Regional Connector F.A.Q. 2 – What the Heck Is Going On?

When the final environmental documents for the Regional Connector were released to the public, we published a Frequently Asked Questions article explaining some of the politics and the issues facing the rail project.  In the body of the article, Streetsblog glossed over the concerns of a number of major players in the Downtown Financial District including Thomas Properties, Westin Bonaventure Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic (FAST), the California Club, Hines and Central City Association about the “cut and cover” tunneling style that would be used to create the Connector tunnel in the Financial District.

Image: Experience L.A.

It turns out that we made a mistake, the Financial District’s representatives had more than enough influence to delay the approval by at least a month so that Metro staff and the concerned citizens could try and work out their differences.  A motion to give final approval to the environmental documents for the Regional Connector were tabled before the February meeting of the Metro Board of Directors.  As we wait for the March Metro Board meeting, Streetsblog offers and updated F.A.Q. on the Regional Connector.

Wait, which one is the Regional Connector Again?

Wikipedia gets this one right:

The Regional Connector (formally, the Metro Regional Connector Transit Corridor Project, also known as theDowntown Connector or Downtown Light-Rail Connector) is a proposed mass-transit rail project to create a newlight-rail corridor through Downtown Los Angeles. The purpose of the corridor is to connect the Blue and Expo Lines to the Gold Line and Union Station. The corridor would become part of the Los Angeles County Metro Rail System.

What is the hold-up?

A Downtown group of businesses and interests in Downtown’s financial district including Thomas Properties, Westin Bonaventure Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic (FAST), the California Club, Hines and the Central City Association are laying the groundwork for a lawsuit against the Regional Connector’s drilling plans.  In every other part of the Connector project, a boring machine will be used to create the tunnel the Connector will run through.  In the Financial District, a less expensive “cut and cover” method will be used.  A lot of construction in a “cut and cover” plan happens at the street level, and the Financial District businesses worry that they will lose a lot of business as construction drags on .

Curbed obtained a copy of the letter sent by the business leaders to Metro outlining their concerns.

What are the next steps?

Next, a team from Metro meets with the groups that signed the letter to “work something out.”  I’m not sure what such a compromise would look like, unless Metro can somehow find the funds to change their tunneling plans.  If there’s a compromise to be had, I don’t see it.  Representatives of the Financial District and Metro staff have been meeting on this issue for months.

Why did the CAC and friends wait so long to make their complaints?  This is sort of 11th hour.

They didn’t.  Their objections didn’t make headlines like Eli Broad’s napkin plan or as the lobbying in Little Tokyo; but the CAC has been making the case for a full boring through the financial district since the “cut and cover” plans were announced in the draft environmental documents.  In addition, the Financial District group didn’t find out that a station originally planned for Fifth and Flower, the station that would be closest to the District, would not be built as part of the project until the final environmental documents were dropped.

The interests from the Financial District complain that they haven’t received the same considerations as other communities, notably Little Tokyo which had the route changed from the original proposal and then put underground.  They have a point.

What Is the Board Going to Do If a Compromise Isn’t Reached?

The politics of this issue aren’t pretty.  The Financial District is going to be moved into the City Council District of Jose Huizar, who happens to serve on the Metro Board of Directors.  In addition to voting on approving the environmental documents for the Regional Connector, the Metro Board is also supposed to vote on plans for the Downtown Streetcar at their March meeting, a proposal championed by Huizar but opposed by many members of the Finnancial District.  Butting up against future constituents twice in one meeting isn’t exactly a great, “welcome to the neighborhood.”

Of course, even if Huizar backs the Financial District interests to the hilt, that doesn’t mean the project will die or even lose a vote at the end of this month.  Local rule doesn’t apply in the Metro Board room as it does in City Hall, and Metro won’t leave all the funding for the project that already exists, including a recently announced $31 million federal grant, on the table.

What Happens if the Board Passes Something that the Financial District “Can’t Live With”

Curbed believes that the coalition that wrote the letter is laying the ground work for a lawsuit, and my gut feeling agrees with them.  However, as we saw with Phase I of the Expo Line, there are lots of ways to make legal mischief for a transit project beyond just filing suit.

