As Paris Olympics near, Los Angeles officials worry about preparations for 2028

The high financial cost of the 2028 Olympics is starting to come into greater focus as the Paris Games approach, as Los Angeles planners calculate the billions of dollars that will be needed to avoid traffic jams and long waits commuters.

Major plans to build rail lines crisscrossing the region between now and the start of the Games have failed, and officials are trying to find a way to pay more than $1 billion to operate buses that will likely disappear after the Games.

After visiting Paris last month, Mayor Karen Bass said the scale of the task weighed on her as the region prepared for the international event.

“It made us angry to realize that we need to be much more involved in Olympic preparation and all that that could mean,” Bass, Metro’s board chairman, said at its Thursday meeting.

The 17-day Olympics have been touted as having the potential to generate a billion dollars and produce legacy infrastructure projects such as rail lines, without burdening the region with the cost of new venues.

The cost of the Paris Games would be $10 billion, which includes venue renovations. The city has relied on its federal government, a strategy that Los Angeles and local organizers plan to emulate.

But who will pay for the bus transportation of visitors during the so-called car-free Games has not yet been decided.

The LA28 private organizing committee has a budget of $6.9 billion, which will largely fund the orchestration of the Games.

But that doesn’t include the 2,700 buses — double Metro’s current fleet — that the region is expected to need to transport the millions of spectators expected to the Games.

The committee said that while it supports Metro’s efforts to build transportation infrastructure that will help run the Games, it won’t pay for all of that.

Organizers are confident the federal government will foot the bill for the additional buses. They cite as examples the previous Olympic Games on American soil – Los Angeles in 1984, Atlanta in 1996, Salt Lake City in 2002.

“The federal government funded the additional bus program used in previous Games in the United States,” Sam Morrissey, LA28 vice president of transportation, said in an emailed statement. “And we will work with our partners to seek support from the federal government for this also in 2028.”

LA28’s government relations staff discussed this and other cost issues with federal lawmakers well before the group was named host in 2017.

“The bus program is still in development and will be expanded based on available federal resources,” Morrissey said.

Still, Metro is worried.

“We have a huge challenge when it comes to the additional bus system,” Seleta Reynolds, Metro’s chief innovation officer, told a Metro committee last month.

“The federal government does not offer any discretionary grants to cover operations on this scale,” said Reynolds, who coordinates Olympic efforts within the county’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “There are very, very few sources of money that could cover that kind of cost.” »

The agency estimates it could cost nearly $700 million to train, clothe and pay the many temporary mechanics and drivers needed to transport passengers to games. And the cost could reach $1 billion if the vehicles are leased.

During the Salt Lake City Winter Games, transit agencies across the country loaned local agencies their oldest buses. But once the Games were over, some didn’t want them to return and the city had to get rid of them.

This is a major sticking point. Unlike previous Games, private vehicles will not be permitted in many venue car parks due to increased security and perimeters around the Games.

Officials have dubbed these Games “car-free,” largely because of the lack of parking, which they say will force visitors to use public transportation. Transit officials hope it will be a bright spot for the subway system, which has struggled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the leadership of former Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles set ambitious transportation goals for the Games. The idea was to accelerate iconic transportation projects already planned, such as the Sepulveda Pass Line and the San Fernando Eastern Rail Line, and leave a lasting legacy for the region.

But Garcetti’s “28 by 28” plan, a blueprint for transportation projects he hoped would be completed before the Games, collapsed. Price and schedule were out of reach for many projects. Metro was unable to raise even half of the $40 billion needed to finance them.

“The plan was never realistic on many levels, and it took three or four years for it to completely collapse,” said James Moore, founding director of USC’s transportation engineering program. “Honestly, it fell apart at the touch. The financing assumptions were absurd. Many of the identified projects could not be completed on time.

The positive side, he said, is that if funds are dedicated to the additional bus system, it could improve an underfunded bus network. “Maybe if we see an effective transit system, public opinion and political will will change enough for us to keep buses,” he said.

Transit planners replaced 11 proposals with more modest efforts, such as improvements on the A and E lines, which Metro considers the rail backbone of the Games. The changes reduced the plan’s overall costs by $20 billion. Still, Metro is about $300 million short.

“Creating something that really lasts and can benefit all of us for decades, that’s what we’re interested in, that’s what Angelenos want to see,” said Eli Lipmen, executive director of Move LA, a group defense of public transport. . “It’s not like these projects aren’t going to happen; they will be completed – but not on an accelerated timeline.

The last time Los Angeles hosted the Olympics, he pointed out, there wasn’t much of a rail system. Since then, more than 100 miles of rail have been built, Metrolink created, the bus network has expanded, and now there is an effort to build a system for cyclists and pedestrians.

Still, he said, the operational challenge of acquiring enough buses to operate what is essentially a secondary system is daunting.

Last year, Metro unsuccessfully asked the Biden administration for an additional $319 million to cover Games-related costs, including $45 million to plan and design the additional bus system and $14 million to design itineraries for athletes and other personalities.

“It’s problematic,” Lipmen said. “It will be much more difficult to make this possible.”

So far, Metro has no contractual agreement with the organizing committee. But discussions are underway as they begin to iron out issues such as advertising revenue from subway stations that could help offset costs.

The city has already promised to provide “enhanced resources,” increasing police, fire, sanitation, traffic control and parking services during the competition. Details should be worked out by next year.

Times staff writer David Wharton contributed to this report.

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