The Regional Connector Project Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Report officially goes public Friday. While it may not be quite as sexy a project as the Westside Subway Extension that follows a similar Measure R project timeline, it does something the subway project does not: it connects four light rail corridors covering over 80 miles across Los Angeles County through the center of downtown Los Angeles. As a result, light rail commuters should save 10 to 20 minutes per trip.
If you’re keeping score on these two projects, here are some stats: The Regional Connector is less than two miles; the Westside Subway is almost nine miles to Westwood. The proposed technologies are also different. The Regional Connector is envisioned as a light rail system, and the Westside Subway is being planned as an extension of the heavy-rail subway system. Both projects are candidates for partial funding through the federal New Starts Program and both receive Measure R sales tax money. Metro staff planning the Regional Connector have also recommended a route for further study and design. The Westside Subway Project has not yet reached that point, but will following its public hearings.
The Regional Connector proposes to build a nearly two-mile transit link connecting the 7th Street/Metro Center Station – the terminus point for the Metro Blue Line and future Expo Line – with the Gold Line in Little Tokyo. It would fix the missing link in the light rail network through downtown and provide a one seat, one ride trip between Long Beach and future Gold Line extension to Azusa, and from East Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley to the future Expo Line to Santa Monica. See the above map.
Included in the study are evaluations of several transit alternatives for completing the two-mile gap in Metro light rail services. This includes a no-build alternative that acts as a baseline to compare other alternatives. Another alternative consists only of transportation system improvements such as adding two new express shuttle bus lines in downtown.
The draft report also looks at three light rail alternatives for the connector. The At-Grade Emphasis line is a combination of underground and at-grade segments with nearly half of the route underground. The Underground Emphasis line would run entirely underground except for a single at-grade crossing at 1st and Alameda Streets. The Fully Underground line would be the same configuration as the Underground Emphasis line, except it would provide for four new stations instead of three and travel under the 1st and Alameda intersection. Cost estimates of the project range from $899 million for the At-Grade Emphasis line to $1.24 billion in 2009 dollars for the Fully Underground line. Costs go up depending on the year the project is built.
The Regional Connector Project team has designated the Fully Underground light rail transit alternative as its Locally Preferred Alternative — the version of the project proposed for further study and design. The recommendation is based on technical analysis and community input and support. The fully underground alternative was added to the project because the Little Tokyo / Arts District Community opposed having the regional connector cross 1st and Alameda at street level. This version — to again emphasize the point — would go under that intersection. In addition, a new underground Little Tokyo station would be built at the site of the current Office Depot to replace the current Gold Line station along Alameda after construction.
According to the draft’s chapter on cost and performance considerations, Federal New Starts funding is proposed to pay 50 percent of the cost of the project. Besides a host of other funding sources, including $160 million from Measure R, additional money will ultimately be needed to fund the project. The Fully Underground LRT Alternative, for example, would require an additional $173.4 million. It’s important to note that this number is conceptual at this stage, and that the project team will refine project costs to bring them inline with requirements in future project phases.
The current LPA includes a station a station at 5th and Flower. However, to reduce project costs for this alternative, the possibility of eliminating this station from the staff recommended LPA is being explored as an option. The Metro Board will have to make that call when it considers the project LPA in October. The 5th and Flower Station was identified mainly due to its close proximity to the existing 7th and Metro Station. Obviously, some concessions will have to be made on this alternative to keep it within Metro’s board-mandated budget.
Here are a few more details from the draft study:
•The project creates two cross-regional light rail lines in the county. The North to South line — currently the Blue Line to Long Beach and the Gold Line to Pasadena and eventually to Azusa — would be about 50 miles long. The East to West line — the future Expo Line to Santa Monica and the Gold Line to East L.A. — is approximately 25 miles. There is also a study underway to possibly extend the Gold Line from East Los Angeles to either South El Monte or Whittier.
•Because the Regional Connector offers a one-seat ride through downtown, ridership on all the light rail lines is expected to increase as commuting times decrease and transit becomes more competitive with driving. For example, the Gold Line is expected to see a 10% ridership gain between Chinatown and Pasadena and an 18.4% increase between Little Tokyo and East L.A.
•About 90,000 passengers are expected to ride the Regional Connector on the average weekday, including 17,000 who do not currently use mass transit. At present, the Blue Line is the most heavily-ridden of Metro’s light rail lines with 77,545 average boardings each weekday.
•The Regional Connector is expected to save many passengers 10 to 20 minutes in the time it currently takes to transfer to another line. For example, a passenger on the Blue Line will no longer have to transfer at 7th/Metro Center to the Red Line to reach the Civic Center in downtown L.A. And a passenger on the Gold Line will no longer have to transfer to the subway or a bus at Union Station to reach downtown L.A.’s central business district.
•Downtown L.A. remains the LARGEST employment center in the county and the Regional Connector will pass through several parts of downtown expected to keep growing in population and jobs in future years.
•Construction of the project should help improve traffic congestion at 11 intersections in downtown, including the busy junction of 1st and Alameda, by taking some cars off the road as more people ride transit.
What happens next? The release of the draft report starts a 45-day public comment period to give community members a chance to offer their opinions on the report. Two public hearings are also scheduled for September 28 and October 4; more details are here. The Metro Board is set to consider approval of the Regional Connector draft and the locally preferred alternative at its Oct. 28 meeting.