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RTD Unveils New Metro Rail Plans : More Debate Expected Over Routes Designed to Skirt Gas-Danger Areas

January 09, 1986|RICH CONNELL | Times Staff Writer

Several possible rerouting plans for the Los Angeles Metro Rail subway on the Westside, including some radically different from those considered in the past, were released Wednesday--raising the likelihood of brand new political debates over the project.

The new proposed routes, all of which are drawn to meet the requirement of avoiding potentially hazardous areas of underground methane gas in the Fairfax District, create new sets of potential gainers and losers from the massive $3.3-billion project.

Generally, the six alternatives being considered by the Southern California Rapid Transit District attempt to link the first 4.4-mile downtown segment of the proposed subway with the San Fernando Valley, while still serving the heavily traveled Wilshire Corridor and Hollywood.

At the same time, under a congressional mandate won by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), the new route must be developed to avoid tunneling through a 400-block area of gassy ground. Waxman, who represents much of the Westside, pressured backers of the project into rerouting the subway after he and some of his constituents became alarmed by an explosion of seeping methane gas last year at the Ross Dress for Less clothing store in the Fairfax District.

The six alternate routes will be the subject of public hearings beginning later this month. Two of them follow much of the previous 18.6-mile route but the tracks would emerge from underground and become elevated as the line passes through the gassy area.

Other proposals are based on a two-pronged "wishbone" design that would keep the system underground and, branching out in two segments, would move around both sides of the hazardous zone.

One leg would turn north off Wilshire Boulevard at either Western Avenue or Vermont Avenue and then go west on Sunset Boulevard through Hollywood and through the mountains to North Hollywood.

A separate spur would arc south of the Fairfax area to Olympic Boulevard or possibly Pico Boulevard before looping back to Wilshire near San Vicente Boulevard.

Only Preliminary Proposals

RTD officials stressed that all the potential routes are preliminary proposals and could be changed as a result of further studies of underground gas conditions and public reaction. Officials said they have not developed exact length, cost or ridership estimates for the various routes.

However, at about $200 million per mile to construct, even relatively short changes in the overall length of the project could affect costs.

Also, the locations of proposed stations--a key question to development interests and homeowner groups concerned about the intense development planned around those stations--on the new portions of the routes have not been determined. A tentative schedule calls for those to be first identified on refined route proposals in March.

The RTD board is expected to select the new route and stations in May.

New Advocates and Critics

As in the past, each alternative is expected to develop its own set of advocates and critics. Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo, whose Hollywood-area district includes all the alternatives, said, "The entire system of selecting route alignments is based on a very tenuous process of negotiation between competing interests . . . now that it's out in the open again, I can see that happening."

For his part, Woo said he would favor a route up Vermont Avenue because it would serve Los Angeles City College and a large complex of hospitals and medical offices near Vermont and Sunset. Bill Welsh, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said his organization also prefers the Vermont route. "We're damn insistent that it serve central Hollywood," he said.

However, Hank Hilty, vice president of A.F. Gilmore Co., which with CBS wants to build a major entertainment and business complex at Farmer's Market, on the old route, said the firm "would prefer to see the system in place and running on Fairfax."

Fairfax Route Opposed

Richard Silverstein, a spokesman for the New Jewish Agenda, a coalition of Westside senior citizen and homeowner groups, said that group is strongly opposed to any routing on Fairfax because it could trigger new development and higher rents that could destroy the ambiance of one of the city's most important communities for elderly Jews.

Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents the Fairfax area, said he also had "serious concerns" about any aerial route on Fairfax or La Brea Avenue. He said the wishbone subway option makes more sense than the original route based on transit needs because it extends farther west in the Wilshire Corridor.

But Fred Naiditch, past president of the South Cathay Circle Neighborhood Assn., a homeowner group near San Vicente Boulevard, said his group opposes the project. And because the new proposed routes could bring the subway and stations closer to their area, "we would oppose it even stronger."

At this point, federal funds for construction of the subway have only been earmarked for the first segment, which would run from Union Station to Alvarado Street. RTD officials hope to complete that portion by 1992, but there is no indication when the later phases of the project would be built.

The federal Urban Mass Transportation Administration, which opposes the entire subway project, would have to approve any new routing plan as well as funds to prepare the necessary environmental studies.

RTD spokesman Jim Smart said all the alternatives would serve the so-called "regional core" of the county that has been identified in past studies as being most in need of transit improvements.

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