Metro Staff Selects Preferred Routes for Regional Connector, Westside Subway
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.”
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.
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.