Metro Board approves final environmental document for Crenshaw/LAX Line

Click above for a larger image.

The Metro Board of Directors on Thursday unanimously approved the final environmental impact statement/report for the long sought Crenshaw/LAX Line, a 8.5-mile light rail project that will run along Crenshaw Boulevard, Florence Avenue and Aviation Boulevard between the Green Line and Expo Line, passing through Inglewood along the way.

The line, with a budget of $1.715 billion, is scheduled to open in 2018 under Metro’s long-range plan and is funded largely by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008. The train will take an estimated 21 minutes to travel between the line’s northern terminus at Exposition Boulevard and the Mariposa station on the Green Line. It will also connect those living in the Crenshaw corridor to Metro’s growing rail network, which in the next several years will reach from Santa Monica to downtown L.A. to Azusa.

A streetcar at Crenshaw & 54th in 1955. Photo by Alan Weeks, via Metro Library's Flickr page.

“Today’s approval of the final EIR for the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor Project brings us one step closer to delivering another Measure R light rail project that will bring thousands of badly needed jobs to LA County,” said Los Angeles Mayor and MTA Board Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa. “Once completed, the new light rail line will connect residents of South LA to Downtown and provide all Angelenos a new transit option to LAX.”

“This is a historic moment,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor and Metro Board member Mark Ridley-Thomas. “For 25 years, community leaders have worked to make a high-quality light rail line a reality. This was the dream of Julian Dixon, of Diane Watson, of Mayor Tom Bradley and many, many others. Today’s vote means we’re ready to start right away — not 15 years from now as originally was slated to happen. We’re not done pushing forward, we’re still working to see that the Crenshaw-to-LAX line ultimately includes a station at Leimert Park Village, but from many vantage points, in terms of job opportunities, economic development and improved mobility and transportation, today is a day to celebrate. ”

The Crenshaw/LAX Line will also include an elevated station at Aviation and Century boulevards, east of Los Angeles International Airport. The new station is closer than the existing Green Line station that is south of LAX, but Aviation/Century is still more than one mile to the LAX terminals. Metro has a separate study underway to connect the Metro Rail system to LAX via another Measure R-funded project. The city of Los Angeles, which operates LAX, also has a specific plan amendment study underway that is considering a people mover between the Aviation/Century station and the airport terminals.

The Crenshaw/LAX Line will have at least six stations, as the above map shows. The Metro Board in May also voted to add a station in Leimert Park at Crenshaw and Vernon if a contractor can build that underground station within the project’s budget — that remains to be seen. A station at Manchester and Aviation could also be added at a later date if funding is found; an elevated station would be at Manchester, an at-grade station three blocks north and east near Hindry Avenue.

About 47 percent of the Crenshaw/Line will be grade separated to avoid street and traffic conflicts. That’s significantly more grade separation than in the existing Blue and Gold lines and more than will be in the Expo Line. The Green Line, which runs mostly in the median of the 105 freeway, is completely separated from the streets above and below it.

At its southern end, the tracks for the Crenshaw/LAX Line will merge with the Green Line tracks. No final decisions have yet been made on how trains from the two lines will be routed, although some operating plans have been discussed. Another Measure R project could extend the Green Line from Redondo Beach to Torrance, although that project is a long way off unless Congress approves the America Fast Forward initiative to accelerate transit projects through extra federal financing and loans.

At its northern end, there will be a short walk between the Crenshaw/LAX Line’s underground station at Exposition Boulevard and the Expo Line’s street level station. A future project — not yet studied or funded — could send the Crenshaw/LAX tracks northward toward a junction with the Westside Subway Extension. The Expo and Crenshaw tracks aren’t merging for several reasons, among them traffic impacts at the Crenshaw and Exposition intersection and questions about whether the single set of light rail tracks in downtown could handle frequent trains from the Blue Line, Expo Line and Crenshaw/LAX Line.

The Board of Directors on Thursday also gave final approval to several aspects of the line:

•The segment of the line between Exposition Boulevard and 39th Street will be underground instead of at street level to avoid conflicts with traffic and developments in the area.

•The tracks will cross under La Brea in a trench instead of a bridge because of seismic issues in the area.

