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Metro Committee Approves $132M Regional Connector Construction Increase

Metro's Regional Connector subway is already over-budget. Image via Metro
Metro's Regional Connector subway is already over-budget
Metro's Regional Connector subway is already over-budget

This morning, the Metro board's Construction Committee approved an additional $131.8M for construction of the downtown Los Angeles Regional Connector subway. This increase ups the budget from $1.42 billion to 1.55 billion - a 9 percent increase.

The line had been expected to open in 2020, but has already experienced delays pushing it back ten months, likely to at least 2021.

The Regional Connector will be a 1.9-mile light rail subway. Its alignment follows Second Street (Alameda to Flower) and Flower Street (2nd to 7th.) The connector ties together the Metro Blue, Gold, and Expo Lines, making for transfer-free travel from Long Beach to Azusa, and from Santa Monica to East L.A.

What is perhaps disconcerting is that the current cost overruns occur so early into construction. If the agency is just getting construction underway, and the budget has already overshot its ten percent contingency, what kinds of additional cost overruns might reveal themselves when major construction really gets underway? 

Subway tunneling under hundred-plus-year-old streets in downtown Los Angeles was not expected to be easy. Metro tried to get a jump on the often complicated process of utility relocation, which needs to be completed in advance of tunnel construction. Metro utility relocation contractors have continued to encounter "unforeseen discoveries" necessitating advance relocation.

Though groundbreaking took place in October 2014, advance utility work is still underway, and must be completed for the most critical tunneling phases to get started.

Metro staff blamed cost overruns on the difficulty of closing streets to assess utilities. Metro CEO Phil Washington echoed his project staff, stating that the only way to discover where utility lines really are is to get in early to "bust open the sidewalks," though this is opposed by City Council offices and business.

When questions were posed about lessons learned from this, Washington recommended changes to the agency's processes. For the Regional Connector, Metro secured its federal full-funding agreement in advance of receiving construction bids, which came in higher than estimated. Washington stated that future Purple Line Subway phases would be bid before finalizing federal agreements.

Committee chair County Supervisor Don Knabe expressed a great deal of frustration with the cost overruns, though ultimately stated that he would "hold [his] nose" and approve it. The Construction Committee approved the funds on a unanimous 4-0 vote. The item will go before the full board of directors on December 3.

For additional background, see Laura Nelson's excellent preview article at the L.A. Times last week.

(Updated: The percentage was corrected from 12 percent to 9 percent.)

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