Highlights from the Regional Connector’s final environmental study

This map shows how the Regional Connector will fit into Metro's expanding rail and busway system.

As many of you know by now, the Regional Connector’s Final Environmental Impact Statement/Report was released last Friday. (News release and Exec summary here). The public review period begins today and the Metro Board of Directors will consider the report at their February meeting.

Here are some of the highlights of this key project — I can’t emphasize the word ‘key’ enough — which is funded in part by the Measure R sales tax approved by Los Angeles  County voters in 2008:

The Basics

The 1.9-mile light rail line will connect the Gold Line to the Blue Line and Expo Line in downtown Los Angeles via a tunnel that will mostly follow 2nd and Flower streets.

As the above map shows, the project will allow for a one-seat ride for light rail passengers to downtown destinations and allow for trains to run from Santa Monica to East L.A. (and beyond) and from Azusa (and perhaps beyond) to Long Beach. That means fewer transfers and more time savings for Metro passengers — more on that below.

Three new undergrounnd stations will be built at 2nd/Hope, Broadway/2nd and in Little Tokyo in the block bounded by Central, Alameda, 1st and 2nd streets. The Little Tokyo station will replace the existing surface-level Gold Line station, which may be kept for use during special events. The tunnel entrances for the Connector will be on either side of the Little Tokyo station.

Station locations for the Regional Connector.

The project timeline: if the Metro Board approves the final environmental study in February, the Federal Transit Administration would then hopefully sign off on the document later this year. Engineering and design would take one to two years followed by four years of construction. The project is scheduled to open by 2019.

The Benefits

The report says that the Regional Connector is projected to create more than 17,000 new transit trips and will have a ridership of more than 89,000 users daily. Unlike other alternatives studied and considered, the fully underground line that Metro staff is recommending would obviously have no street crossings, be faster and would have fewer long-term impacts on the downtown community.

Other big benefits:

•This is not just a downtown-specific project. The reason that “Regional” is in the project’s title is because it vastly improves the individual light rail lines that Metro has built (and is building) at a cost of more than $3 billion. While time savings to passengers are in downtown L.A., the Connector means people will more likely use light rail lines across the county – in effect, widening the audience for transit, transit-oriented development and other similar benefits.

•Fewer transfers. Under Metro’s current fare structure, a passenger must buy a ticket in order to transfer or upgrade to a daily pass — even if going for a short distance after transfering. Reducing transfers puts money back in passenger’s pockets.

•Frequency. At present, the Blue Line and Expo Line dead-end at 7th/Metro Center, meaning there are only so many trains that can run on both lines. The Connector will allow for trains running through downtown up to every 2.5 minutes at peak times. In other words, it greatly enhances capacity of Metro’s light rail lines.

•The Connector connects the Eastside Gold Line directly to the Westside Subway Extension – a $5-billion-plus project — without the current detour and time-munching transfer at Union Station. To put it another way, it makes it easier for riders to access Metro’s most expensive project and thereby helps justify that investment.

•Many Metro passengers will see significantly reduced travel times because of the Connector. Here’s why:

Passengers on the Gold Line, Blue Line and Expo Line will no longer have to transfer at Union Station or 7th/Metro to reach their destinations. For example, someone boarding the Gold Line in Old Town Pasadena will be able to reach the Pico station — near Staples Center and L.A. Live — in about 30 minutes and will no longer have to transfer to the Red/Purple Line at Union Station and to the Blue Line at 7th/Metro. That’s a time savings of at least 10 minutes (and often much more).

Conversely, as stated above, passengers boarding the Gold Line in East Los Angeles, for example, will no longer have to ride to Union Station and then transfer to the subway to reach the heart of downtown L.A. — a detour that usually consumes 10 to 15 minutes, at the least. Metro surveys in the past have found that almost half of Gold Line riders need to transfer to another bus or train to reach their destination.

Blue Line passengers will be able to stay on the train at 7th/Metro to reach the Civic Center, Little Tokyo, Union Station and the Pasadena leg of the Gold Line. The same applies to Expo Line passengers who will have one transfer to reach Union Station and the Pasadena leg of the Gold Line — not the two required under the current set-up.

The Regional Connector is also expected to help alleviate some crowding on platforms at Union Station and 7th/Metro Center — where many light rail passengers now must transfer — as well as help relieve future crowding on the subway in downtown, which will one day run to Westwood.

The following chart from the report compares the time savings of the alternatives considered for the project. Metro staff is recommending the fully underground route.

Click above to see a larger image.

The Cost

The project is expected to cost $1.342 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars.

