TRANSCONTINENTAL RAILROAD: There’s a good exhibit at the Huntington Library though July 23 on the planning and construction of the 1,776-mile railroad between Sacramento and Council Bluffs, Nebraska.
To be more specific, that’s 1,776 miles of rail built between 1863 and 1869. To put that in perspective, it took about five years to build the first phase of the Expo Line between downtown L.A. and Culver City. The planning process for both the Westside Subway Extension and Regional Connector took about five years and was recently completed. The 1.9-mile Connector is scheduled to open in 2019 and the first 3.9 miles of the Westside Subway to La Cienega is targeted for a 2020 opening.
Hmmm.The above numbers don’t exactly suggest we’re building things faster these days, eh?
Of course, the Transcontinental Railroad didn’t just happen in six years. There was talk of it going back to the 1830s, many different routes were explored and advocated and the project was only made possible with massive federal help in the form of money and property grants as well as cheap labor.
Workplace safety — or the lack thereof — was not much of a concern and an unknown number of immigrant and minority workers died building the railroad. Not-in-my-backyarders along the route — i.e. Native Americans — were killed or cruelly relocated. The Union Pacific was driven to bankruptcy in the Credit Mobilier scandal, causing great harm to the American economy for years. In the rush to get the project done, much of the work was sloppy and had to be re-done.
Still, the project was finished and by the early 1870s a trip that once required weeks or months to get from one side of America to the other was reduced to as little as four days.
Back to the big question: Are we a lesser nation now because of the time it takes to plan and build transit projects? I think so.
Funding is a constant issue, of course. The other problem is the exhaustive environmental impact studies required under state and/or federal law for most projects. Would the Transcontinental Railroad have been built if the railroads had to study “growth inducing impacts? — which was exactly the point of the endeavor. And is it really necessary in the modern era to try to calculate how many vehicle miles won’t be driven if such-and-such project is built? And isn’t that also beside the point, given that the very premise of public transit is to simply provide an alternative to driving?
Look, people. A project’s impacts on citizens and natural resources should absolutely be studied, whether it’s a planned clear-cut in a national forest or a local light rail project. At some point, however, unless these studies are reigned in, we’ll be stuck in paralysis-by-analysis mode, never actually building anything because there will always be someone asking for more study. There has to be a way to compress the planning process and inform the public on the impacts of a project and the expected mitigations.
I’m not sure you can say the Transcontinental Railroad reflected the best of American ideals. I do think it’s fair to say that it still was quite an achievement and one that should raise this question: have we become a nation of planners rather than doers?
(Note: The Huntington is not super convenient to mass transit, situated in a residential neighborhood in San Marino. It is, however, a short 1.5-mile bike ride from the Gold Line’s Allen station or, a little farther, from the Fillmore station. The nearest bus line is 78/79/378, which stops at Huntington Drive and Sierra Madre Boulevard, about a .5-mile walk uphill to the Oxford and Stratford entrance to the Huntington. The 264/267 stops at Del Mar and Allen, about a mile north of the Huntington).
MEASURE R EXTENSION: The Metro Board’s discussion of a possible Measure R extension didn’t happen at last week’s meeting because several other items ran long and a quorum was lost.
That means the discussion will occur in June on whether to ask Los Angeles County voters to extend Measure R to accelerate transit and road projects. If the Board should decide to put the issue to voters in this November’s election, they would need to act by their July meeting.
EXPO LINE’S ONE-MONTH ANNIVERSARY: Regular service began a month ago today. I’m curious to hear observations from readers who have using the line on a regular basis. Use the comment board please.
On a related note, we should know soon when the line will open to Culver City. Stay tuned on that one.
STANLEY CUP PREDICTION: Kings in five games, with many Kings fans using Metro to reach Games 3 and 4 at Staples Center.
Here’s video of the Kings playing the Blackhawks in Oct. 1967 in their first season in the NHL.
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