Metro CEO Art Leahy explains need to demolish properties to construct Wilshire/Fairfax subway station

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The Los Angeles Times ran an opinion piece earlier this week criticizing the Westside Subway Extension for proposing to demolish buildings housing the A+D architecture museum and the Edward Cella Art+Architecture and Steve Turner Contemporary galleries. The land would be used as one of two construction staging areas for the Wilshire/Fairfax station.

On Wednesday, Metro CEO Art Leahy issued this response:

There are good reasons why you can’t stage construction for the Purple Line subway extension at “nearby sites” that are two blocks away from the Wilshire/Fairfax station.

Construction must be staged immediately adjacent to the station itself so crews can dig down and feed equipment into the station box. This allows most of the construction to be performed off-street, sparing the public from even bigger traffic nightmares on Wilshire Boulevard.

Metro is required by law to provide just compensation for properties it must acquire for construction. Building the subway in this incredibly dense urban environment is certainly not easy.  Doing so without incurring any impacts to existing properties is simply unrealistic.

Once built, this critically needed subway line will have tremendous benefits for Museum Row, the Wilshire Corridor and entire L.A. region.



Some more background: Metro needs two construction staging areas at most of the proposed seven stations to have enough space to do the work. It also makes construction logistically easier and faster with two ways to get equipment in and dirt out of the underground station box. At Fairfax, there will likely be the additional challenge of dealing with gassy soils and preserving fossils (the area is just west of the La Brea tarpits).

For more information about planned construction of the Westside Subway Extension, please see Chapter 2 of the Final Environmental Impact Statement/Report, which discusses station locations, construction areas and station entrances. In addition, this construction fact sheet explains how the stations will be built.

12 replies

  1. The Market Street subway in San Francisco required tearing up long stretches of the street, with great disruption to local businesses for years.

  2. I think those asking why can’t L.A. do things as efficiently and without too much intrusion on urban life as in other cities and other countries need to remember that when it comes to rail mass transit, Los Angeles in at least a quarter century behind where it should be and at least a half century behind where it could’ve been had it not abandoned the red car system. A LOT of development has happened in this city and county in that time. It’s not as easy to build or expand a rail system now as it would have been when L.A. was still somewhat underdeveloped compared to now.

    Plus, you have to factor in the costs of waiting until the late 1980’s to build from scratch as opposed to the cost of improving, expanding and maintaining what was already in place decades earlier.

  3. Correct me if Im wrong but from what I gathered most Asian countries use a variation of the Hong Kong approach that is

    “MTR, in association with the local government, has become one of the city’s major property developers. It has used profits from those new housing, commercial, and retail schemes to pay for part of the cost of constructing new subway lines. Along the urban rail lines, the MTR has funded dozens of new housing projects with 300 to 7,000 apartments each. The operations of the subway are entirely unsubsidized by the local government.”

  4. @Bobby McGee

    Incorrect. Mass transit systems say for Tokyo are made through profits earned by JR East and not through taxes collected from other Japanese like those living in Osaka or Okinawa.

    JR East is a publicly traded company on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Investors buy, sell, and trade JR East stock, JR East then uses the capital from investors to build transit projects within the JR East region. JR East then post profits which pays out dividends to their shareholders.

    No taxes are used to fund mass transit in Japan; it’s all a private enterprise. And it’s also the true in most other Asian cities. Taiwanese, Hong Kong, and Singaporean mass transit “agencies” are more like “corporations” which trade stocks on the open market. Investors buy stocks, agency uses that capital to build projects, profits are earned, and goes back to shareholders.

  5. Frank M: because it is VASTLY more expensive and almost the entire cost of such projects in those countries is 100% NATIONAL dollars without the tremendous burden placed on local governments and LOCAL funding like in the US.

  6. So many questions that have not been answered. Will construction of the Purple Line damage buildings along Wilshire, like what happened when it was originally built to Wilshire/Normandy. Will they run in to problems with under ground gases near Wilshire/Fairfax? Are they still going to have a station in Century City and run the trains under Beverly Hills High?
    If this will be successful it will greatly benefit the Westside of LA. But like most of their other projects it is so late and the construction costs have gone up. Other cities in the nation and in other countries have been far ahead of LA with mass transit for decades. Los Angeles always seems to be late with every project including the Green Line not going to LAX.

  7. I think another factor comes to mind is that cities like Los Angeles are building a NEW subway line in an area where it is already developed. The previous posts do mention that Asian cities have constructed subway/rail lines in dense areas, but don’t take into account that many of those same cities have EXISTING subway systems (Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, etc.); likewise, older cities in the United States built their subway/rail systems BEFORE developing the areas around the lines and stations.

    My hometown (New York City) is a classic example of a metropolitan area that constructed its subway system before devloping housing, businesses and entertainment centers. The results are obvious–one CAN take the subway almost anywhere (Times Square, Wall Street, Coney Island, Yankee Stadium, etc.).

    The Big Apple is not the only town to benefit from developing land after constructing subway/rail lines. Boston (MBTA), Philadelphia (SEPTA), Jersey City and Newark (PATH) and, to a certain extent, Chicago (CTA) and Toronto (TCC) are also older metropolitan areas that constructed rail systems before developing land for various uses. That’s why what L.A. is doing with the Purple Line extension is that much more difficult (and intriguing) because Wilshire Blvd. is already a major thoroughfare. Imagine trying to construct a brand new subway line on Fifth Avenue in NYC? That’s what Los Angeles is getting ready to do very soon along Wilshire Boulevard!

  8. Peter, there are some types of transit that absolutely need separation from other types of traffic. The speeds necessary to achieve efficient rapid transit are not safe to be mixed with other types of street traffic. It’s one thing to have a couple short sections of street running here and there, but as a whole, a proper rail system that is regional in scope should be separated from other modes to actually function safely and efficiently. It’s just common sense.

  9. no need to put the trains below ground just to save space for cars up top — walking, biking, and trains should take precedence on our streets, in that order — not cars.

  10. I agree with both the above statements. Having visited various cities around this country and others, I can definitely see that their subways are much more integrated with the existing urban development rather than the approach metro uses. Its odd really. Even in other US locations like the San Francisco Bay area there several subway stations in dense areas (Berkeley, Market Street in SF, Downtown Oakland) where its clear that the immediately adjacent development next to them preceded the construction of said stations. And certainly the CTA subway sections in Chicago are more than a few decades newer than much of the immediate development around them. This is evident with the Milwaukee/Dearborn subway as well as the State Street subway.

  11. It’s true, L.A. Metro must be doing something wrong. All around the world, cities build subways with little intrusion to the urban environment, while L.A. tears up everything around it when it builds a subway. This should be fixed.

  12. I don’t understand why Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore can manage to build subways quickly and efficiently without disrupting the urban environment, even considering that their limitations are much more difficult because they have a much denser city than we do and they have even narrower streets to work with for all those construction equipment.