•The tracks will also run in a partially-covered trench adjacent to LAX’s south runway at the request of the Federal Aviation Administration — on a typical day, arriving planes fly over the tracks. At some point in the future, the trench will have to be fully covered.

•A maintenance yard near LAX at the intersection of Arbor Vitae and Bellanca.

A map from the project's environmental study shows the area around the Crenshaw/LAX Line is very transit dependent. Click above to see larger map.

A rail line along the Crenshaw Corridor — like most transit projects in Southern California – has been discussed for decades because of the area’s streetcar history, density and transit needs. A 1967 rail plan even specified a rail line along the Crenshaw corridor and Metro began more intensively studying the issue in the 1990s. As usual, there were two problems: lack of funding and political will to build the project.

The turning point this time was the passage of Measure R, which is helping pay for 12 transit projects. Two others — the Orange Line busway extension to Chatsworth and the Gold Line Foothill Extension to Azusa — are under construction and the Expo Line Phase 2 held its groundbreaking ceremony earlier this month. Another two projects — the Westside Subway Extension and the Regional Connector — are near the end of their environmental review process.

The initial studies for this project also considered bus rapid transit for the Crenshaw corridor. Ultimately it was decided that while a rapid bus system would be less expensive to build, it wouldn’t offer much in the way of time savings for those who ride the buses.

One looming challenge for the Crenshaw/LAX Line will be its budget. The grade separations for the line come with a great cost and Metro officials say the estimated cost of the project is currently $30 million to $50 million more than the $1.7 billion in funding available. Officials are seeking to bring down the cost through the design and preliminary engineering that is underway.

16 replies

  1. @John

    Downtown LA, Long Beach, Pasadena, Koreatown, Hollywood, East LA (look at the projects around Mariachi Plaza), etc… have benefitted economically when rail transit entered the area. As long as Crenshaw does the appropriate zoning to allow for increased development near stations, then the Crenshaw Corridor will blossom after the new rail line is constructed. Again, think of those neighborhoods/cities prior to the Metro rail (esp. downtown LA) and now look at how economically stronger these areas are. It’s been proven in multiple studies that rail lines provide the greatest long-term economic potential; and you see that in LA over the last 20 years.

  2. By the numbers provided in the impact report, it would appear that while this project will result in a short-term increase in construction jobs, it will in the long run will displace more jobs than it makes. Furthermore, it will cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in lost property tax revenue. Overall, given the 12% unemployment rate and drastic decrease in tax revenues, I consider this whole project to be fiscally irresponsible.

  3. “Did I mention that the MTA staff has projections that a Manchester/Aviation station would have high ridership increases when the South Bay connection is done but that this was never told to MTA Board when they were briefed?”

    No need to twist words. Based on the Executive Summary of the FEIR it stated that ridership would increase due to the extension to the South Bay but its still not high enough to make this a good station location for ridership.

  4. I guess doing a “study” of the airport connection is better than nothing. Maybe by mid-century LA will catch up with other cities with direct transit/airport connections such as San Francisco, Chicago, Newark, JFK, Boston, Mexico City, London, Rome, Frankfurt, Athens, Istanbul.
    Was it only rumor that LAX parking interests derailed (pun intended) a connection to the airport when the green line was first constructed?

  5. The last community meetings for the “Green Line to LAX” project included some info and discussion about which route the people mover could take. There were a few options identified.

    Of course, this is just on the Metro side of planning – LAWA is currently studying options as well. Both sides will release their findings and then debate who pays for what, no doubt.

  6. They tied the Westchester Station to the Leimert Park Station and, by artificially jacking up the Westchester Station’s price tag, they are using it as a consolation sacrifice for Mark Ridley-Thomas so that they don’t have to build a rather expensive underground Leimert Park Station.

    The Metro EIRs nowadays are getting routinely rubber-stamped by no input whatsoever from general public but only the strong opposition, city councils, and county supervisors.

  7. Another vote for the peoplemover here. What is the current situation with the Consolidated Rental Car facility? It seems such a facility would simultaneously free up land around the airport for other development and reduce the amount of shuttles that constantly clog up the road in front of the terminals.

