Los Angeles's "30-10" Plan, Or America Fast Forward
Dismayed by the thirty year time frame of Measure R , in 2010 Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villargosa brought forward his ambitious idea to get all of the transit projects named in Measure R built in ten years instead of thirty, hence the title "30-10". More recently, he and others have sought to apply the principles of the "30-10" plan to other parts of the country and have renamed it "America Fast Forward."
In the "30-10" plan the Mayor has sought to have the federal government loan the entire amount of expected Measure R, at least the 40% dedicated to transit capital, to Metro all at once. This loan would be paid back gradually as revenues from the Measure R sales tax come in, and would provide enough money so that all of the projects will be able to be completed in 10 years instead of up to 30. There are two major goals to this plan. First, because all of the projects will be built sooner rather than later, cost inflation is avoided and the projects will be able to be built for less money. Avoidance of inflation is expected to reduce the cost of building all of the projects by 20%. Second, the 30 - 10 plan is seen as a way to jump start the Los Angeles economy. In fact, Measure R is expected to provide an average of 16,900 jobs per year with $746 million in annual earnings, according to a report done estimating the economic impacts of Measure R. If the projects are accelerated then there will be more jobs each year with more earning. As the economic recession has lowered construction costs, it is possible that even greater savings than expected can be realized. Note, however, that some of the savings from building the projects early will have to be earmarked for interest to pay back the federal loan. At this stage it is unclear what such an interest rate would be, but Republican clamoring for lowered federal spending suggests that Metro would be unwise to expect the government to offer much of any subsidization of the rate.
Metro is moving forward as if they expect this plan to become reality. All of the major transit planning projects specified in Measure R are at least in the initial planning stage, with the vast majority much further along. By the end of 2011 or early 2012 several projects will be ready to begin construction if the America Fast Forward plan becomes a reality, including the Westside Subway Extension and the Regional Connector. If the plan falls through then at least some of the planning documents produced for the transit projects will have to be rewritten when the projects reach the original Measure R timeline because too much time will have passed between now and then.
How likely is this plan to become reality? While many feared that the take over of the House of Representatives by the Republicans as a result of the November 2010 elections doomed the 30-10 plan, there has been bipartisan support for it in Congress. The biggest issue is that there is currently no federal infrastructure in place that would allow for the plan. Some have mentioned that Build America Bonds could be used for such a program. Build America Bonds are issued by the Department of the Treasury, which pays a subsidy equal to 35% of the interest cost. Others have suggested that a national infrastructure bank be created, which may be able to loan Metro the money at a lower interest rate than the Build America Bonds would demand even with the 35% subsidy.
Villargosa has been smart to try to expand this proposal to cover other regions. Denver, Salt Lake City, and Phoenix are three cities in traditionally Republican regions that have implemented transit sales and other taxes in order to pay for aggressive transit expansion, and all three could benefit from a 30-10 plan. One would expect those and other regions that may be interested in this topic to lobby Congress in favor of the plan. Overall, I suspect that likelihood of passage is directly determined by how much money the federal government will have to spend to implement this program. If the America Fast Forward plan is revenue neutral then I feel that it is quite likely that this plan will eventually become implemented. Since it is extremely unlikely that the federal transportation bill reauthorization will see an increase in the amount of money dedicated to transit, any non-trivial amount of federal spending needed to implement the plan will either doom it to failure or require a transfer of money from other federal transit spending, such as the New Starts program, which would leave Measure R projects dependent on the New Starts program short of money.