Feds Announce Regional Connector Funding, Hint at Purple Line Funding

Mayor Garcetti expresses his enthusiasm for the Regional Connector subway

Mayor Garcetti expresses his enthusiasm for the Regional Connector subway

This morning, local elected officials and federal administrators joined together to announce that Metro’s Regional Connector is now fully funded. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is granting $670 million in New Starts funding to the Regional Connector, and also extending a low-interest TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) loan of $160 million.

A document showing how the Connector is funded can be found at the bottom of this article.

While the Regional Connector announcement had been tipped in this morning’s Los Angeles Times, the surprise announcement is that the FTA hinted that it would also fund the pending request  for $1.2 billion for the Purple Line subway.

Streetsblog frequent readers may be very well aware of the Regional Connector. What follows is a three paragraph summary of the project and its timeline. If you’re already familiar with the project, skip ahead for today’s news, right after the page jump.

The Regional Connector is a $1.4 billion 1.9-mile light rail subway. It will extend from the Little Tokyo Gold Line Station west under 2nd Street to Bunker Hill, then south under Flower Street to the 7th Street Station. What best explains the Regional Connector’s importance is that it’s light rail. Yes – underground light rail. From downtown, Metro has light rail running north (Pasadena Gold Line), south (Blue Line), east (Gold Line Eastside Extension) and west (Expo Line), but there’s no connection in the middle. Today, to get from one of these lines to another, one has to take the heavy rail Red/Purple Line subway.

Regional Connector map - courtesy of Metro

Regional Connector map – courtesy of Metro

The Regional Connector closes downtown’s light rail gap, hence makes a lot of connections a lot easier. When the Connector is complete, today’s 3-4 rail lines consolidate down to just two. There will the combined Gold-Expo line extending from East L.A. to Santa Monica, and the combined Blue-Gold line extending from Long Beach to Azusa.

The Regional Connector was funded under Measure R, with additional monies from State propositions 1A and 1B. Metro proposed a route alignment in 2010Metro released its environmental review documentation in early 2012. Though some downtown and Little Tokyo interests opposed the project due to construction headaches, Metro approved environmental documentation in April 2012.

For the start of today’s press event, elected officials boarded the Metro Gold Line at Union Station, and rode the train one stop to the Little Tokyo station, which is the spot where the future Regional Connector will join the existing Gold Line.

Metro Board Chair Diane DuBois officiated. She touted the significance of the project in closing a gap, attracting new riders, saving time, and generating economic development. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti relished the opportunity to preside over completing this connection, acknowledging that the foundation was laid by his predecessor Antonio Villaraigosa. Garcetti expressed his displeasure that L.A. has been “replete with half-finished transit projects” and appeared genuinely enthusiastic that the connector would “make this a great city once again.”

Next, FTA Deputy Administrator Therese W. McMillan took the podium making the announcement that received the most applause. Though she mostly touted the federal role in funding nearly half of the cost of the Regional Connector resulting in today’s Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA), she closed by somewhat ambiguously stating that the Purple Line Westside Subway Extension “is up next.” This appears to acknowledge that the FTA would also be granting Metro’s application for $1.2 billion for extending heavy rail to the Westside. There was no conclusive confirmation of her remarks, so that story will have to wait until it’s made official.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Congressmembers Xavier Becerra and Lucille Roybal-Allard subsequently promoted the importance of the connector’s seamless connections, job creation, and transportation benefits.

Construction for the Regional Connector is projected to begin in late 2014, and, if all goes well, Streetsblog will cover its grand opening in 2020.

Regional Connector Funding – Sheet1 - Stats via City of Los Angeles, compiled by Joe Linton