COMPTON — Apparently breaking a monthlong stalemate that threatened the Los Angeles-to-Long Beach light-rail project, the City Council on Tuesday approved a compromise that allows construction of the $675-million electric railway through the heart of this city's business district while diverting noisy freight trains onto another track.
The council, which rejected the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission's light-rail plan last month because it did not address the decades-old freight problem, endorsed the new proposal 4 to 1 and then sent it back to the county for approval.
The Transportation Commission, the agency directing the 21-mile trolley project, delayed approval of the Compton counterproposal Wednesday afternoon, saying a more complete environmental study is needed.
Commission officials have praised the new plan as innovative, but they have also asked Compton to allow construction as originally proposed if problems develop with the new plan. The council majority refused to endorse the original proposal to place both freights and trolleys at street level along the same downtown route, even as a backup plan.
Staff to Report Back
That position prohibited commission approval Wednesday, said spokeswoman Erica Goebel. "The commission has directed staff to continue the necessary actions to keep the project moving," she said. "It has directed staff to report back about the steps necessary to develop the (Compton) alternative and possible others."
County planners told the commission that a preliminary environmental report on Compton's new plan could be ready in about two months, Goebel said.
The new plan would route freight trains off Willowbrook Avenue, which runs between City Hall and a new shopping center, and onto Alameda Street, one-third mile east of City Hall. The trolley line would be built on Willowbrook.
"We're going to do everything in our power to go ahead with this alternative, because it's a good one," Transportation Commission chairwoman Jacki Bacharach said Tuesday.
But the commission does not like the idea of signing contracts and starting construction in the fall before the Compton plan has received full environmental review, she said. Nor does it like the idea of delay, she said.
"We're looking for something to protect our risks," said Rick Richmond, executive director of the commission.
Though rejecting the county backup plan, the City Council majority expressed confidence that its action had paved the way for light rail while beginning to solve Compton's freight train problem.
'Doing Everything We Can'
"I view this as a start toward having a compromise," said Mayor Walter Tucker, who joined Jane Robbins, Floyd James and Robert Adams Sr. in voting for the new plan. "We're doing everything we can, trying to get the light trolley here."
But Councilman Maxcy Filer said city officials were missing the chance of a lifetime by not forcing county agencies to lower both trolley and freight lines into a trench through Compton--a proposal the county has rejected as unfeasible because it would add $130 million to construction costs.
"We're telling them they can do anything to the city of Compton," Filer said. "This will in reality destroy the city of Compton."
Filer, who personally has filed suit to stop the trolley project, has argued that six-foot chain-link fences required on both sides of the commuter train line would divide the city into east and west, much as it was split two decades ago along racial lines.
On Tuesday, he said the new track connecting Willowbrook and Alameda just north of Rosecrans Avenue would be an "aesthetic monstrosity" that would put several Rosecrans business owners out of business.
City Planning Director Robert Gavin said in an interview, however, that the quarter-mile connector line would run mostly on vacant land south of Mealy Street and would displace about 10 dwellings and an industrial yard. There are no obvious environmental problems with the plan, he said.
Consolidates Freight Traffic
The council majority said the new plan is attractive because it would consolidate freight traffic, which is expected to at least double to perhaps 25 daily trains in a decade, onto a single track. Slow-moving freights on both Willowbrook and Alameda now block east-to-west traffic for 10 minutes at a time.
The plan also calls for an underpass for auto traffic at Rosecrans and Alameda and an overpass for the light-rail line at Rosecrans and Willowbrook. This would allow traffic on Rosecrans, the city's main east-west artery, to move unimpeded by either rail line. In addition, East Alameda Street, now a dead end, would be opened up to north-south traffic.
"That alone is going to help us," said James, an ardent light-rail proponent who has argued that the trolley would allow commuters from throughout the region to see that Compton is rebuilding itself.