The chart below shows where the money is expected to come from to build the project; the Connector and the Westside Subway Extension are requesting federal “New Starts” money as a combined project.


The Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) would be inserted at the property northeast of 1st and Alameda Streets known as the Mangrove property (formerly known as the Nikkei development), and then transported underground to Central Avenue, where it would begin excavating westward.

The TBM will then tunnel under 2nd Street and help dig the tunnel all the way to Flower and 4th. The rest of the tunnel under 4th will be done by the cut-and-cover method.

A pocket track, which could also serve as a crossover, would be located beneath Flower Street between 4th and 6th streets. This would allow for a possible future station beneath Flower Street between 5th and 4th Streets — that would be funded and built as a separate project.

The Connector is obviously a signficant undertaking and some of the construction impacts are still being finalized.

One other point of interestingness

Employment density in the Connector’s project area is 85,875 employees per square mile — about 77 times the County-wide employment density of 1,108 employees per square mile. While L.A. County is certainly sprawling, its job and transit center remains downtown and the Connector will help get people where they’re going downtown more quickly and with fewer hassles.


15 replies

  1. Steve, the Regional Connector will bring innumerable benefits, but it is somewhat disingenuous to list the fare savings from reduced transfers as one of them. The Regional Connector is scheduled to open in 2019, and I would be utterly stupefied if Metro’s current fare system is still in effect at that time. There are very few urban transport systems worldwide that charge for a forced transfer from one train to another, and here in Los Angeles there is an increasing awareness of how anachronistic the practice is (really, you’ve discussed this in your own blog!).

    Reducing the number of transfers has very clear benefits in terms of passenger convenience, and those are very important. But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that this “puts money back in passenger’s pockets,” when it would only do so under an outdated fare policy that has one foot in the grave.

  2. The system is on the verge of getting so big that the idea of running multiple services on the same lines is not out of the question. One that could also be done is Culver City to Santa Monica, combining the Expo and Blue Lines. Or, that could have been done if a turnout (relatively inexpensive in the grand scheme of things) would have been built at the corner of Flower and Washington. But there wasn’t one built.

  3. I can’t wait for the regional connector. It will really tie it all together while increasing efficiency and ridership. With the new courthouse coming, hopefully a lot of those workers will be able to commute via train. On fares, Metro ticket prices are already ridiculously cheap. I can go from downtown to Long Beach for $1.50. That’s just insane given the distance. Any other metro-area transit network that length of ride would easily be over $5.00, and most would be waaaay more than that. Even that would be a bargain I think, given gas, parking, wear and tear. I think perhaps there should be some small increases to help fund some of these initiatives.

  4. @Andrew

    “I am sure the increased ridership of all Metro lines due to the project will result in increased revenue”

    Of course increased ridership numbers will project an increase in revenue if it all goes to plan, but that doesn’t mean it’ll necessarily cover all costs of maintaining such a big project.

    It’s like running a trucking company; if your trucking business is doing really well through increased business and there’s a need to buy more trucks, you have to do what you have to do to keep your business going. But by adding more trucks to your company, you know have more labor costs, maintenance costs, and fuel costs added to your tab. So how do you make up for this? Increased revenues alone will not cover said additional expenses, so eventually you’ll have to charge your customers more or figure out another way to gain additional revenue.

    What I am afraid of is this will eventually start to happen to LA Metro. Increased ridership numbers does not necessarily equate to increased revenue to pay for everything at a time when expansion is being made especially as long term costs such as maintenance are needed.

    As such that is why I said how else are they going to fund the additional long term maintenance costs associated with all these projects? Jacking up fares, asking taxpayers for more of their paychecks, asking China for more cash, or do they have any other plans to approach this matter. LA Metro has been very quiet about funding long terms maintenance costs associated with running all these once the projects are built. It just seems to me that LA Metro wants to mask a veil from taxpayers by giving us the glitz and glory of all these projects, but not wanting to discuss about long term maintenance costs once they’re all built up.

  5. How did LA Metro conclude that Expo line trains will always go to East L.A. and Long Beach trains will always go to Pasadena and beyond?

    Why not “Mix’n’Match” and also run trains from Expo to Pasadena, and from Long Beach to East L.A.?

  6. There will still be a fare to pay if one transfers from the new “Blue” line to the new “Gold” line, right? So LA Metro will be installing TVMs and places to tap the TAP card on the station platforms, right?

    If current fare policy is retained, isn’t the fare from Union Station to East L.A. now going to double?

    Well, at least one will be able to get from Chinatown to Pico/Staples Center for one fare instead of the current three fares.

