After nearly five years of planning and scores of public meetings, the Metro Board of Directors on Thursday certified the Westside Subway Extension’s Final Environmental Impact Statement/Report (FEIS/R), the legally-required study that considers the many options, impacts and mitigations for the project.
In addition, the Metro Board approved the route and station locations for the first phase of the project, which will extend the current Purple Line subway for 3.9 miles under Wilshire Boulevard from its current terminus at Western Avenue. The stations will be at La Brea Avenue, Fairfax Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard.
The vote sets the stage for Metro to enter into final design of the first phase. Utility relocations are expected to begin in 2013. The first phase of the project has a target completion date of 2020.
“We are now closer than we’ve ever been to getting this project under construction,” said Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Board Chair Antonio Villaraigosa. “This long-awaited subway extension will provide a faster, more reliable transit alternative for hundreds of thousands of Angelenos on a daily basis.”
The vote was 11 to 1, with Supervisor and Board Member Mike Antonovich voting no. Supervisor and Board Member Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained.
The Board decided to delay choosing the exact alignment and station locations for the remainder of the line to Westwood pending a public hearing requested by the city of Beverly Hills on the issue of tunneling under the Beverly Hills High School campus. The hearing has not yet been scheduled.
Beverly Hills officials oppose having the subway travel below the campus and have requested the hearing under a rarely-used provision of the state Public Utilities Code.
The Westside Subway Extension is a key project funded by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by nearly 68 percent of Los Angeles County voters in 2008. (Project homepage here).
All three stations on the project’s first phase are on major north-south bus and travel corridors.
The La Brea and Fairfax stations will serve the Miracle Mile portion of Wilshire and the Fairfax station will include an entrance on the south side of Wilshire at the corner of Orange Grove Avenue, one short block east of Fairfax. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has pledged to raise funds to build a second entrance on the north side of Wilshire directly across from this location that would bring passengers to their front door.
The La Cienega station on the eastern side of Beverly Hills is near many office buildings along Wilshire, the famed Restaurant Row and is about .7 miles from the Beverly Center and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, two major employers and destinations.
The entire nine-mile subway project will include stations in downtown Beverly Hills, Century City and Westwood–one at Wilshire and Westwood, the gateway to Westwood Village and the UCLA campus, and the other just west of the 405 freeway at the VA Hospital.
Once complete, travel between downtown Los Angeles and Westwood would take 25 minutes and greatly reduce transit travel times to Westwood and the Westside from throughout the region.
The Westside Subway Extension is one of 12 transit projects to be funded in part by Measure R. The subway is also seeking a $2.4-billion grant from the federal New Starts program that helps local transit agencies pay for large projects — finishing the environmental study is one condition needed to secure that money.
Under current plans, the project will be built in three phases: from Western to La Cienega by 2020, to Century City in 2026 and to Westwood in 2036.
Metro is seeking to accelerate the project’s timeline through Congressional legislation known as the America Fast Forward plan, although that legislation is currently stalled. In addition, Metro staff have studied how projects may be accelerated if Measure R was to be extended by voters beyond its current 2039 expiration date.
Such an extension would require state legislation and approval from the Metro Board of Directors and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors before going to county voters. A state bill, AB 1446, is pending in the Legislature. Neither the Metro Board nor the County Supervisors have yet acted on a Measure R extension.
The most contentious part of the Westside Subway Extension’s planning process has involved the issue of locating a station in Century City.
Metro staff have proposed putting the station at Constellation Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars to avoid building a station or subway tunnels along active earthquake faults — the Santa Monica Fault and the West Beverly Hills Lineament — that are under Santa Monica Boulevard.
Getting the subway to a Constellation station requires Metro to tunnel 50 to 70 feet under parts of the Beverly Hills High School campus. Beverly Hills officials oppose that, saying it would be unsafe to students and hinder future development on the campus, including potential plans for underground parking.
Tunneling and seismic studies released by Metro in October concluded otherwise, finding that a tunnel could be safely dug beneath the school without harming any students or buildings, triggering any ground slippage, causing audible noise or vibrations or impacting any future development plans.
In addition, the FEIS/R estimated that a Constellation station would serve more riders and be closer to more Century City jobs and destinations. The same studies concluded, too, that while a station on Santa Monica Boulevard is infeasible, it would be best for subway tunnels to cross the active fault zone along Santa Monica Boulevard at a perpendicular angle to reduce exposure to the fault.
Several officials from Beverly Hills testified to the Metro Board, all saying they support the Westside Subway Extension. But many also suggested the trenching they’ve done on their high school campus implies Metro’s studies could be wrong. “Many questions remain to be answered,” said Beverly Hills Councilman Barry Brucker.
Metro has responded to two studies commissioned by the city of Beverly Hills, saying it disagrees with a report by the firm Exponent that criticized Metro’s risk management strategies. The agency contends it has a stronger risk management program than the program recommended by Exponent.
Metro has said it agrees with a report by the firm Shannon & Wilson that concluded that tunneling under the high school campus can be done safely and without impacting development at the school.
Earlier this week, the Beverly Hills Unified School District sent a study to Metro on the trenching done on the campus
. Metro is in the process of reviewing that report.
In testimony to the Board on Thursday, two scientists who worked on Metro’s studies — Dr. James Dolan, a professor of earth sciences at USC, and Dr. Lucy Jones, a seismologist with the United States Geological Survey — both said that active faulting along Santa Monica Boulevard in the Century City area precludes building a station there or tunneling under the street.
Dr. Harvey Parker, an engineer who is a member of Metro’s independent Tunnel Advisory Panel, also said that the faults prohibit building the subway at street level or bringing it above ground on aerial structures along Santa Monica Boulevard.
Some Beverly Hills officials have said that their trenching study found that the West Beverly Hills Lineament is not an active fault — as Metro contends — and therefore Metro’s conclusion about active faulting under Santa Monica Boulevard could be wrong.
Supervisor and Metro Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky asked Metro’s experts about this.
Dr. James Dolan said that he believes the evidence shows that both the West Beverly Hills Lineament and the Santa Monica Fault are active.
Dr. Lucy Jones amplified that point, saying “what level of activity is still there on the West Beverly Hills Lineament doesn’t effect the conclusion that there is no safe way of building the station on Santa Monica Boulevard.”
Later in the meeting, Supervisor Yaroslavsky said that Metro is willing to work with Beverly Hills on building tunnels in such a way to accomodate development at the school.
He also said that Metro is not about to embark on an unprecedented effort. “This is not the first city in the history of humankind to have a subway tunnel under part of the city,” he said.