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Metro looking for private contractor to help plan rail through Sepulveda Pass

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Could a public-private partnership speed up the anticipated project?

Aerial view of the 405/Sepulveda Pass
Metro is considering three heavy rail routes and one monorail system through the Sepulveda Pass.

Metro may seek the help of private companies in planning one of Los Angeles’s most anticipated public transportation projects: a rail route through the notoriously congested Sepulveda Pass.

This month, the agency’s Board of Directors will consider whether to allow staff to negotiate pre-development agreements allowing private contractors to participate in the project’s early design process, and eventually to submit bids for its construction.

The agency received three proposals from private companies in 2016 suggesting ways to speed up the project’s construction. The details of those proposals are confidential, but a staff report indicates that two of them would require the agency to team up with an outside contractor to plan, construct, and possibly even operate the rail line.

Metro already contracts with outside companies to construct major projects, but a public-private partnership like this would give a single contractor far more control over the design and buildout of all aspects of a new rail line.

The report notes that Metro will likely enter into pre-development agreements with two contractors, as the agency is considering two distinct modes of travel for the project.

In January, Metro announced it would pursue one of four potential project proposals: three heavy rail routes and one monorail system. The agency has two heavy rail lines already in service—the Red and Purple lines—but a monorail would be unprecedented in Los Angeles County.

All options would cost a great deal and would require a significant amount of time to construct. Under the Measure M project schedule, approved by LA voters in 2016, the new transit connection between Van Nuys and Westwood would open in 2033. But the agency’s directors aim to complete the rail line sooner, and included it on a list of 28 projects that could be completed in time for the 2028 Olympics.

The staff report suggests that partnering with an outside contractor could allow Metro to capitalize on “private sector efficiencies” and to manage risks stemming from an “accelerated schedule.”

If the board allows staff to pursue a pre-development agreement, the agency aims to select contractors by next year. A final project design isn’t expected to be locked in place until 2023.