After literally decades of talk, false starts, community resistance and funding dead-ends, a route for an extension of the subway to the job-rich Westside was selected by the Metro Board of Directors on Thursday in a vote called historic by several Directors.
The Board of Directors voted 10 to 0 with one abstention (Supervisor Mike Antonovich) to select “alignment two” of the five routes studied over the past year-and-a-half in a draft environmental study of the Westside Subway Extension. The 9.5-mile route, as shown above, with seven new stations begins at the current Purple Line station at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue and runs mostly on Wilshire Boulevard to a station near the VA Hospital in Westwood, just west of the 405 freeway.
It would take about 25 minutes to ride the subway from Union Station to the VA Hospital station. A trip from the North Hollywood Red Line station to the VA Hospital station is estimated to take about 36 minutes plus the necessary transfer at Wilshire/Vermont. Journeys between those locations by bus and often by private vehicle are often twice as long. The area to be served by the subway extension has the second-most jobs in L.A. County outside of downtown Los Angeles.
The Westside Subway Extension is among a dozen transit projects to be funded in part by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in Nov. 2008. Without the $4.2 billion provided by Measure R, the subway extension would not be possible.
The Board also voted to launch a final environmental study and preliminary engineering of the project, which will take place over the next year. The target date for the beginning of construction is 2013. Metro hopes that selecting a route will help secure federal New Starts money to help build the project in next year’s federal budget. The estimated cost of the project in 2009 dollars is about $4.36 billion, but it will likely cost more depending on the year built and inflation.
The opening date of the project depends on different funding scenarios.
With a mix of Measure R funds and New Starts dollars, Metro plans to open the subway in three phases: to Fairfax Avenue in 2019, Century City in 2026 and Westwood in 2036.
If additional federal loans and other financing can be obtained — a plan called the 30/10 Initiative to speed the construction of Measure R projects — the entire subway would be built at once and would open to Westwood in 2022. It remains to be seen whether segments could be opened earlier.
Supervisor Don Knabe, the chairman of the Metro Board of Directors, said the vote was historic and that the vote would help the subway secure federal funding and “fulfill the promise of Measure R and the accelerated timeline of 30/10.”
“We’ve discussed the subway as I understand it for 50 years,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a member of the Board of Directors. “A lot has been said that this project will never happen. And now the only question is when.”
Three big issues remain to be resolved in the final study: the exact location of the station in Century City and the two stations in Westwood. (Here are the Metro staff recommendations looking at issues along the line).
In Century City, the choice of a location has been narrowed down to Santa Monica Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars or Constellation Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars. There is an earthquake fault along Santa Monica Boulevard in that area and Constellation is closer to the center of Century City — but a station there would require tunneling under a few homes in Beverly Hills and Beverly Hills High School.
Both city officials from Beverly Hills and officials from the Beverly Hills Unified School District have threatened legal action if that route is selected by Metro, saying that subway tunneling could pose a danger to students and interfere with future plans to expand the high school with dollars from a school bond passed by city voters in 2008.
An official from Beverly Hills on Thursday said that even though there may be a slight chance of danger from the subway, it’s better to put that slight chance under a roadway — Santa Monica Boulevard. School district officials told the Board of Directors that the high school is the city’s only high school and served as the city’s emergency preparedness area.
The Board also approved a motion by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky — who represents the Beverly Hills area — asking for more study of the city’s safety concerns. On Thursday, Yaroslavsky amended the motion to include safety issues in Westwood, where the subway would also tunnel under homes.
Other speakers on Thursday spoke in favor of a Constellation station in Century City, saying it made sense to put the station nearer to the center of Century City and the most jobs.
Yaroslavsky said he believed that Constellation is the more appropriate for a station because it’s in the “center of the center” of Century City. But he said it was important to more fully understand the pros and cons of both station locations and that a station on Santa Monica Boulevard remained a possibility. “Obviously safety is the number one issue for us,” Yaroslavsky said. “We will not built a tunnel that is unsafe whether it’s under the high school, under Santa Monica Boulevard or anywhere else.”
In Westwood, the first station will be at Wilshire and Westwood boulevards or slightly west under UCLA Parking Lot 36. Metro staff wants more time to determine future development plans for Westwood and whether those projects would interfere with the tunnel alignments required to reach a station at the UCLA site.
Staff also wants to further study locations for the VA Hospital station — specifically whether to put it north or south of Wilshire Boulevard.
As part of the draft environmental study, Metro staff also studied a route that would take the subway all the way to downtown Santa Monica and another route that would run from the current Hollywood/Highland station through West Hollwyood and connect with the Wilshire line in Beverly Hills.
A station at Crenshaw and Wilshire was also studied as part of the alternative chosen by the Board. The Board also accepted the Metro staff recommendation it be deleted from the project because it was just one-half mile west of the existing station at Wilshire and Western and in a low-density, mostly residential neighborhood.
Both the Santa Monica and West Hollywood alignments would likely attract significant numbers of riders, according to Metro staff. The problem was threefold: 1) the Wilshire route performed the best; 2) there wasn’t enough Measure R or other funding available for the Santa Monica and West Hollywood lines, and; 3) neither of those alignments at this time meet the key “cost-effectiveness” threshold required to attract federal funding.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, in a committee meeting last week, requested that Metro staff report back later this year on what could be done to study a future transit project to serve the West Hollywood area.
Metro, with the city and county of Los Angeles, is also in the midst of planning a peak hour bus lane along 9.7 miles of Wilshire on the Westside. The lanes are expected to improve bus speeds and help subway passengers reach their destinations between rail stations.
In the early 1990s, Metro had finished the environmental studies and entered into a funding agreement with the federal government to extend the subway from Wilshire and Western to Pico and San Vicente. In the wake of construction problems and cost over-runs on building the subway to Hollywood, county voters in 1998 approved a ballot measure to suspend using local sales tax dollars for subway tunneling, effectively killing the project.
The subsequent segment of the subway from Hollywood to North Hollywood was built on time and on budget and opened in June 2000. The Red and Purple lines today average about 150,000 boardings on weekdays. Estimates are that the new line will attract 53,000 boardings just at the new stations but also increase ridership across the existing Metro bus and rail network because of improved transit access to the Westside.