As many of you know, the draft environmental study for the Eastside Gold Line Transit Corridor Phase 2 project was released in August. Among the study alternatives being considered are extending the Eastside Gold Line from East Los Angeles to South El Monte and/or Whittier, as well as the Transportation System Management and the legally-required no build options.
Now that over 1,130 public comments have been received by Metro, agency staff are recommending that they go forward with a technical study to further refine the two light rail alternatives. The Metro staff report and recommendation is above or can also be viewed online here. Here is the project’s web page, which includes an FAQ and interactive map.
The State Route 60 North Side Design Variation (NSDV) alternative to be studied further would end in the city of South El Monte alignment and would mostly be situated on the south side of the 60 freeway. It would swing north of the freeway between Greenwood Avenue and Paramount Avenue to avoid the south side of the OII superfund site.
The Washington Blvd alternative would end in the city of Whittler and will be refined to avoid an aerial section of tracks along Garfield Avenue in Montebello between Via Campo and Whittier Boulevard that was determined to have an unavoidable visual and aesthetic impact as well as community and neighborhood impact. That means that the technical study must find another north-south route for the tracks between the 60 freeway and Washington Boulevard.
Another key question to be answered in the technical study: whether it is operationally possible to split the Eastside Gold Line so that it could serve both South El Monte and Whittier if both alternatives were to be built — and how ridership on both alternatives would be impacted if trains ran less frequently in order to serve both branches.
The technical study will eventually be folded in the project’s final environmental document. After the technical study is completed — which is anticipated to take 1½ to two years — Metro staff will return to the Metro Board with an answer on the operational question of building both alternatives. The Board at that time will likely decide whether to study one or both alternatives in the final environmental impact report.
“We have the time to do this well and do this right,” said Laura Cornejo, the Eastside Phase 2 project manager. “The technical study gives us the chance to look at some very important questions and concerns raised by agencies and stakeholders.”
The Eastside Gold Line Phase 2 is scheduled to receive $1.27 billion (in 2010 dollars) from the Measure R half-cent sales tax increase approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008. The challenge facing Metro is that ridership estimates for both light rail alternatives for the second phase of the Eastside project are strong and both alternatives are already in Metro’s long-range plan. But Metro only has enough funding secured at this time to build one of them.
That could change depending on whether the Metro Board decides next year to put a transportation ballot measure to county voters in Nov. 2016 that could potentially raise more money for the project. The Board would also have to decide to allocate funds for both alternatives.
Under Metro’s long-range plan, the second phase of the Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension is not scheduled to be in operation until 2035. Which is another issue facing the project: whether Metro could raise the money between federal sources (i.e. expanded federal funding) and/or a ballot measure to accelerate construction of the project.