    So basketball, hockey and football fans get a break but if you live in East L.A. you get to pay more?

  7. I would like to add that I hope the Little Tokyo subway station for the RC is going to be an “over-under” design. I can’t see how the very short head ways can be handled efficiently (without trains having to stop for minutes to allow a passing train crossing over) with a single level crossover tracks (like at Washington & Flower). If a train is just a tad late, then there goes the schedule for both lines and a few trains to come.

  8. The reason there would be trains every 2.5 minutes is because it would be a combo of the trains running down 2 lines through the regional connector. Both the new Blue and Gold will be sharing the same tracks, and multiple directions, therefore in that small amount of area a lot of trains begin passing stations at higher frequencies.

    This is a side effect of creating this.

  9. To P. Hunter.

    I am sure the increased ridership of all Metro lines due to the project will result in increased revenue, which will then pay for the increased frequency of trains going through downtown.

  10. “…where’s the funding going to come from to get such higher frequencies?”

    There’s no need to fund the higher frequencies, the potential frequency already exists. Terminating trains at 7th is very inefficient and limits frequencies, but through-running trains cuts down on time wasted, allowing for the higher frequencies.

    The Regional Connector allows the Gold, Expo, and Blue lines to run through downtown; the Expo line ceases to exist and becomes part of the east-west Gold Line, while the Blue Line will run north to Pasadena and beyond. Having two lines run on the same trackage allows for the 2.5 minute peak frequencies, but the separate lines will themselves still have 5 minute frequencies. The operations costs should be minimal because the potential for higher frequencies already exists on the currently separate lines, but are stunted by the current terminals.

  11. Good Point P. Hunter, but this was the same concern regarding building the subway in the first place, and later cited as a reason NOT to expand our LRT. We will do what we have always done (and other cities): address the situation that may indeed come in the form of fare increase (years down the line and probably unavoidable in any situation), an extension or passage of another county tax (this has been done at least 3 times that I can recall in the last 30 years meaning all have passed, not to mention state transportation bond money NOT restricted for construction, our inevitable rise out of this economic slump, which by the time of the Regional Connector’s opening will result in anticipated revenue (like when the state found itself with over $11 billion after an economic boost about 10 years ago. I suppose in other words this is always the challenge of every transit project in the free world, but we rise to the challenge.

    The cities that currently face the problem you’ve suggested are Austin (its poorly planned Capitol Metro that really is a commuter train service, but Austin is now pushing for LRT intra-city transit), and other smaller cities that are moving forward with LRT with much smaller economies and more conservative economics and politics such as Phoenix, Denver, Charlotte, Houston, even including the Road Runner Commuter rail in New Mexico, among others. Those places have low ridership (no saturation that even comes close to our subway and LRT or Metrolink saturation with frequent head-ways already at about 5 minutes apart per line LRT–Blue and Gold–or 10 minutes per subway line) and a smaller or less sprawling system than ours, and ours also feeds a fairly robust commuter rail system (Metorlink) that has always had great difficulty meeting demand for lack of equipment that has now changed for the better with the delivery of the new Guardian Fleet. In other words, we are in a far better position to deal with our challanges. Meanwhile it is Metrolink that cone should have more worry as it has NO DEDICATED revenue (tax like the MTA) other than the fare-box. Any one of the county transit agencies can cut their funding for its share of the trains in its county and pretty much screw-up the system for just about the entire region.

    But I suppose, we just shouldn’t build it an I am not aware of any agency in the U.S. that has truly planned for the long-term operations several years out from the start of build. The only thing that has, so far, created a situation where transit agencies may not have the money to fund operations is POOR RIDERSHIP NUMBERS. That will not be a problem here.

  12. The frequency is not really going to cost that much because you are using the existing equipment off the existing lines simply alternating going through the tunnel. The efficiency of running a train a longer distance without turning back all your trains adds up as well.

  13. @P Hunter:

    Measure R is divvied up several ways. 35% is reserved for “New Rail and/or Bus Rapid Transit Capital Projects” but a separate 5% of Measure R revenues is reserved for “Rail Operations (New Transit Project Operations and Maintenance).”

  14. “The Connector will allow for trains running through downtown up to every 2.5 minutes at peak times.”

    Sounds great but there’s just one problem: where’s the funding going to come from to get such higher frequencies? Through higher fares? From higher taxes? Wire transfer funds from our new Daddy China? Remember, Measure R doesn’t cover higher frequencies of our light rail trains, it only covers cost of building the lines.

    Building is one thing, maintaining and keeping all of the infrastructure intact is a whole another matter. We need some long term visions here on how to fund all these costs after everything is built.