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.