It's official: Metro Board of Directors selects Wilshire route for Westside Subway Extension, moves project into final study phase

The map shows the subway project as it will be further studied in a final environmental impact report.

After literally decades of talk, false starts, community resistance and funding dead-ends, a route for an extension of the subway to the job-rich Westside was selected by the Metro Board of Directors on Thursday in a vote called historic by several Directors.

The Board of Directors voted 10 to 0 with one abstention (Supervisor Mike Antonovich) to select “alignment two” of the five routes studied over the past year-and-a-half in a draft environmental study of the Westside Subway Extension. The 9.5-mile route, as shown above, with seven new stations begins at the current Purple Line station at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue and runs mostly on Wilshire Boulevard to a station near the VA Hospital in Westwood, just west of the 405 freeway.

It would take about 25 minutes to ride the subway from Union Station to the VA Hospital station. A trip from the North Hollywood Red Line station to the VA Hospital station is estimated to take about 36 minutes plus the necessary transfer at Wilshire/Vermont. Journeys between those locations by bus and often by private vehicle are often twice as long. The area to be served by the subway extension has the second-most jobs in L.A. County outside of downtown Los Angeles.

The Westside subway would serve as an alternative to sitting in Westside traffic. This map shows the level of service at intersections on the Westside. Click above for a larger image.

The Westside Subway Extension is among a dozen transit projects to be funded in part by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in Nov. 2008. Without the $4.2 billion provided by Measure R, the subway extension would not be possible.

The Board also voted to launch a final environmental study and preliminary engineering of the project, which will take place over the next year. The target date for the beginning of construction is 2013. Metro hopes that selecting a route will help secure federal New Starts money to help build the project in next year’s federal budget. The estimated cost of the project in 2009 dollars is about $4.36 billion, but it will likely cost more depending on the year built and inflation.

The opening date of the project depends on different funding scenarios.

With a mix of Measure R funds and New Starts dollars, Metro plans to open the subway in three phases: to Fairfax Avenue in 2019, Century City in 2026 and Westwood in 2036.

If additional federal loans and other financing can be obtained — a plan called the 30/10 Initiative to speed the construction of Measure R projects — the entire subway would be built at once and would open to Westwood in 2022. It remains to be seen whether segments could be opened earlier.

Supervisor Don Knabe, the chairman of the Metro Board of Directors, said the vote was historic and that the vote would help the subway secure federal funding and “fulfill the promise of Measure R and the accelerated timeline of 30/10.”

“We’ve discussed the subway as I understand it for 50 years,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a member of the Board of Directors. “A lot has been said that this project will never happen. And now the only question is when.”

Three big issues remain to be resolved in the final study: the exact location of the station in Century City and the two stations in Westwood. (Here are the Metro staff recommendations looking at issues along the line).

In Century City, the choice of a location has been narrowed down to Santa Monica Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars or Constellation Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars. There is an earthquake fault along Santa Monica Boulevard in that area and Constellation is closer to the center of Century City — but a station there would require tunneling under a few homes in Beverly Hills and Beverly Hills High School.

Both city officials from Beverly Hills and officials from the Beverly Hills Unified School District have threatened legal action if that route is selected by Metro, saying that subway tunneling could pose a danger to students and interfere with future plans to expand the high school with dollars from a school bond passed by city voters in 2008.

An official from Beverly Hills on Thursday said that even though there may be a slight chance of danger from the subway, it’s better to put that slight chance under a roadway — Santa Monica Boulevard. School district officials told the Board of Directors that the high school is the city’s only high school and served as the city’s emergency preparedness area.

The Board also approved a motion by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky — who represents the Beverly Hills area — asking for more study of the city’s safety concerns. On Thursday, Yaroslavsky amended the motion to include safety issues in Westwood, where the subway would also tunnel under homes.

Other speakers on Thursday spoke in favor of a Constellation station in Century City, saying it made sense to put the station nearer to the center of Century City and the most jobs.

Yaroslavsky said he believed that Constellation is the more appropriate for a station because it’s in the “center of the center” of Century City. But he said it was important to more fully understand the pros and cons of both station locations and that a station on Santa Monica Boulevard remained a possibility. “Obviously safety is the number one issue for us,” Yaroslavsky said. “We will not built a tunnel that is unsafe whether it’s under the high school, under Santa Monica Boulevard or anywhere else.”

In Westwood, the first station will be at Wilshire and Westwood boulevards or slightly west under UCLA Parking Lot 36. Metro staff wants more time to determine future development plans for Westwood and whether those projects would interfere with the tunnel alignments required to reach a station at the UCLA site.

Staff also wants to further study locations for the VA Hospital station — specifically whether to put it north or south of Wilshire Boulevard.

As part of the draft environmental study, Metro staff also studied a route that would take the subway all the way to downtown Santa Monica and another route that would run from the current Hollywood/Highland station through West Hollwyood and connect with the Wilshire line in Beverly Hills.

A station at Crenshaw and Wilshire was also studied as part of the alternative chosen by the Board. The Board also accepted the Metro staff recommendation it be deleted from the project because it was just one-half mile west of the existing station at Wilshire and Western and in a low-density, mostly residential neighborhood.

