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On track with the Metro Line Megaproject in Los Angeles.

AMERICA'S INFRASTRUCTURE. As Bill Clinton wades into his first year of the presidency, both building and rebuilding the infrastructure are fast becoming focal-point topics of considerably increasing concern among politicians, community activists, and business leaders. Such widespread concern is especially underscored as the diversion of so-called "peace dividend" dollars is being touted as one key solution to job losses, environmental problems, economic woes--and to restoring America's preeminence in a post-Cold War world.

One locale where the entire transportation infrastructure is undergoing a significant transition is Los Angeles, a transition from a decades-old reliance on private automobiles to a public system. In fact, the city's Metro Line project represents one of the most ambitious and comprehensive local government undertakings of its kind in the country, one with staggering across-the-board impact. The project is not only testing patience, but old and new management techniques as well.

The whole Los Angeles region, long on the cutting edge of pop-culture lifestyle and entertainment trends, now finds itself undergoing massive physical transformation as ground is broken, tunnels are dug, and tracks are laid in a 30-year, $183 billion transportation project known as the Integrated Metro Plan. It is the largest public works program in the United States.

The plan primarily incorporates 400 miles of Blue, Red, Green and Orange rail lines, but elements also include 14 L.A. County bus systems, over 300 miles of new carpool lanes on the freeways, 500 miles of bikeways, electric buses, expanded Park & Ride lots, and Metrolink, a regional commuter rail service extending east from downtown to San Bernardino (57 miles), north from downtown to Santa Clarita (35 miles), and south from downtown to Oceanside (87 miles). The light-rail Blue Line is already operational, spanning 22 miles between downtown Los Angeles and Long Beach, carrying about 35,000 passengers a day, a figure that county officials initially underestimated. The first 4.4 miles of the underground Red Line are also operational.

The Los Angeles Metro Line is hailed as the nation's largest new rail system, projected to create as many as 1.4 million jobs and serve as a blueprint for similar public transportation projects well into the 21st century. A Los Angeles economic model done by the Bureau of Economic Analyses in Washington, D.C., predicts that an annual average of 44,000 jobs will be created as a result of the plan. Figures also show that rail projects alone have put as many as 50,000 people to work building the Metro Blue Line and segment one of the Red Line.

Why build a highly integrated transit system at a time when use of transit systems nationally is falling? Planners warn that without this transportation web, vehicles would slow to 17 miles per hour during rush hours by the year 2010.

Management Perspective

Without a doubt, an undertaking on such a scale poses unique management challenges of commensurate proportion. The Rail Construction Corporation (RCC) in Los Angeles is facing these challenges and seeking cutting-edge solutions to typical and not-so-typical management problems in a Promethean effort to ensure the rail system's success. The RCC is charged with overseeing all aspects of Metro Line construction, working with contractors, local communities, and engineering management consultants.

To the professionals at RCC, real project control is defined as the taking of timely action by alert managers--not just the routine presentation of project status by sets of Management Information Systems output. For them, the system is a management tool, not a reporting tool. During the final test/start-up phase of the Metro Line, it is important from a management perspective that the test/operation/start-up labor drive the schedule, rather than trying to shoehorn these activities into the final stages of construction contract work.

Lessons Learned

Laurence Weldon, RCC vice president and project manager on the Blue Line, found that, as the first leg of the Metro Rail system, his project has evolved as a "guinea pig" of sorts for the subsequent rail lines. To a degree, this means that, despite the best intent to stick with prior planning, some of what is accomplished has to be made up as managers go along.

"When you adopt a budget, scope, and schedule," he says, "you do so based on a preliminary engineering concept. But we decided to take an EIR (Environmental Impact Report) to the L.A. County Transportation Commission and come up with a more detailed budget, scope, and schedule, enabling us to sort out problems and issues in advance. Then we had a new package to adopt, which is the final design."

By going beyond the mere concept stage and completing preliminary engineering, Weldon was able to address the commission's needs and wants--and get a leg up on meeting major challenges. He's learned that it's important to get everything out on the table early in the project, rather than later.

Even so, there were definite political hurdles impeding the Blue Line's progress. For example, the project goes through a number of cities, "so there were lots of jurisdictional issues we had to deal with," Weldon reports. Building a consensus was difficult. One of the cities wanted a freight line in close proximity to its gleaming new city hall diverted in exchange for granting right-of-way. "We were held ransom," as he puts it, "with monies encumbered against us." Another city wanted a station terminal loop built rather than a prior-approved straight line station. Similar concessions had to be made in nearly every city along the line. (By the way, the freight line was never diverted, but the terminal loop was built.)

