On transportation: March 28 column


EXPO LINE OPENING: I knew there was a lot of anticipation for the new light rail line, but I was still surprised at the number of people visiting this blog after the April 28 opening to the La Cienega station was announced Friday. I’m talking twice as many people as the day before the much-hyped Carmageddon weekend last summer on the 405.

I suspect a lot of the anticipation is pent-up demand. Since the Gold Line to Pasadena opened in the summer of 2003, there has been an awful lot of talk and planning for rail expansion in the Los Angeles area. Yet, only one rail line has actually opened since ’03: the six-mile extension of the Gold Line to East Los Angeles in Nov. 2009.

Perhaps that’s the reason Expo’s profile keeps rising. It’s a symbol, a harbinger of things to come with new rail lines stretching deeper into the corners of Los Angeles County and sitting in traffic is no longer mandatory to get wherever you want to go.

NEW RAIL CARS: Speaking of new rail lines, all those new tracks across L.A. County will be more useful if there are actually trains to run on them.

The Metro Board last month delayed a decision to purchase new light rail vehicles from Kinkisharyo International LLC after other firms competing for the contract complained about the process used by agency staff to select the winning bidder. No surprise there. Big contracts issued at any level of government almost always generate complaints from those who don’t win them.

Here’s the thing: With the opening of Expo’s first phase next month, Metro’s fleet of light rail vehicles is stretched about as far as it will go. Phase two of Expo and the Gold Line Foothill Extension are under construction; the construction contract for the Crenshaw/LAX Line is out to bid. The Regional Connector’s final environmental document will be considered by the Board next month.

New light rail vehicles have to be made to spec. Delivery takes time. In 2010, Metro backed away from a rail car contract with another firm for a variety of reasons and the process began anew. Those who want to see Metro open new rail lines with frequent service should be watching this process.

WESTWOOD/VA STATION: I posted a couple of renderings of the entrance to the proposed Westwood/VA station for the Westside Subway Extension and reader reaction was strong and swift: many thought the station was too far from nearby residences, would be difficult to access by bus and needed parking.

The Metro Board will select the location of the Westwood/VA station as part of its approval of the Subway Extension’s Final Environmental Impact Statement/Report, scheduled for its April meeting. There are two options in the FEIS/R: the location shown in the renderings on the south side of Wilshire and one just north of Wilshire.

To put it another way: The subway is unlikely to go any farther west at this point. The Metro Board agreed to fund the subway to Westwood as part of the Measure R sales tax increase and the agency’s long-range plan. The alternative, for now, is to stop the subway just east of the 405 freeway at Wilshire and Westwood, a plan that prompted members of the public to push Metro to get the subway beyond the 405.

As I wrote last week, the train won’t be reaching the Westwood/VA terminus until 2022 at the earliest (depending on funding scenarios). That means there’s plenty of time to work to ensure pedestrian, bike and bus access to the station is as good as possible. A lot of work remains to be done.

I’d also like to raise another point: A lot of the sprawling VA campus remains un-used, under-used and many buildings are not in great shape. There has been occasional talk of developing or renovating the campus, but that has never gone anywhere because neighborhood groups fear — with justification — that it would only make traffic worse.

Now a subway is coming to the VA campus with connections to the region’s job centers and growing transit network. The VA first and foremost must serve those who have served their country — that’s obvious. Even though there are restrictions on how federal property can be used, perhaps it’s time for everyone to let go of their past prejudices and give a fresh look at the VA campus and its potential to serve veterans and the neighborhood alike.

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