Both the Santa Monica and West Hollywood alignments would likely attract significant numbers of riders, according to Metro staff. The problem was threefold: 1) the Wilshire route performed the best; 2) there wasn’t enough Measure R or other funding available for the Santa Monica and West Hollywood lines, and; 3) neither of those alignments at this time meet the key “cost-effectiveness” threshold required to attract federal funding.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, in a committee meeting last week, requested that Metro staff report back later this year on what could be done to study a future transit project to serve the West Hollywood area.

Metro, with the city and county of Los Angeles, is also in the midst of planning a peak hour bus lane along 9.7 miles of Wilshire on the Westside. The lanes are expected to improve bus speeds and help subway passengers reach their destinations between rail stations.

In the early 1990s, Metro had finished the environmental studies and entered into a funding agreement with the federal government to extend the subway from Wilshire and Western to Pico and San Vicente. In the wake of construction problems and cost over-runs on building the subway to Hollywood, county voters in 1998 approved a ballot measure to suspend using local sales tax dollars for subway tunneling, effectively killing the project.

The subsequent segment of the subway from Hollywood to North Hollywood was built on time and on budget and opened in June 2000. The Red and Purple lines today average about 150,000 boardings on weekdays. Estimates are that the new line will attract 53,000 boardings just at the new stations but also increase ridership across the existing Metro bus and rail network because of improved transit access to the Westside.

30 replies

  1. Its about time, only 85 years. If one remembers the Pacific Electric also planned a westside subway. In the old Subway Tunnel there is a wall pointing west that was the starting point of the Vineyard Subway(Pico and Rimpau). I guess all good things due come in time.

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  2. It is great news that this is finally set in stone. This one of the most important new connections for rail in LA which should have been built 20 years ago. However, I agree that it does not do enough (I know funding is not there yet) but there should at least be a clear plan on extending it to downtown Santa Monica. It is very dense and will attract A LOT more riders and is certainly an investment for the future. Until then, there should be a way to connect the expo line directly to the purple line since that at least goes to downtown SM (or will soon). LA is not just a city of commuters, a lot of visitors use the current rail and wish there were more. LA is already hard enough to get around by car for people who are not familiar with the area (Ive seen many people riding rail that say they are surprised and disappointed that there aren’t more lines to more places). Rail transit can and should serve anybody that it is near, including tourists (It is like this in many other cities worldwide).

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  3. As a Beverly Hills resident who actually does live within 500 feet of the proposed constellation route, I am very concerned about the risk of noise, vibration, and property damage. The arguments in favor of locating the station on Constellation are specious. I just walked CPE today, and the distance between Santa Monica Blvd and Constellation is comparable to that of some of the entrances to tube stations in London. It’s ridiculous that Metro would choose to engage in a potential legal fight with the city and residents of BH over a distance of 1 block. ONE BLOCK!

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  4. Very excited about the westside subway. An important step in making L.A. a more sustainable and efficient metro area.

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  5. Im very excited to hear about the subway extension to the Westside. But I really hope this is Phase 1 because the subway needs to be extended to Santa Monica. The 10 Freeway is getting worse year by year and extending the system just to the VA Hospital is not going to make a difference. Not only residents who have their jobs in this area will benefit from the subway but it will bring more tourism to the region, and create jobs. A possible line between the Westside and the San Fernando Valley would be great too.

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  6. While it’s disappointing the line will only go to VA Hospital, and that only in 2036, it’s a great step in the right direction. Some points:
    1. Buses in the dense Santa Monica area will become much more attractive once the VA Hospital station opens, because a short bus ride would be complemented by a long fast train ride – better than the current 1.5 hours to West LA.
    2. If funding for a subway is difficult to achieve to get all the way to Santa Monica, the Exhibition Line could be continued east up Wiltshire to join the Purple Line to the most westerly point funding can get it to.
    3. Once extended to UCLA, buses from the Orange Line could link to the subway using the new HOV lane through Sepelveda Pass.

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  7. William,

    You should do some more walking before you make a conclusion that the subway would vibrate and rattle Beverly Hills High School and the nearby homes.

    Go walk around the numerous schools on Secenth Sttreet and Wilshire Boulevard, or at MacArthur Park, and see if the trains are apparent as they whiz by underneath.

    Take a stroll under the houses, schools and busineses along Hollywood Boulevard or Vermont Avenue. Those schools and apartment buildings sit directly above the Red Line. See if you can discern any noise or vibration.

    Then talk to the homeowners in the Hollywood Hills, those who live above the Red Line tunnel who predicted noise, avalanches, the drying up of mountain springs, and other calamities.

    The fact is — you will not hear the subway. The schools are not affected by the trains, not impede at all by the subway deep beneath them.

    The fact of the matter is that the Beverly Hills people are saying “we are better than you, LA, and we need special treatment.” THere are thousands of people who live directly above the existing tunnels. Thousands of schoolchildren safely attend classes directly above the Red Line, not knowing it is there.

    The BH opponents will not accept the overwhelming facts that they will not even know the trains Re down there. They are simply seeking validation for their “we are better than you” view of the world.

    By all means, young man, do some more walking.

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  8. for those who do not know… the expo Line is already planned to go to downtown Santa Monica in it’s second phase which is why they aren’t going extend it to Santa Monica. I think its a perfect location to stop it at. A lot you all say connect it to the expo… but in actuality it will take ridership from the expoline as people will choose subway over light rail. That’s why it isn’t going to make it to the beach.

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