  8. Steve,

    The LAX Automated People Mover is part of the 2006 Stipulated Settlement with LAWA. They could have started it 5 years ago but haven’t. I believe the hang up is that they don’t know what route they will use because they are simultaneously trying to back off from the Consolidated Rental Car facility which most major airports already enjoy.

    The Aviation/Manchester station became “optional” when the overall estimated costs kept increasing a few years ago and the repair facility at Hindry was rejected. Although “otional” it has not been a “favorite son” of MTA staff. Over the past few months their “increased review” raised their estimate by over twenty million which had already been increased by over twenty million from the initial estimates. I only found out at the last MTA Crenshaw/LAX Train Leadership Council that MTA staff had NO INTENT to include the station in the construction bids.

    Only behind the curtin negotiations got a promise from Mark Ridley-Thomas that it would be included. I was shocked yesterday that the FEIS/FEIR was approved by consent when there were dozens of speakers waiting all day to air their concerns. The approval, as done, leaves the direction to include the only Westchester resident available station in a limbo with no specific instructions by MTA board.

    Did I mention that the MTA staff has projections that a Manchester/Aviation station would have high ridership increases when the South Bay connection is done but that this was never told to MTA Board when they were briefed?


  9. @James I’ve been to one of the community meetings for the LAX connection so far and I think you’re right.

    The people mover seems to be the best option to me because it can stop at all of the terminals, maybe along the Century office/hotel corridor, and at the transit station at Aviation/Century. This way people who are just riding the Green or Crenshaw lines past LAX don’t actually have to deal with the airport itself. The people mover will bring the airport traffic out to the Crenshaw/Green station, without needing to bring those trains and people in to the airport if they’re not getting off there.

  10. I hope the Crenshaw Line gets built soon.

    However, I don’t think the light rail line needs to go directly into the LAX terminal area.

    Let the peoplemover do that job, as the peoplemover has also been needed for travel within the airport and from the terminals to local hotels, car rental lots, etc.

    Transfers are just a part of rail transit; I don’t see it as an obstacle at LAX.

    If the funds become available, the Crenshaw Line should continue north to Hollywood, and the Green Line south to Torrance.

  11. @ Robb

    The plan is to connect the Crenshaw Line to the Green line spur you mentioned. So an additional plus to getting the Crenshaw Line built is new track for the Green Line to use to get to the airport. Transfers from the two lines is expected to take place at Aviation/Century.

    Also I’m a little surprised the FEIR was approved without a hitch considering the amount of controversy this particular project brought the last time it came up at Board.

  12. @Steve:

    I agree, a Crenshaw-Downtown line would be great, but I doubt the Downtown Connector could handle three lines going through it… as it is currently planned, there will be trains going through every 2-3 minutes peak on each track; I’d think cramming a third line through there would be difficult.

    I’m curious about how the Crenshaw Line and the Green Line will interface. When the Green Line was built, there was a spur that was designed just west of Aviation Station (for a future Green Line-LAX connection), so from a construction/budgetary point of view it makes sense to use it. But if that’s the case, the Crenshaw line will pass within a few feet of Aviation but not actually stop there, which I could see as being frustrating for people wishing to transfer between the lines; they’d have to go an extra stop to Mariposa. I guess one option would be to sort of “back in” at Aviation, but I can see that as being a logistical nightmare as well.

  13. Steve,

    Can you give more details about the Manchester/Aviation station? I thought that was going to be a grade-seperated station above Manchester… when did this become an optional station, and how would an at-grade station be incoroprated later if this is an aerial grade crossing? Is this a result of the additional undergrounding and competing Leimert Park station?

    • Hey Karl;

      Both an elevated and at-grade station at Manchester were environmentally cleared — so either could be built, if there’s the will and money to do so. The elevated station would be right at Manchester, the at-grade station would be north and east near Hindry Avenue.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  14. Glad to see the merging of tracks at Expo/Crenshaw was addressed. It’s something I wrote about extensively on my blog and think would have been an absolutely amazing improvement to the entire Metro system.

    That being said, I know it would have been a fairly complicated task and I’m just glad to see it mentioned here as confirmation that it was, in fact, thought about.

    While most of the transit needs will be met just fine even with this transfer required, I think the big loser will be transit to LAX. If it’s a people-mover to Aviation/Century, travel to most parts of the region will require two passenger transfers from the airport.