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Lessons Learned


Collaborative Leadership: Success Stories in Transportation Mega Projects
A "Lessons Learned" Approach to Collaborative Leadership in Mega Project Management

Successful Collaborative Leadership Example:
Alameda Corridor Project


The Alameda Corridor was a rail project designed to consolidate rail traffic between the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the rail yards near downtown Los Angeles. It consolidated 90 miles of rail and 200 roadway crossings into a 20-mile high capacity transit corridor between the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, California. "Twenty-five percent of all waterborne international trade in the United States passes through these ports," representing the third largest shipping container complex worldwide. (U.S. DOT, 1999) The Corridor will provide a capacity of 12.7 million containers per year as opposed to the current 3.5 million over existing tracks as of 1998. The project will also reduce motor vehicle congestion because it eliminates some 200 rail-high crossings.

The corridor consists of three segment divided into 15 subprojects:

  • North Segment - 3 miles - 8 subprojects
  • South Segment - 7 miles - 6 subprojects
  • Mid-Corridor Segment - 10 miles - 1 subproject (U.S. DOT, 1999)

Alameda Corridor (U.S. Dot, 1999)
Alameda Corridor (U.S. DOT, 1999)


  • Federal Highway Administration
  • Federal Railroad Administration
  • Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority (ACTA)
  • Cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Ca.
  • Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Ca.
  • Six cities through which the railroad passed known as the "Corridor Cities"- Los Angeles, Long Beach, Vernon, Huntington Park, Lynwood, South Gate, Compton and Carson.
  • Private railroads (Santa Fe, Union Pacific and Southern Pacific) - to share common ROW with competitors.
  • Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) - interested in easing traffic congestion.
  • Ports Advisory Committee (PAC).
  • Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) - interested in easing traffic congestion.
  • Residents of area - interested in jobs.


The Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are the two busiest ports in the United States and the third busiest in the world, handling more than $200 billion in cargo in 2001. The rail system to these ports had become inefficient. The four rails coming to the ports could not handle the increasing traffic and were causing detrimental impacts on the communities through which they passed. (ACTA, 2004) The benefits of the project included:

  • Consolidated, more efficient rail movements.
  • Reduced congestion/conflict with motor vehicles at some 200 crossings.
  • Community beautification projects since the rails bisected many communities.
  • Reduced emissions by 28 percent since the rail mileage was reduced from 90 miles to 20 miles.
  • Cut delays at crossings by 90 percent.
  • Reduced emissions of idling motor vehicles waiting at crossings by 54 percent. (ACTA, 2004)
  • Improve economy of the entire area by creating job training and new jobs.
  • Improve the quality of life to over 2 million people in Southern California. (Argarwal, Giuliano, & Redfearn, 2004)

SWOT Analysis

  • Strong needs to provide adequate infrastructure to carry cargo to the port areas.
  • Many entities benefit from the project's success - the ports, the rails, the corridor cities through which it passes, and all who benefit from trade.
  • The two ports were strong champions of the project.
  • Creative people at the Federal level to help create the funding package. (M. Huerta, personal communication, November 12, 2004)
  • The project took 21 years to bring to fruition. As time went on, the project became more and more expensive just through escalation of costs due to inflation.
  • Rail projects were not eligible for Federal grants. (M. Huerta, personal communication, November 12, 2004)
  • The project was very complicated.
  • The project was very expensive.
  • Improve traffic safety in the port cities by eliminating 200 crossing points.
  • Improve the environment by reducing emissions.
  • Improve trade by increasing rail capacity.
  • Improve economics of the corridor cities, as well as the port cities, by providing job training and creating job opportunities.
  • Corridor cities, communities through which the new rail passed, could slow the project by going to the legislature, holding up permits and causing controversy.
  • Environmental issues.


Illustrating what a truly collaborative effort the project was, the funding for the Alameda Corridor came from a mix of both private and public sources as follows:

  • Revenue Bonds $1,229 million
  • Federal DOT Loan 428 million
  • LACMTA Contribution 355 million
  • Ports Contributions 394 million
  • Railroads Contributions (Purchase of ROW) 18 million
  • State of California 7 million
  • TOTAL $2,431 million (U.S. DOT, 1999)

Gaining cooperation from this many entities was no small feat and is testimony to the leadership talent of those involved.


  • One important aspect of marketing was getting the media on board, especially in terms of the environmental process. The other major effort was the "road show" - a series of presentations designed to educate the administration and congress on the importance of ports and why the project was in the national interest. They used customs receipts and taxes paid as examples. Unfortunately, they failed to distinguish the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach from other ports. This made it impossible to fund with grant funds since it would set a precedent and all of the other ports would be coming to the FHWA for money. (M. Huerta, personal communication, November 12, 2004)

The many stakeholders of the Alameda Corridor Project had their own personal interests. Cities in the mid-corridor were concerned about the effects of construction, increased trail traffic and the many negative effects the projects could bring to their community. ACTA offset these concerns by including economic development features into the project that included:

  • Employment of local residents for at least 30 percent of all work hours.
  • Establishment of training centers for local residents for both construction and non-construction jobs.
  • Commitment to enroll graduates of train centers in apprenticeship programs.
  • Funding of a youth program for graffiti removal, trash pickup and other activities at $1.2 million. (Argarwal, Giuliano, & Redfearn, 2004)
  • The ACTA Board voted to remove the six mid-corridor cities from the Board. The cities sued and lost; however, ACTA knew they could cause project delays. To offset this, they signed memorandums of understanding with each city in exchange for monies to mitigate the impacts of the projects. The cities agreed not to cause permitting delays or challenge environmental impact reports. (Argarwal, Giuliano, & Redfearn, 2004)

ACTA, 2004 Photo Gallery
ACTA, 2004 Photo Gallery

Key Reasons for Success

  • Strong project champions, the Ports.
  • Flexible leadership at both the local, as well as the Federal level.
  • "Creative, willing people on the Hill (Capital Hill)." (M. Huerta, personal communication, November 12, 2004)


The Alameda Corridor project was a huge success for all involved because its project champions were able to make the project a win-win situation for everyone involved, even those who opposed it. This required strong project champions, in this case, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and a great deal of flexibility from everyone involved including the Federal level made the project come together. Some important lessons learned from this project are applicable to all mega projects:

  • Mega projects must have a strong group of champions in the region - in this case, the ports.
  • Mega projects need champions in the Federal Agencies in powerful positions who can help solve problems and get to people who can help solve problems. Sometimes special legislature is needed to overcome problems.
  • There needs to be flexible, creative people at the federal level (Capitol Hill).
  • Do not allow anything anyone says to be fatal. Take the problem and go to the right people and get it solved.
  • These large projects are inherently chaotic. Need to be flexible and willing to work together right down to the signing of the loan.
  • Cannot go into the project with preconceived notions of what the right answer is. Focus on the outcome. (M. Huerta, personal communication, November 12, 2004)
  • The faster you get to the press with changes in funding the more likelihood that the focus will be on a solution to the problem rather than who to blame
  • Quality control will always be a concern due to change orders, supervision, capabilities and oversight.
  • Human resources require technical expertise but also institutional knowledge.
  • Projects of this type require a visionary leader and an extraordinarily, well thought out sales pitch.
  • "Humility - Egos get in the way. You have to put aside your knowledge/feeling/perspective and accept what others say and do - listen." (P. Basso, personal communication, November 15, 2004)
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