One of the big Measure R projects moving toward construction is the Crenshaw/LAX Line, a light rail project that will run from the intersection of Exposition and Crenshaw boulevards south through Inglewood to a connection with the Green Line near Los Angeles International Airport.
In April, County Supervisor and Metro Board Member Mark Ridley-Thomas submitted a motion that asked: 1) an additional station be added to the line in Leimert Park Village at Crenshaw and Vernon Avenue, and; 2) the section of the line between 48th and 59th streets through Park Mesa Heights should run underground instead of at street level because of safety concerns.
In late April, Ridley-Thomas sent a nine-page letter to Metro CEO Art Leahy requesting again those changes to the line be made, seeking more information about the line and suggesting possible funding sources for the changes. Leahy has responded in a lengthy letter that defends the project as it is currently being planned.
Here are both letters together in a single pdf document.
The motion is scheduled to be considered by the full Metro Board of Directors at their meeting this Thursday. I expect it to be a lengthy discussion, to say the least. The Crenshaw/LAX Line is already deep into the planning process – Metro staff are working toward finishing the project’s final environmental impact statement this summer — and any changes need to be made sooner rather than later.
Let’s briefly take a look at the issues.
•Ridley-Thomas writes that “Leimert Park is the undisputed cultural and commercial center of the Crenshaw Corridor…As such Leimert Park Village is probably the most appropriate place to have a station on the entire Crenshaw Corridor.”
•The Leimert Park Village station would have to be underground as that segment of the line is planned to run beneath street level. There is already an underground station planned at Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards, a half-mile away that Leahy writes provides better transfers to bus lines, is adjacent to the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Plaza and would likely get more ridership than if the station had been put at Crenshaw and Vernon.
•Leahy also writes that Metro tries not to put underground stations within a half-mile of one another because of the cost involved. In this case, the cost of adding a station in Leimert Park Village is an estimated $131 million. Leahy writes that one alternative may be to move the station at Crenshaw/MLK closer to Leimert Park Village.
•As for the Park Mesa Heights section, Ridley-Thomas expresses concern over the line’s proximity to schools and its impact on traffic. He also writes that Metro’s own studies show that a tunnel here would reduce travel time on the train, increase ridership by 760 boardings per day and avoid disruptions to local businesses.
•Leahy writes that Metro has built — and is building — light rail lines that can operate safely at street level, specifically citing the excellent safety record on the Gold Line. He also adds that more than half of the Crenshaw Line is already planned to be built above or below street level, an unusually higher percentage, and that the reductions in travel time (about a minute) and increases in ridership are too slight to justify the $269.4-million cost.
•Money is the biggest issue of all. Leahy writes that the estimated cost of the Crenshaw/LAX Line is about $1.7 billion, $100 million over estimated cost in the agency’s long-range plan, federal resources are scarce and getting scarcer and diverting money from other projects funded by the Measure R sales tax to the Crenshaw/LAX line has legal obstacles.
On the money front, it is appearing increasingly likely that the northern section of the line between Exposition Boulevard and 39th streets will have to be built underground due to nearby developments in the area. The draft environmental study recommended that part of the line be built at street level but left open the option of a grade separation if it was required.