In a political triumph for backers of the proposed Los Angeles-to-Long Beach light rail line, the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday quietly approved a planned downtown subway as part of the $500-million transit project.
Supports of the subway plan, who were stymied last week on the council floor, easily picked up the needed votes Tuesday to push through a recommendation that the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission build the subway as part of its 22-mile light rail line.
Despite the council action, however, it remains unclear when the project will be built. There are lingering disputes over the recommended routes in other cities plus uncertainty over the fate of the Metro Rail project--the downtown-to-San Fernando Valley subway that would link up with the light rail line.
"This was a very important step," said Rick Richmond, the commission's executive director, after the council's 12-2 vote.
"In strictly legal terms, it was not required," he added. "But in practical terms, it was very important...The risk of proceeding without (approval from) the person in whose front yard you are proposing to do this thing would have been a (substantial) one."
The commission's staff--backed by the Community Redevelopment Agency and major downtown property owners--had pushed for a subway route through the downtown business district despite complaints about costs and environmental concerns.
After the council failed Friday to endorse the subway, proponents, including the commission and the redevelopment agency, successfully lobbied recalcitrant council members on behalf of the subway plan. When the issue arose Tuesday, it passed without debate.
One of the most ardent critics, Councilman Marvin Braude, switched his vote for the subway but later said he still thought it was a "misguided" plan.
"The votes simply weren't there (to oppose it)," he said.
The two council members who voted against the plan were Ernani Bernardi and Howard Finn.
The subway, which would cost about $120 million a mile to build, would start at 7th and Flower streets and run underground for four-fifths of a mile before surfacing between 11th and 12th streets.
Two other alternatives had been rejected as too disruptive and unpopular with local residents and businesses. Those options included an aerial guideway along Olympic Boulevard and Figueroa Street and street-level tracks that would run northbound on Spring and Main streets and southbound on Broadway.
The 11-member Transportation Commission, which would build the rail system, is set to review final environmental documents today and is expected to formally approve the project later this month after hearing from key local governments.
In addition to Los Angeles, those include city councils in Compton and Long Beach, which have been asked to approve routes through their communities. Long Beach council members are expected to decide next week but Compton officials have differed with the commission's recommendations.