Perhaps the greatest management challenge Weldon is facing in his nearly eight years on the job is how to close a project. "Ironically, it can be more difficult than getting started," he says. One of the irksome occurrences hard to tie up is that, even though the Blue Line is fully operational, and supposedly off the books, people keep charging hours to its budget. He experiences project-close problems at least in part because there's been, he says, "no transition to a systemwide frame of mind. People have to start thinking in terms of the Metro Rail system, and not just the Blue Line, Red Line, etc."

Myriad Considerations

Similar concerns are voiced by Joel Sandburg, RCC vice president/project manager, and Alan Dale, deputy project manager, on the 18-mile heavy-rail Red Line subway system, extending from downtown Los Angeles to the west San Fernando Valley and expected to carry more than 250,000 passengers each day. According to Sandburg, when the Metro Line project transferred from the Southern California Rapid Transit District to the newly formed RCC in 1990, "the staff increased from fewer than 100 to over 500. Management reorganized as a matrix, taking a strong project-oriented approach in addition to a functional responsibility."

A key concern, Sandburg explains, was to provide adequate continuity of project effort and contractual fulfillment. "To this end we developed an organizational structure and management plan as the federal government required for project funding," he reports. Elements of the RCC plan include specifically defining organizational structure, key positions and responsibilities, plus addressing significant elements such as physical design, construction management, quality control, safety, employment of contractors, and risk management. "We learned from segment one of the Red Line," Sandburg says, "that the safety record could improve on segment two. That meant developing a safety incentive program for the contractors, based in part on other similar rail projects."

When a fire broke out in a 750-foot stretch of Red Line tunnel under construction beneath the Hollywood Freeway, management responded within hours by mobilizing a three-pronged plan to determine accident origination and minimize probability of recurrence, develop schedule recovery plans and construction workarounds, and rebuild the fire-damaged tunnel.

Still, managers continue to wrestle with the construction safety record, particularly in light of a recent independent survey purporting that the accident rate on the Metro Line is nearly three times higher than rates on similar construction projects.

The RCC has been innovative in another arena with a dispute review board aimed at resolving contractor claims problems. Comprised of a panel of three experts, the board has tackled disputes arising, for example, from changing conditions in the construction environment. Addressing such concerns has meant taking a "look-ahead" approach to management challenges, employing environmental specialists when needed. One of their most difficult jobs is the removal and remediation of pre-existing environmental hazards such as buried petroleum drums and chemicals.

As Sandburg points out, "The nature of local geology has to be taken into account. Some contractors encountered hazardous materials like leaking underground tanks or utilities that weren't shown. We needed a project management mechanism in place to negotiate new consultant contracts, changing from an annual work program to one that is long-term, incentive-fee based."

Customized Construction Applications

The spread-out geography inherent in building a transportation system typically requires coordinating the number of contractors working simultaneously throughout an area. This means that accurate (and immediate) communications are critical.

"Controlling schedules, implementing safeguards, interfacing of contractors all requires fast, reliable communication," according to Alan Dale. Crucial program scheduling has meant using such versatile management tools as Primavera, helping to track project milestones and meet resequencing demands.

Another paramount concern throughout the Metro Line, Dale says, has been to prevent accidents due to escaping methane gas. Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA), a system that is familiar to utility companies, is used to provide immediate feedback during both the construction and operational phases of the Metro Line on the condition of electrical and mechanical equipment, in addition to alerts on gas leaks and water flow.

"SCADA provides a superior method of control," Alan points out. "All incoming data is printed out in reports with quick turnover." While not a new measurement tool, Alan points out that the extent to which SCADA has been and will be continue to be applied in Los Angeles is unprecedented.

Technical Complexity

A particularly complex challenge was posed on the underground Red Line segment one by technical issues. "For instance, we encountered interface problems with contractors," Joel Sandburg says, "which meant that initial-phase station construction and later-phase station finishing had to be integrated for segment two." The management effort has resulted in reduced construction impacts.

