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Will traffic still stink in 2009?

January 5, 2009 | 12:41 pm

Last week I looked at some of the big transportation stories of 2008, overlooking (unfortunately) one of the most obvious stories: for about the googly-thousandth straight year, traffic still was bad in Southern California, although perhaps a tad better than usual thanks to the stinky economy.

Now that we're firmly in 2009, I thought it might be good to look ahead to stories I'll be following this year. And, yes, traffic will still likely be bad ...

1. Will the Federal Railroad Administration grant permission to Metrolink to install automatic train stop devices on its tracks. And, if so, will Metrolink install the devices quickly and in such a way that they could prevent collisions or at least slow trains down? The FRA sounds as if it's leaning toward approval, but the agency has also said that it believes a more advanced technology is the better safety solution.

2. Will the board of directors of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority vote to launch the necessary environmental studies needed to build the subway? This could happen as soon as this month's board meeting, which is scheduled for Jan. 22.

3. Will gas prices reprise last year's performance and rise to $4 a gallon for regular this spring and summer? The price of gas has ticked up a few cents in the last month, but you have to wonder if the oil companies last year finally learned that there is a price at which people will stop driving.

4. Speaking of the MTA, it needs to find a new chief executive, with Roger Snoble having announced his impending retirement last month. Look for the agency -- one of the nation's largest -- to seek out candidates who have overseen large construction efforts (the subway is just one of many projects the MTA wants to build in the next decade with new sales tax money) and have a background in labor relations, a must since the MTA has more than 9,000 employees.

5. What will the tolls be like for Los Angeles County's upcoming congestion pricing experiment on the 10 and 110 freeways? The MTA will likely be announcing its toll proposals this spring.

6. How will the Expo Line light rail project get from Culver City to Santa Monica? The Expo Line Construction Authority is slated to announce its preferred route in the early part of the year and a decision to put the rail line through an existing rail right-of-way through West Los Angeles will spark a big debate over the appropriateness of that route and whether rails should go across, over or under busy Westside streets.

6B. Of course, before the Expo Line goes beyond Culver City, the California Public Utilities Commission must rule on how the first phase of the project is going to be built near two schools in South Los Angeles. That decision should come at the commission's meeting at the end of this month.

7. Will any local transportation projects be funded by President-elect Barack Obama's infrastructure spending plan (assuming Congress approves it)? Obama is saying he's looking for ready-to-build projects, but what about projects in the pipeline that are a year or two out from construction? Will they qualify?

8. How will the MTA board spend the Measure R sales tax money once it begins flowing in July? Will the Gold Line Foothill Extension be the first project built?

9. Will widening of the 405 Freeway between the 90 and 10 freeways on the Westside be complete in 2009? Most of the work is supposed to be done this year, according to Caltrans.

10. Will deaths from vehicular accidents go down? Federal statistics show that the number of deaths in the U.S. in 2007 ('08 numbers haven't been released yet) was the lowest it had been since 1994, but it's hardly reason to celebrate with 41,059 deaths. Motorcycle deaths, however, climbed steeply last year.

-- Steve Hymon