Westside Subway Extension planning continues

A new report that updates the planning progress on the Westside Subway Extension is being presented to the Metro Board of Directors this month. Work on the draft environmental impact report is now 60% complete, according to the report.

Other news in the report:

*The subway planning team at Metro wants to advance some early engineering tasks for the subway extension this spring. That is being done to satisfy requirements of the federal New Starts Program and to potentially secure federal funds one year earlier than previously anticipated. If the engineering work can be started this year, it could potentially allow pre-construction activities for the subway — such as relocating utilities — to begin in 2012. The early engineering work will focus on the alignment that mostly follows Wilshire Boulevard, the route that will receive Measure R funds in the long-range plan approved by the Metro Board of Directors.

*Seismic studies will determine whether the subway can be built under Santa Monica Boulevard in the Century City area. The studies are being done to pinpoint the location of a branch of the Newport Inglewood Fault, which is near Santa Monica Blvd. One alternative also being considered is to put the subway under Constellation Boulevard, which would move the subway into the heart of Century City.

*Among some of the other items of interest that the subway team is studying: station plans and portal locations, how much parking is available near future subway stations, how best to recover fossils found while digging (especially important near the La Brea Tar Pits) and noise and vibration levels created by the subway in places where it passes directly under private properties. The team is measuring noise levels along segments of the existing Metro Red Line subway, which operates directly under homes and businesses.  These readings are important to demonstrate that noise and vibration from the subway is usually below the threshold of human perception.

Subway Project Director David Mieger told me that the team is moving full-speed ahead on the planning process so that construction on the line can begin as soon as funds are available. Under the long-range plan, money for construction from both Measure R and anticipated federal funds would be available in 2013 with the first segment open to Fairfax in 2019.

But Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has proposed trying to secure federal low-interest loans and grants that would allow the subway and 11 other Measure R projects to be completed in the next decade instead of the next 30 years. If that was to happen, Mieger said, it’s important that all the planning and design work be done so that shovels can start moving.