The Metro Board of Directors on Thursday unanimously approved the final environmental impact statement/report for the long sought Crenshaw/LAX Line, a 8.5-mile light rail project that will run along Crenshaw Boulevard, Florence Avenue and Aviation Boulevard between the Green Line and Expo Line, passing through Inglewood along the way.
The line, with a budget of $1.715 billion, is scheduled to open in 2018 under Metro’s long-range plan and is funded largely by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008. The train will take an estimated 21 minutes to travel between the line’s northern terminus at Exposition Boulevard and the Mariposa station on the Green Line. It will also connect those living in the Crenshaw corridor to Metro’s growing rail network, which in the next several years will reach from Santa Monica to downtown L.A. to Azusa.
“Today’s approval of the final EIR for the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor Project brings us one step closer to delivering another Measure R light rail project that will bring thousands of badly needed jobs to LA County,” said Los Angeles Mayor and MTA Board Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa. “Once completed, the new light rail line will connect residents of South LA to Downtown and provide all Angelenos a new transit option to LAX.”
“This is a historic moment,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor and Metro Board member Mark Ridley-Thomas. “For 25 years, community leaders have worked to make a high-quality light rail line a reality. This was the dream of Julian Dixon, of Diane Watson, of Mayor Tom Bradley and many, many others. Today’s vote means we’re ready to start right away — not 15 years from now as originally was slated to happen. We’re not done pushing forward, we’re still working to see that the Crenshaw-to-LAX line ultimately includes a station at Leimert Park Village, but from many vantage points, in terms of job opportunities, economic development and improved mobility and transportation, today is a day to celebrate. “
The Crenshaw/LAX Line will also include an elevated station at Aviation and Century boulevards, east of Los Angeles International Airport. The new station is closer than the existing Green Line station that is south of LAX, but Aviation/Century is still more than one mile to the LAX terminals. Metro has a separate study underway to connect the Metro Rail system to LAX via another Measure R-funded project. The city of Los Angeles, which operates LAX, also has a specific plan amendment study underway that is considering a people mover between the Aviation/Century station and the airport terminals.
The Crenshaw/LAX Line will have at least six stations, as the above map shows. The Metro Board in May also voted to add a station in Leimert Park at Crenshaw and Vernon if a contractor can build that underground station within the project’s budget — that remains to be seen. A station at Manchester and Aviation could also be added at a later date if funding is found; an elevated station would be at Manchester, an at-grade station three blocks north and east near Hindry Avenue.
About 47 percent of the Crenshaw/Line will be grade separated to avoid street and traffic conflicts. That’s significantly more grade separation than in the existing Blue and Gold lines and more than will be in the Expo Line. The Green Line, which runs mostly in the median of the 105 freeway, is completely separated from the streets above and below it.
At its southern end, the tracks for the Crenshaw/LAX Line will merge with the Green Line tracks. No final decisions have yet been made on how trains from the two lines will be routed, although some operating plans have been discussed. Another Measure R project could extend the Green Line from Redondo Beach to Torrance, although that project is a long way off unless Congress approves the America Fast Forward initiative to accelerate transit projects through extra federal financing and loans.
At its northern end, there will be a short walk between the Crenshaw/LAX Line’s underground station at Exposition Boulevard and the Expo Line’s street level station. A future project — not yet studied or funded — could send the Crenshaw/LAX tracks northward toward a junction with the Westside Subway Extension. The Expo and Crenshaw tracks aren’t merging for several reasons, among them traffic impacts at the Crenshaw and Exposition intersection and questions about whether the single set of light rail tracks in downtown could handle frequent trains from the Blue Line, Expo Line and Crenshaw/LAX Line.
The Board of Directors on Thursday also gave final approval to several aspects of the line:
•The segment of the line between Exposition Boulevard and 39th Street will be underground instead of at street level to avoid conflicts with traffic and developments in the area.
•The tracks will cross under La Brea in a trench instead of a bridge because of seismic issues in the area.
•The tracks will also run in a partially-covered trench adjacent to LAX’s south runway at the request of the Federal Aviation Administration — on a typical day, arriving planes fly over the tracks. At some point in the future, the trench will have to be fully covered.
•A maintenance yard near LAX at the intersection of Arbor Vitae and Bellanca.
A rail line along the Crenshaw Corridor — like most transit projects in Southern California – has been discussed for decades because of the area’s streetcar history, density and transit needs. A 1967 rail plan even specified a rail line along the Crenshaw corridor and Metro began more intensively studying the issue in the 1990s. As usual, there were two problems: lack of funding and political will to build the project.
The turning point this time was the passage of Measure R, which is helping pay for 12 transit projects. Two others — the Orange Line busway extension to Chatsworth and the Gold Line Foothill Extension to Azusa — are under construction and the Expo Line Phase 2 held its groundbreaking ceremony earlier this month. Another two projects — the Westside Subway Extension and the Regional Connector — are near the end of their environmental review process.
The initial studies for this project also considered bus rapid transit for the Crenshaw corridor. Ultimately it was decided that while a rapid bus system would be less expensive to build, it wouldn’t offer much in the way of time savings for those who ride the buses.
One looming challenge for the Crenshaw/LAX Line will be its budget. The grade separations for the line come with a great cost and Metro officials say the estimated cost of the project is currently $30 million to $50 million more than the $1.7 billion in funding available. Officials are seeking to bring down the cost through the design and preliminary engineering that is underway.