"There's now a better design to the construction approach," Sandburg relates, "which means minimizing intrusions into existing structures like sidewalks, less disruption of traffic flow on streets--even an improved community relations aspect to the whole project." The RCC has developed, with the business and residential community's advice, a comprehensive plan to cut down on construction impacts. Vehicle and pedestrian access through the sites is a priority. Businesses along the construction route are offered assistance in the form of advertising, general construction maintenance, and prompt complaint resolution.

Along this line, the RCC realizes that transportation megaprojects (large construction cost and multi-year) must be good neighbors. They are mostly in urban areas and have to fit into an existing community environment. RCC managers are concerned about building high levels of public confidence in their ability to effectively manage the taxpayers' large financial investments and to produce quality results.

On the Horizon

Beginning in mid-1993, Blue Line riders will be able to transfer to the underground Red Line at the Metro Center station in downtown Los Angeles. Ultimately, a northeast extension of the Blue Line to Pasadena is planned.

In the fall of 1994, the first 20 miles of the Green Line are due to open on an east-west route through south-suburban communities. The route will terminate on the west at the Los Angeles International Airport. The Green Line was planned to be the first fully automated rail rapid transit line in the United States. Only three other transit rail operations in the world currently operate as completely automated: Vancouver, Canada; London, England; and Lille, France. However, transit officials recently reported that a fully automated line may not be feasible. Progress on building the Green Line cars was disrupted in early 1992 by a political uproar over the LACTC's plan to buy cars for an unusually high price of $3 million each from a foreign-owned company, even though an American competitor--Morrison Knudsen--bid a slightly lower price. Under intense pressure, the LACTC canceled its contract with Japanese-owned Sumitomo Corporation. The Commission then set out to redesign Green Line cars to make them compatible with Sumitomo cars already running on the Blue Line, and to make it more attractive for U.S. companies to compete.

The Orange Line, running from downtown Los Angeles west through Beverly Hills to Santa Monica, has now passed the drawing-board stage.

Management at the RCC believes it has identified additional opportunities to improve the overall schedule effort. According to Ed McSpedon, RCC president, "the key to successfully managing our way through the systems and equipment installation phase of the project is to accurately determine, clearly convey, and closely monitor or adjust the schedule and sequence of the availability of dozens of equipment rooms to the various systems contractors."

To this end, the RCC has developed an extensive room availability and equipment contractor need-date matrix as a day-to-day management tool for its construction manager. This tool will provide identifiable opportunities where directive acceleration of one or more contractors will lead to overall schedule improvements.

Summing up the RCC's approach to meeting management challenges, McSpedon points out that the agency is maintaining open communication with contractors, creating contract terms that are consistent with owner/contractor sharing of risk, and implementing a contract management philosophy that is responsive to contractor issues.

With nine years of this megaproject under their belts, the Metro Line managers are looking ahead to the next 21 years with a great deal of anticipation, continuing to think big, confident that the Integrated Metro Plan is very likely to stay on track based on the successful planning and execution that has already occurred.

Vital Statistics

Metro Line funding

1980, Proposition A one-half cent sales tax

1990, Proposition C another one-half cent sales tax


Southern California is the most highly motrized region in the world, with cars accounting for 90 percent of all transportation. There are 5.6 million licensed drivers in L.A. County.

Wasted Time

An average of 137,397 hours are wasted per day in traffic congestion on L.A. freeways, costing an estimated $240 millin annually. California drivers waste 1.2 billin hours per year sitting in traffic congestion. Per driver that works out to about 84 hours a year, or 10.5 workdays annually.

Road/Rail Comparison

A single High-Occupancy Vehicle lane has a freeway lane equivalent (in one direction) of 5 lanes. A commuter rail car can carry the freeway equivalent of 2 lanes. A light rail vehicle has the equivalent capacity of 7 one-way freeway lanes. One heavy rail (sub-way) car has the freeway capacity equivalent of 14 lanes in a single direction.

TOM STAPLETON is president of Stapleton Communications in Glendale, California. In his 16 years as a communications consultant, Mr. Stapleton has worked with many major corporations and public sector organizations including Lockheed, IBM, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop, General Dynamics, Security Pacific Bank, General Telephone and Walt Disney Imagineering. He has also taught undergraduate business writing courses at California State University, Los Angeles.
COPYRIGHT 1993 California State University, Los Angeles
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:transportation infrastructure
Author:Stapleton, Tom
Publication:Business Forum
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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