Fully underground route for Regional Connector approved by Metro Board of Directors

A project that has long been on the chalkboard but could never gain political or funding traction took a major step forward Thursday when the Metro Board of Directors selected a route for the Regional Connector.

Directors, as expected, voted 9 to 0 to select a 1.9-mile fully underground line that will connect the Gold Line to the Blue Line and future Expo Line. The existing gap between the end of the Blue Line and the Gold Line requires transit riders on both lines to take a subway or the bus to reach destinations beyond the end of either line.

That results in longer trips — usually requiring an extra 10 to 15 minutes — and makes transit less competitive with private vehicles time-wise.

The Board of Directors also voted to launch a final environmental study for the project. Construction could begin in 2014 with an opening date of 2019 under the agency’s Measure R plan. There is the possibility that date could be advanced if the 30/10 Initiative to use federal loans and other financing to accelerate the construction of Measure R projects is approved by Congress.

Like the Westside Subway Extension, the Regional Connector was one of the transit projects approved by county voters in Nov. 2008 as part of the Measure R half-cent sales tax increase. Metro is seeking federal New Starts money to help build the subway and connector.

The Board of Directors also approved three stations for the Regional Connector: a new underground Little Tokyo station that will replace the current street-level Gold Line station; a station at 2nd/Broadway to serve the Civic Center area; and a station at 2nd/Hope near the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, MOCA and the western end of the Civic Center.

A station studied for 5th/Flower was eliminated by the Board of Directors to save $185 million on a project expected to cost $1.245 billion in 2009 dollars; the actual cost will be more due to inflation between now and when it’s built. Metro staff said that station was proposed for elimination because it was close to the existing 7th/Metro Center — the walking distance between 5th/Flower and 7th/Metro Center is about a quarter-mile.

Metro staff said that there are existing emergency exit portals for the 7th/Metro Center station that could be renovated into entrances for that station reaching as far north as 6th Street — and that would be a suitable way to mitigate for the loss of the 5th/Flower station. Metro staff said the loss of the station would result in faster trips through downtown and that projections show ridership loss would be negligible.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion to continue studying the 5th/Flower station in the project’s final environmental study. However, that motion failed when it only received four yes votes — from Ridley-Thomas, Supervisor Don Knabe, Supervisor Mike Antonovich and Duarte Councilman John Fasana.

Several groups or members of the public testified in favor of keeping the 5th/Flower station, including Los Angeles Councilwoman Jan Perry and the Central City Assn., which represents downtown businesses, and Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic (FAST).

However, a motion by Board Chairman Knabe and Ridley-Thomas was approved, directing Metro CEO Art Leahy to return to the Board later this year with a report on the feasibility of securing private funding to continue studying the 5th/Flower station.

Once the Regional Connector is built and the Expo Line is complete — it is scheduled to reach Santa Monica in 2015 —  the plan is to run trains on a north-south and east-west axis. Trails would run all the way from Azusa (the Foothill Extension of the Gold Line is scheduled to reach Azusa in 2014) to Long Beach and trains between Santa Monica and East Los Angeles.

Such a plan, of course, would scramble the current color-coded Metro Rail map since the Expo, Blue and Gold lines would be sharing trains and tracks. Whether the trains should be color-coded, numbered or go by some other designation is an issue that Metro staff will soon be tackling.

In the 1990s, the original plans for the Gold Line called for the project to be connected to the Blue Line. But political indifference to the Gold Line — the state Legislature had to intervene to get it built — and lack of money prevented the connection from ever happening.

In the years since, the Connector was sometimes viewed as a luxury, since the subway bridged the gap between Union Station and 7th/Metro Center, although the transfer between light rail and subway costs riders extra minutes. Measure R and the launch of construction of the Expo Line and the Eastside Gold Line helped sway the Board of Directors to revisit the Connector because of the extra passengers the Connector would serve.

13 replies

  1. Why did they push the 2nd/Main station over to 2nd/Broadway? Seems like that one is closer to an existing station than the 5th/Flower.

    • Hi Joe;

      I think the idea was to get it closer to the heart of the Civic Center and to also get near Broadway, which the city of L.A. is trying to revitalize. At Main, this station would have been pretty close to Little Tokyo. At Broadway, it’s kind of close to 2nd/Hope. My own view is that in downtown areas where there are a lot of offices and attractions, close together stations is not necessarily a bad thing.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  2. Excellent news!!! LA’s rail network is finally starting to take some shape! I am very relieved that it is fully underground as any other option would have undermined this project as a true investment for the future. This will allow for true connectivity and smooth flow. This is the kind of thinking that needs to be more present on other parts of the rail system; Grade Separation!!!

  3. I wonder how deep the regional connector tunnel will be, how it will go under Bunker Hill, and how passengers will get from the new 2nd/Hope station to the surface.

    The connector line will apparently start out under Flower St and end up under 2nd St. Will it be at this depth as it goes under Bunker Hill — will it go underneath the 3rd St and 2nd St tunnels? If it doesn’t, it will run into Lower Grand or the Disney Hall parking garage, which goes pretty far down (Bunker Hill is already pretty well tunneled and carved out).

    If the 2nd/Hope Station platform is at the same depth as the connector under Flower, then there will be a long trip from the platform to the surface at the back of Disney Hall. How will passengers reach the surface from the station — long escalators a la the London Underground, banks of high speed elevators, or what?

    Also: how will the connector tunnel cross the Red Line tunnel under Hill St? Will the connector tunnel be less deep than the Red Line tunnel and so pass over it?

  4. When I was working at the Downtown Center BID back in 2005, I met with a Metro official where we walked through the 7th/Metro station and he pointed out that there were “push outs” that could expand the station (apparently, he helped design the stations).

    Anyway, I brought up to him that cities like Taipei have underground malls connected to their subway stations and the 505 Flower underground mall should be connected to 7th/Metro.

    He said it was possible, so it leads me to think that Jim Thomas, who is the owner of City National Bank plaza and the 505 Flower mall, would be very supportive of this idea since 7th/Metro will probably be the busiest station in the entire region and many of those transit riders may go into his mall and shop/eat at the many businesses in there.

    Perhaps someone needs to put this on Jim Thomas’s radar screen…

  5. Without the 5th/Flower station, Metro *must* open up entrances to Metro Center station at 6th Street. If possible, extend a connection to City National Plaza as well.

    Metro Center will be overflowing with commuters when all these lines are running through Metro Center. So these entrances are critical.

    Tornadoes28 and Mike: “aqua and pink” have never been selected as official colors by Metro. If aqua is selected for the Expo Line, it will be temporary until the Regional Connector is completed.

  6. I have been under the impression from the very beginning that north-south will be “Blue” and east-west will be “Gold”. I have no reason to think otherwise at this point.

  7. Splendid news, now that the line will be in Final EIR process, let’s hope it gets build soon than 2013. From Long Beach to San Gabriel Valley and from East Los Angeles to the Westside. Metro should drop these colors aqua and pink.

  8. When this is finally finished, will Expo trains turn north to Union Station or will they stay on the East/West route and run on the current Gold Line Eastside tracks?

    • Hi Moe,

      The plan is for trains to run from Santa Monica to East LA. To reach Union Station, you would transfer to a north-south train at any of the downtown stations.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  9. Great news. Too bad about losing the 5th street station but remodeling the 7th street with new exits farther north is a good idea.

    I really hope Metro comes to their senses and stops using colors for the names of the lines. Red or Blue lines is ok but once you start getting into odd colors such as Aqua or Pink it really sounds silly and makes LA Metro a laughingstock compared to older systems in Tokyo and New York that don’t use colors for the names.