen/Dreamstime)

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