The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) on Sept. 26 approved $32 million for modifications to the SR-110/Fair Oaks Avenue interchange in South Pasadena. The money was part of the $512 million Phase 2 package of SR-710 North corridor mobility improvement projects (MIPs) Metro “programmed” for east LA and cities in the San Gabriel Valley.
A Metro spokesman confirmed the $32 million is in addition to the $38 million Metro programmed last December for the SR-110/Fair Oaks interchange as part of its $515 million Phase 1 MIP package.
“So that will be a total of $70 million for that project,” spokesman Brian Haas said in an email.
The next step is to further refine the project design and for the city to negotiate a funding agreement with Metro for the money, most of which won’t be released until fiscal years 2022 and 2023.
Based on the project descriptions included in the Metro voting packets, the $38 million covers construction costs, while the $32 million is for right-of-way acquisition and “design refinements.” Otherwise, the descriptions are virtually identical, except the Phase 2 version omits a note that says access to Shakers’ parking lot would be retained via Fair Oaks.
While welcoming the additional funds, Bill Sherman, who serves on the South Pasadena Freeway and Transportation Commission (FTC), wanted to know why the budget for the 110/Fair Oaks interchange has increased so much. He said only a few years ago, the project’s estimated cost was about $16 million while only months ago it was just over $30 million.
“Maybe there’s a good explanation on how we could have quadrupled [the estimate],” he told the South Pasadenan News. Caltrans agreed to draw up some design plans about six month ago, he also complained, “but we haven’t seen anything.”
Most local conversations about the interchange improvements refer to them using the shorthand term “hook ramp,” even though the project is generally understood to mean both a new hook ramp from eastbound State St. to southbound 110 and widening of the northbound 110 offramp to Fair Oaks Ave., along with other related work to reduce congestion on Fair Oaks.
In 1998, a total budget of $14.5 million was set for four “interim 710 improvement” projects in South Pasadena, including the hook ramp. Late last year, the Arroyo Verdugo Communities Joint Power Agency put the five-year, “short term funding need” for the hook ramp at $27 million.
In an email last week, Margaret Lin, who still staffs the South Pasadena Freeway & Transportation Commission even as she’s taken on new, long-term planning and economic development duties, said the hook ramp’s $70 million estimate “was based on discussions between city staff with Metro and Caltrans.” She said the city decided to use Phase 2 to ask Metro for additional funding because after those discussions, “we obtained a better understanding of the cost.” But she deferred specific questions about the increase to Shahid Abbas, who became the city’s Director of Public Works three months after the city submitted its Round 2 request to Metro.
Kim Hughes, chair of South Pasadena’s Public Works Committee, said that since Metro first asked San Gabriel Valley cities to submit MIPs in 2017, factors affecting project cost estimates have included tariffs, the minimum wage, rising steel and cement prices and uncertainty over the extent of necessary easement purchases.
The Federal Highway Administration’s National Highway Construction Cost Index, which uses Spring 2003 as its base, stood at 1.8424 in March 2019. Caltrans’ price index for “Selected Highway Construction Items,” which has a base year of 2007, stood at 144.2 for the quarter ending March 31, which was down 15.4 percent from the previous quarter.
Documents the city submitted to Metro in Phase 2 suggest the city believes the project could cost as much as $96 million. South Pasadena asked Metro for at least $20 million more than the $32 million Phase 2 money it got, but Metro turned down the extra money.
No fully scaled and engineered drawing of the hook ramp has been prepared.
The written project description in the Metro grants is based on a Google Earth drawing by John Fisher, a former Caltrans engineer and assistant general manager who serves on the South Pasadena Public Works Commission. Fisher prepared the drawing to replace a much older version that has been deemed unworkable. He told the South Pasadenan News he has been working with the city’s public works department to develop a formal engineered and scaled drawing “so it can be discussed in more serious fashion with Caltrans and other officials.”
Fisher said no one has prepared a complete estimate for the project. The drawing he submitted–which unlike the earlier version utilizes the area of the abandoned offramp that was built with the original parkway in 1940 but was closed when Raymond Hill was developed–would probably cost more than the older version. But he stressed the uncertainties, such as whether some of the land needed is contaminated.
“No one knows what the real cost would be, so when dealing with uncertainty you want a buffer.”