What the Heck Is Going on with the Regional Connector (Part 3)

Negotiations continue between representatives of the Financial District and Metro staff concerning the tunneling options for the Connector through the district continue this week behind closed doors according to sources familiar with both sides of the negotiation.  Both Metro and the Mayor’s Office have ignored attempts to ask about the status of the discussions and nobody was willing to speak “on the record” about negotiations.  However, there are a few things Streetsblog has learned that it can share.

As Streetsblog reported earlier, a group of powerful businesses and advocacy groups have banded together to demand what they consider equal treatment for the city’s powerful Financial District when it comes to how the tunnel for the Connector is built and whether or not the District deserves its own subway stop.  A strongly worded letter and lobbying effort caused the Metro Board to delay a vote on the final environmental documents for the Connector last month.  The Board vowed to take up the issue this month, but at this moment the exact timeline is uncertain.

A relatively small group has been in the negotiations.  Metro’s team has been headed not by Connector staff, but by Metro’s Chief of Strategic Planning, Martha Welbourne, showing as high a level of commitment to working something out as possible without CEO Art Leahy sitting in on the meetings.  The main topics of discussion is how to come up with a new tunneling plan for the Connector through the Financial District that is less disruptive to the community and still allows for a future station at 5th and Flower.

Representatives of the District have complained that the “cut and cover” method for creating a tunnel for the light rail through the District would create hardship for businesses in the area.  However the fully underground tunneling project similar to what is planned for Little Tokyo and the rest of Downtown Los Angeles would preclude  a station at 5th and Flower.  A station in that area would be approved with the environmental documents, but at the moment there is no funding for such a station in that area.

Advocates for the rail line are worried that if a different tunneling option is agreed to, that a lag would be created in the environmental clearance.  Most Metro watchers, Streetsblog included, believed that the Regional Connector would receive its final approval last month.  Would a new tunneling plan require new environmental studies?  Depending what new compromise is reached, it could.  But the months that a new study would take would still take less time than a lawsuit against the project funded by the obviously well-financed Financial District.

The other concern of Connector advocates is that a delay could imperil the $31 million in federal funds recently allocated in the FY 2013 Budget put forward by President Obama.  The FTA has signaled that when Metro is ready, the funding will be available.

In an effort to keep the project moving, preliminary engineering has continued while the negotiations are ongoing as a sign that Metro expects to be able to announce a plan and pass the environmental documents soon.  However, with details unknown as to what kind of engineering is taking place, new plans could preclude some of the work being done now, meaning Metro could end up paying twice for engineering in the same geographic area.

So when will the discussion move from behind closed doors to the public?  At this point, nobody is willing to make a prediction.

Yesterday, Metro sent around a rather odd letter to people on its Regional Connector mailing list announcing that the no discussion of the Regional Connector was planned for today’s meeting of the Metro Board’s Planning and Programming Committee but that a discussion of some sort could happen at next week’s Metro Board meeting.  Why was the email odd?  For starters, the Planning and Programming Committee Agenda had been posted since last week.  Second, the Metro Board can, and has, discussed all manner of topics at their meetings that are and are not on the agenda.

When Metro or the District is ready to comment on the record, Streetsblog will continue to update this story.

The full text of the Regional Connector email from yesterday can be found, here:

Regional Connector not to be Considered at Metro Committee Meeting Tomorrow

The Planning and Programming Committee meeting tomorrow, March 14, 2012 will not discuss the Regional Connector Final EIS/EIR

Anticipating Metro Board of Directors to Discuss Regional Connector on March 22, 2012

The Metro Board of Directors is expected to continue the discussion regarding the Regional Connector Final EIS/EIR on Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 9 a.m. at the Metro Headquarters Board Room. The agenda for this meeting has not yet been posted.  Once available, the agenda can be viewed by following this link: http://www.metro.net/about/board/agenda

The Final EIS/EIR can be viewed by following this link: http://www.metro.net/projects/connector/connector-final-eiseir

Thank you for your continued interest.

The Regional Connector Team


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