Metro Staff Selects Preferred Routes for Regional Connector, Westside Subway

Metro's leaning towards a Westside Subway to the V.A. that doesn't include stops in West Hollywood.
Metro's leaning towards a Westside Subway to the V.A. that doesn't include stops in West Hollywood.

On the agenda for next week’s Metro Board Planning and Programming Committee are two agenda items that will surely raise eyebrows and cause some debate.  Metro staff is recommending that the Board approve Locally Preferred Alternatives (LPAs) for the Westside Subway and Regional Connector Projects.  It comes as no surprise to Metro watchers which alternatives were selected, but as Dan Wentzel notes at “Ride the Pink Line” it is somewhat surprising that the staff’s preferred alternatives were released BEFORE public comment on the projects is completed.

In the case of the Westside Subway, the staff recommended moving forward with Alternative 2 as the LPA.  This route would extend the Purple Line from Wilshire/Western all the way to the Veteran’s Administration Hospital just west of the 405 and east of Brentwoood.  As for the issue of whether or not the line will run under Beverly Hills, that decision will wait for another day.  The staff is recommending further study for determining whether there should be a stop at Santa Monica Boulevard or Constellation Avenue.  The casualties for this route are the cities of Santa Monica and West Hollywood that have seen their subway dreams dimmed by a lack of funding.

As for the Regional Connector, the proposed LPA is the underground option without the proposed stop at 5th and Flower which was removed from further study.  While this should be seen as a victory for the Little Tokyo community that fought to create this option after it had been excluded from the earliest discussions of the project, there are still some elements that are unhappy that the plan is moving forward at all.

Metro staff explained the reason for posting the staff’s LPA’s before public comment as a timing issue, Board approval of the LPAs at the October Board Meeting would allow a more timely submission for Federal New Starts funding.  The public comments will be available for the Board to review, and if they choose a different LPA based on the comments, then the staff would work on that alternative.  All comments submitted during public comment will be addressed in the final environmental documents.

Both LPAs will face some criticism from communities whose preferences aren’t reflected in the LPAs.  For the Westside Subway, the angry parties will most likely come from West Hollywood whose dream of having a Pink Line spur could be on life support.  For the Regional Connector, Little Tokyo businesses have united behind support for a “no build option.”

Unless the Metro Board overrules the staff or they can find a couple of billion dollars, it's R.I.P. the Pink Line.
Unless the Metro Board overrules the staff or they can find a couple of billion dollars, it's R.I.P. the Pink Line.

West Hollywood has not been shy in advocating for a Purple Line spur underneath their city.  Public hearings for the subway were always packed with advocates, and the city even hired progressive transportation firm The Sam Schwartz Company out of New York City to help study transit options for the city.  (Full Disclosure: Sam Schwartz is an NYC Streetsblog contributor, and my wife once served as SSC’s Director of Infrastructure, Engineering and Business Development)

While clearly miffed that the “Pink Line” is seemingly off the table, Wentzel outlines what options remain for the City of West Hollywood.  While dreams of a subway might be dead, there environmental documents for the Westside Subway do hint that Metro is considering a spur off the Crenshaw Light Rail Line through West Hollywood.  Also, the city could raise money itself for a trolley or streetcar system.  For their part, Metro staff seems supportive of the “Pink Line” concept, but couldn’t find the money to make it happen.

For a more detailed description of the LPA for the Regional Connector, or just a larger copy of this map, download a ##http://www.metro.net/projects_studies/connector/images/Regional_Alts_ENG.pdf##fact sheet for the project from Metro.net.##
For a more detailed description of the LPA for the Regional Connector, or just a larger copy of this map, download a ##http://www.metro.net/projects_studies/connector/images/Regional_Alts_ENG.pdf##fact sheet for the project from Metro.net.##

Meanwhile, while Metro staff has worked hard to address concerns that the Regional Connector would wreck havoc with the business, air quality and culture of Little Tokyo; a group of business owners are still demanding that the project be canceled.  Metro staff selected an alternative for the LPA, the “underground only” option that only exists because of the advocacy of the community.  However, a group of Little Tokyo businesses aren’t satisfied.

Little Tokyo news site Rafu Shimpo explains their concerns:

Local business owners understand the benefits of the regional connector for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion. However, a fully underground alternative, which has been backed by the Little Tokyo Community Council, will lead to drilling a tunnel beneath Second Street in the heart of Little Tokyo. Many owners are concerned about this Metro option’s potential damages and business interruptions. On Oct. 16 in response to the Draft EIS/EIR, LTCC in a letter to the Metro Board requested targeted marketing and financial compensation for local businesses and the creation of a Business Interruption Committee that would work with Metro and Little Tokyo businesses.

Or, put more simply, they’re not opposed to the project; they just want to make certain that delays caused by construction don’t bankrupt the local businesses.  The good news for these businesses is that most of the construction will happen underground and that the minimal on-street construction could occur late at night and on other off-peak times.  The Little Tokyo Community Council has already given the underground-only alternative its approval.

  • Metro has been hinting about its preference for Alternative 2 for months.

