Public Wants Below Ground Light Rail for Downtown Connector

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Via Blogdowntown: Metro’s Proposed Below-Grade Route

Speaker’s at today’s hearing on potential routing for a project that would connect the Blue and Gold Lines in Downtown Los Angeles drew near-unanimous support earlier this afternoon.  If the plan goes through, passengers could have a direct trip from Long Beach to Pasadena without having to transfer.  However, as we’ve seen before, the issue of whether or not the line should be grade separated dominated much of the public discussion at today’s meeting.

Metro is proposing to study two routes in an environmental review along with a no-build alternative and a "transportation demand management" strategy.  The two routes both would start north on Flower Street before turning east along the 2nd
street corridor. New stations would go on for the connector on Flower, Bunker Hill, and in the Historic Core.

Blogdowntown explains the differences between the above ground and below ground routes.

The above-ground alternative would emerge from the existing Blue
Line tunnels around 5th street. An above-ground station would be placed
in the blocks between 5th and 3rd, and the line would cross 3rd before
cutting into the 2nd street tunnel. The line would travel east through
the tunnel, emerging at Hill street. Once in the Historic Core, the
line would split, with one direction of train travel placed on Main and
one on Los Angeles. Both would converge on Temple, and the line would
interface with the Eastside Extension at Temple and Alameda.

The subway alignment would continue north on Flower, with an
underground station roughly at 5th street. The tunnel would curve east
under 2nd street, with a station at Bunker Hill. It would then have a
station under 2nd street somewhere between Broadway and Los Angeles. In
Little Tokyo, the station would come above-ground on the block
currently occupied by Office Depot.

The above-ground alternative is projected to cost $800 million.  The below grade one just over $900 million.

 Unlike the heated debate over the Expo Line, this time there was almost no debate amongst advocates; everyone agrees the line should run below ground.  Whether it be concerns over pedestrian safety, or the impact a crash, either involving the light rail or just a crash between motor vehicles, could have on the line.  If both the Blue and Gold Lines are running on the same tracks through the Downtown, an ill-placed crash could take out the entire light rail system between Pasadena and Long Beach if the Connector is at-grade.  It’s rare to see Darell Clarke and Damien Goodmon agree on a grade separation issue.  Enjoy it while you can.

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Another part of the plan causing debate is the plans for the intersection between 1st and Alameda Streets.  Metro’s current plan, which Metro planner Dolores Roybal assured the crowd were just an initial plan with more details to be decided, calls for diverting north-south traffic by having a tunnel run below the intersection.  Pedestrians, east-west traffic and regional connector cars would all run above ground.

Representatives from the Little Tokyo Business District, while supporting the plan as a whole, raised concerns about the intersection because it would have train tracks moving in six different directions.   Goodmon noted that if the intersection is expected to handle 48 trains per hour, the official estimate for how many trains would be crossing the area at rush hour,  there will be tremendous gridlock and a pedestrian safety hazard.  Goodmon was also concerned that Metro’s rendering, pictured above, was inacurate and made to show a much more orderly intersection than would be expected.

Of course, funding for the project remains an issue, as it is for every transit project in America.  Roybal mentioned the Federal New Starts program as a possible funding source, which seemed ironic because it was less than a month ago that I heard Metro CEO Roger Snoble complain to Senator Boxer that New Starts is woefully underfunded.  Of course, Measure R would also help fund the project.  A total of $160 million on local funds would be dedicated to the Regional Connector if this ballot measure passed in 19 days.

There will be a second meeting next Tuesday evening at 6:30 in the Japanese-American Heritage Museum.

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