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Outlook ‘depressing’ for Metro’s 28 by ’28 goal

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At least $3.3 billion in additional funding is needed just to speed up four of the largest projects

Metro train
Metro aims to speed up delivery of four major rail projects for the 2028 Olympics.
Getty Images

Less than two years ago, Metro’s Board of Directors embarked on a bold and symbolic push to ensure completion of 28 projects in time for the 2028 Olympics.

But agency staffers sprinkled a bit of cold water on those ambitions today, telling the board’s construction committee that at least $3.3 billion in additional funding is needed just to speed up four of the largest projects on the 28 by ’28 list.

Completing those four projects—rail lines serving the Sepulveda Pass, the South Bay, Southeast Los Angeles, and the Gateway Cities—ahead of schedule would also produce additional costs, since Metro would have to pay to operate them sooner than expected.

The agency estimates that an additional $1.2 billion would be needed to keep those lines running between 2028 and 2038.

“Every time we get a report [on 28 by ’28] it’s just a little depressing,” said board member Janice Hahn Thursday. “It looks like we just aren’t going to have the money to do this.”

Most of the projects on the 28 by ’28 project list were already scheduled to open by the time the Olympics opening ceremonies begin. But eight projects will need to be fast-tracked, and Metro’s board has already identified the four rail lines as “pillar projects” to be given first priority.

Delivering those projects as much as 14 years ahead of schedule was always going to be a challenge, and Metro CEO Phil Washington was quick to remind board members Thursday that all projects funded by the Measure M sales tax initiative are now on track to be complete by the target dates presented to voters when they approved the measure in 2016.

Washington stressed the importance of expediting environmental review on every 28 by ’28 project, in case new funding sources for construction become available at a later date.

“Our objective right now is to move projects out of the planning phase,” Washington said. “Then we can advocate more strongly for state and federal dollars.”

Federal money for transit projects like those planned by Metro has been particularly elusive in recent years. This week, members of Congress accused national transportation officials of deliberately withholding transit funding from cities.

The amount of time needed for transit agencies to receive funding approvals for new projects has nearly doubled under the Trump administration, according to a report from the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Still, federal money could be easier for Los Angeles officials to come by as the Olympics approach. Earlier this year, the Metro board discussed creation of a “White House Task Force” to lobby for those funds as the city prepares for the games.

In the meantime, a report from Metro staff suggests that agency leaders should consider developing the four pillar projects in phases, enabling portions to be completed by 2028, with the entire lines opening at a later date.

The agency could also take on more debt, borrowing against future sales tax revenue—but that would put Metro in a precarious financial situation, said Washington.

Board member Kathryn Barger suggested that Metro should be prepared to develop a “triage process” to assess which lines could—or should—be delivered first.

Those decisions will be tough to make, given that each line would serve a different segment of the county.

During the board’s executive committee meeting Thursday, Los Angeles Councilmember Paul Krekorian called all four lines “critical backbone projects,” but expressed a clear interest in one that would serve his own council district.

“The Sepulveda Pass project is probably the most important infrastructure project in the western United States for the next 20 years,” Krekorian said.

New Metro Chair James Butts expressed optimism that the agency could eventually close the 28 by ’28 funding gap, but asked staffers to “keep the board grounded” in future discussions.

Agency staffers will report back in December with a more detailed breakdown of funding options.