    However, for those of us who support a Santa Monica Blvd. rail project, there are three options:

    (1) Continue to try and look for funding for a heavy rail project that will also have to pay for a transfer structure with the Purple Line. With Metro paying off Measure R this is a pretty unlikely option. I’d recommend refocusing our energies to Option 2.

    (2) The silver lining in the report states that West Hollywood has “high potential” as a transit corridor and specifically mentioned the possibility of a less expensive “light-rail subway”. The most likely scenario is as a northern extension with San Vicente Blvd. of the Crenshaw Line. This would be trading a one-seat ride to/from the beach for a one-seat ride to/from LAX — no small trade. The “Pink Line” would become the northern extension of the “Rose Line”. There is no funding identified for a northern extension of the Crenshaw line at this time, but as a crosstown route, it would serve a regional interest.

    (3) The third possibility is a modern streetcar running in a transit-only lane, possibly connected with Sunset Blvd. each of Sunset Junction and with the ununsed Beverly Hills ROW. This could be built fairly “quickly” in transit construction years with a coordinated effort. However, it would require giving up a lane of traffic/parking in each direction. I’m happy to do that, but I suspect some motorists and store owners would object. It would also necessitate running substitute buses on gay pride parade weekend and Sunset Junction weekend, or relocating those events elsewhere, but that can be worked out later.

    86% of West Hollywood voted for Measure R, and almost as high percentages voted in favor of Measure R in Hollywood and the Beverly Center areas. This no doubt offset margins in other areas of the county which did not support Measure R at the 2/3 level, helping Measure R to pass. I am hoping Metro has some good will reserved for West Hollywood and these other areas for a future project as Measure R made the Westside Subway extension possible in our lifetimes.

  • Joseph E

    My understanding is that the route to Santa Monica can easily be built in the future, when money becomes available (either after 2035, or if more local tax funding or federal funds become available sooner), but Metro will have to do another EIR, since it will not be included in this one.

    I will still continue to advocate for ending the line at Barrington or Federal, a few blocks west of the VA, instead of on the VA property. The VA will be a bad bus transfer location, has no developement opportunities, and no option for parking, and a station a couple blocks east would still be close enough to walk to the VA, while much better for bus transfers and access to Brentwood’s offices, shops and apartments.

    I hope that the Pink Line will be planned for with provisions for a connection with the existing line. If not, then the northern extension of the Crenshaw line, or another light rail alternative would be necessary, because it is difficult to add a junction to an existing subway tunnel. It would still be possible to add the pink line later, but digging up the street for the junction would be expensive, and would cause service delays on weekends and at night for months.

  • Roger Christensen

    Did the staff make a recommendation re a Crenshaw stop?

  • Kintetsu, a prominent name mentioned in the Little Tokyo business meeting story, should be familiar to international rail transit fans. Kintetsu’s parent company in Japan owns and operates many private commuter railway lines.

    I was disappointed that the Rafu allowed so many of the businesses to remain anonymous. Who prefers the no-build option? Who would be willing to work with the MTA?

    Clearly, Metro needs to work with these people. (It’s not the job of transit supporters to speak out on behalf of the MTA.) It sounds like a little reassurance would help. Maybe even some monetary compensation as well.

  • Joel C

    Roger: Yes, Metro recommended skipping the Crenshaw station.

    Joseph E: The recommendation does not preclude a subway to West Hollywood. But it does exclude the connection to the Westside Subway Extension. This effectively eliminates the possibility of the WeHo Line as a branch of the Purple Line. However, the line could still be built as a crosstown line, possibly connecting to the Crenshaw Line.

    As for the Little Tokyo holdouts: I am fine with Metro talking to them, and even compensating them for losses. But I am not in favor of payoffs and handouts, just to make people stop yelling. Metro should steer clear of paying out taxpayer dollars to squeaky wheels.

  • poncho

    at least build a little stub for a future branch up to WeHo so its many times easier if one was added later and with a fraction of the disruption. its a shame a similar stub wasnt done at hollywood and highland.

    there needs to be some way to force this on a jurisdiction if its determined that it makes tremendous sense to go under it. this is a 100+ year investment, the worst is when nimby cities/neighborhoods fight it then see the light just after a line opens when its too late to add them in… georgetown in DC, anyone?

  • What is “compensation for losses” if not money? These are business people, they think in terms of finances, profits and economics. Business deals and tradeoffs.
    I don’t know, give Kintetsu’s parent corporation a rail transit contract. It’s their specialty ;)

    If “compensation” turns out to be a sign saying “businesses open during construction,” that’s just weak.

  • Scott Mercer

    “without the proposed stop at Fifth and Flower removed from further study.”

    HUH? Is the Fifth and Flower stop going to be part of the project or isn’t it?

  • Yuck, that sentence was mangled.

    No, it will not be part of the project if the Board approves the staff recommendations.

  • Steven Roussey

    Well, West Hollywood could take things into their own hands and do like NYC has done recently by taking out lanes of traffic for bike paths: take the biggest streets (Sunset and Santa Monica) and reduce them by one lane in each direction, adding street cars and bike paths. All the through traffic will have to deal with it.

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