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Compromise In the Air for Downtown Connector, Expo Phase II

11:42 AM PST on November 20, 2009

Yesterday, transit advocates received a double-dose of good news as the air of compromise blew in and the debate over two light rail projects was changed.  In Santa Monica, the City Council endorsed a "compromise" plan on the location of a light rail yard for Expo Phase II.  Downtown, Metro staff unveiled a new potential design for an entirely below-grade Downtown Connector that could address all of the concerns of the Little Tokyo community.

11_20_09_The_Source_rc.jpgFor the full image, visit The Source.  If the page doesn't load, it's their server, not my link, that's the problem.

First announced at The Source, then covered at Blogdowntown, Metro staff unveiled a draft of what the Downtown Connector would look like if it were entirely below-grade.  Previous drafts, including a plan referred to as "the Underground Emphasis Option" had the train spending a lot of time at-grade in Little Tokyo.  Even the most underground option had The Connector coming above ground near First and Alameda before connecting to an at-grade station.  Blogdowntown explains the new alternative:

The new alternative would instead place a station underneath theOffice Depot site, with trains continuing under the intersection astracks split to emerge via portals along Alameda and in the middle of1st.

The Alameda portal would be located north of Temple street, whilethe 1st street tracks would rise just east of Alameda, leveling offjust past Hewitt. Some temporary track on 1st would allow thenewly-opened Gold Line Eastside Extension to continue operatingthroughout construction.

Of course, there are still significant barriers before such a design becomes a part of the final plan.  Most importantly, it needs to be included in Metro's environmental review, a step the agency has yet to announce.  Second, the new plan would cost a cool $200 million more than the most expensive of the currently studied options.  Not surprisingly, even the expanded price tag didn't bother the Little Tokyo community that saw the design last night and voted unanimously to encourage further study.

Meanwhile, in Santa Monica, the City Council voted to endorse a location for the maintenance yard that will house Expo's light rail cars when they're not active on the line.  The surrounding community had argued that a residential neighborhood was a poor location for the yard, but as Curbed reports, via the Argonaut, there were some compromises.

Concessions have been made: A city official tells the paper that the"new planned location had been redesigned to eliminate 'wheel squeal'from the train and a car wash and cleaning platform would be relocatednorth of the Verizon property. A 110-foot sound barrier is alsoproposed to reduce noise from the train and the light rail yard."

Again, two issues remain before the light rail yard is a done-deal.  First, it's Metro, not the City of Santa Monica that decides where the yard goes.  Second, the station's new neighbors aren't done fighting.  Now they're concerned with a higher-than-originally reported level of methane gas in the area.

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