You Didn’t Answer My Question

Leave it in the comments section.  We’ll be answering more over the weekend and on Monday.

  • FAILblog

    Sure they will let car companies close down flower almost every weekend to film their commercials but losing a lane or 2 in a 5 lane one way configuration is criminal.  Seriously the comparison between Little Tokyo changes and these assclowns is a strong case for false equivalence. 

  • The trench/tunnel for the Blue Line to access 7th/Metro station was done cut & cover. I suspect Metro has no choice but to do cut and cover given the shallow depth of the line entering the financial district. Topography (going under Bunker Hill) plus further along the tunnel can be deeper without a steep gradient which is probably why deep bore is possible for other segments. All the great and powerful legal threats etc. cannot change that reality. These folks haven’t done their due diligence or have an overdeveloped sense of their bullying ability. A suit would likely fail given engineering realities. Metro I suspect is currently explaining the realities to the high and mighty and just was cautious to delay approval.

  • Irwinc

    If the financial district wants the station restored in the future, they’ll have to accept cut and cover construction. In order to preserve the possibility of adding a station on 4th street, Metro will need to construct a pocket track (so we can later add platforms for stations over the physical space where the pocket tracks are located). The construction of pocket tracks and through train tracks are best accomplished as cut and cover as the hole is approximately the same physical size as a station box (all train stations are constructed using cut and cover method). If these guys want TBM construction, it basically eliminates the possibility of ever having a station in the financial district. They are not really thinking this one through properly.

    In addition, TBM needs a place for extraction. Since the end of Flower street tunnel will connect to an existing train tunnel, you have to find another way for the TBM to exit. So the argument for TBM here is really weak… even if we ignore the desire to add a station here in the future. Metro will have to dig a big hole just before 7th street to extract the TBM anyway, and if we are going to dig this big hole here, why not just construct the pocket track with cut and cover?

  • Guest

    There is a total absence of understanding of what does and does not lead to a successful CEQA challenge on these boards.  Metro is so sloppy with their environmental documents they leave themselves open to challenges on multiple grounds.  If the plaintiffs either want to kill the project (710 tunnel), or use the lawsuit as one of many avenues to result in a project redesign (Wilshire Extension, Phase 2 Expo, Crenshaw Line), or use it to result in a better settlement (Gold Line Extension) they just need one of the mistakes to be validated by a court.  Folks here nonsensically blame the plaintiffs, when it really lies on the very well paid Metro staff and their army of consultants listening to a board who are all reckless and arrogant with the law who make the projects vulnerable to challenges.  I run a business and if my attorneys ever drafted a legal agreement that was unnecessarily weak and made me vulnerable to being sued, the first thing I’d do is fire the attorneys and see if I could bring a malpractice suit, as would any sane business operate.  That logic doesn’t seem to apply when talking about public dollars, politicians and bureaucrats for some reason.

  • Guest

    You clearly have never seen cut-and-cover train tunnel construction, let alone in the middle of a business district.

  • Anonymous

    You can decide to have the TBM “pull to the side” and just stay there forever.  It is done on some projects.

  • Anonymous

    I have.  The make a box and then dig out from under it.

    You get to drive on timbers and metal plates for a year or two.  Access is easily maintained. 

    Big deal.

  • calwatch

    Part of that has to do with the consultant-driven nature of environmental document preparation. Any minor change and they start asking for money. So it is a calculated risk as to whether to pay the consultant, or hope this slides by without anyone noticing. Tom Rubin mentioned, when he was working on behalf of those challenging the Orange Line, of a several dozen page errata dumped on the last day of the review period, that “corrected” the assumptions on why a Rapid Bus network wouldn’t work. Unfair but not illegal.

  • FAILblog

    Flower and 3rd street tunnel were closed all weekend for filming.  I think that is the real motivation behind this.  Don’t cut off the car commercial filming.

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