The Metro staff recommendations for a locally preferred alternative (LPA) for the Regional Connector have also been posted online today. Unlike the subway project, Metro staff had already recommended building the fully underground option as part of the project’s draft environmental impact statement/report (DEIS/R).
There is one bit of news, however: Metro staff have now recommended eliminating a proposed station at 5th/Flower as a way to reduce the overall cost of the project.
The Regional Connector would still have three stations: Little Tokyo, 2nd/Broadway and Fourth/Hope. The 5th/Flower station is about three blocks north of the existing 7th/Metro Center stop that will serve all downtown Metro light rail lines once the Regional Connector is built.
The Metro Board of Directors are scheduled to make a decision on the route and the stations at their Oct. 28 meeting, the same date they are also supposed to vote on an alignment for the subway. Decisions on both projects would trigger final environmental impact studies needed before construction could begin on either project. As with the subway project, the Board of Directors are not bound by staff recommendations.
Other potential routes for the Regional Connector that were studied as part of the DEIS/R included a mostly surface route and one that was mostly underground.
In essence, the problem with the 5th/Flower station was money. The fully underground option — added to appease concerns in Little Tokyo that a surface line would disrupt access to the community — is expected to cost $1.245 billion in 2009 dollars and more than $1.4 billion if completed by 2019, as proposed. Losing the 5th/Flower station lowers the cost of the project by about $100 million and also improve the ‘cost effectiveness’ rating of the project, an important measure the Federal Transit Administration uses to determine funding for projects.
In other words, staff believes that a better cost effectiveness rating may lead to a higher federal contribution to the project — which will rely heavily on federal funding to get built. The Regional Connector is due to get $160 million from the Measure R sales tax increase approved by voters in 2008.
As with the subway project, the public comment period remains open through Oct. 18 for the Regional Connector — here’s the online comment form. As posted earlier, those comments will be summarized for the Board of Directors and will be considered as part of the final environmental study for the project.