The Regional Connector project team starts a new round of community meetings on Thursday, and it’s no surprise that the most community concern is centered in Little Tokyo. The issue: Planners are wrangling over potential alignments for the light rail line and how best to get train tracks across the very busy intersection of 1st St. and Alameda to connect with the soon-to-open Eastside Gold Line Extension.
Little Tokyo is only one of three Japan Towns in the country — the only other two are in San Jose and San Francisco). Community members here are concerned Metro’s plans for the regional connector are consistent with community visions and that the rail line doesn’t block traffic by crossing the intersection at street level.
There are two basic versions of the connector that are being studied as part of the environmental review process — an at-street level rail line and a line that would be mostly underground. Both options have generated a lot of discussion. The street level line would, of course, take space on roads from vehicles and give it to transit and has not been popular with many downtown interests.
The underground option would mostly rid the line of that problem but the question has been how to get the train off the new Gold Line tracks and get it underground. The tunnel opening, as discussed, has been on the west side of Alameda while the Gold Line tracks are on the east side of the street. So somehow the tracks have to cross Alameda and there’s little room to put a tunnel portal on the east side of the street.
One solution offered by the Little Tokyo Community Council, is for Metro to consider an option that would create an underground station for the connector under the new Little Tokyo Gold Line Station to lessen multi-year construction impacts at the Office Depot block. (For more coverage of community concerns, here’s a recent story on blogdowntown.com).
Metro’s planners tell me that this option merits further consideration. It would, however require riders to get off the Gold Line and transfer to the Connector at the Little Tokyo Gold Line Station. That could betray the very purpose of the connector, which is envisioned as providing a way for passengers on the Gold, Blue and future Expo line to ride through downtown Los Angeles without having to transfer to another train.
The community meetings will also give planners a chance to summarize input from the public on the last round of community meetings that were held in August. Planners will also talk about refinements they’ve made to the project, which the Metro Board wants to see open in 2019. The project team also will present some initial long-term ridership projections they are keeping under wraps until the meetings.
Specific to Little Tokyo, Metro staff said they have chipped away at some of the community’s main concerns about construction impacts and the preservation of existing commercial buildings for the underground version of the connector. Planners say that as part of the environmental review they are proposing mitigations that would:
- Reduce property acquisitions at the Office Depot block bounded by 1st, 2nd, Alameda and Central Avenue.
- Maintain businesses along Central Avenue between 2nd Street and 1st Street.
- Provide two options for locations of tunnel boring machines at 2nd and Hope Street or 1st Street and Alameda for tunnel excavation and hauling.
- Place a canopy over the entrance of the portal where trains reach street level at Central and 2nd Street to reduce potential noise and visual impacts.
For a full listing of upcoming Regional Connector community meetings planned for the entire study area, click here.