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Making Tracks

July 16, 1986

It will take years for doors on Metro Rail subway trains to start opening and closing. It will take months, in fact, for the ground in downtown Los Angeles to start opening and closing for the construction of the first 4.4 miles of Metro Rail tunnel. But after more than a decade of haggling over routes, over money and above all over whether to bother, a small start on the most difficult segment of 150 miles of track that will tie together Greater Los Angeles seems in reach.

Los Angeles missed the federal government's 1970s transit gravy train, so its turn toward track to relieve pressure on its automobile commuter network must be done the hard way--a piece here and a piece there, until finally everything is connected to everything else. The same pattern will apply to money--a million here and a million there, until they add up to billions.

Even breaking ground for a tunnel between Union Station and the intersection of Alvarado Street and Wilshire Boulevard probably will not stop arguments over routes, money and even whether to bother. Transportation purists will continue to insist that underground rail is the least cost-effective way to travel. This is not true for a crowded downtown area that is just beginning to grow, where space for people to move is the most important consideration. Eventually the choice is between burying buildings and leaving the surface to transportation, or burying transportation and leaving the buildings in the open.

Some of track network envisioned in a long-range plan for Los Angeles already is being built--a light-rail line linking Long Beach and Los Angeles, and another between Norwalk and Los Angeles International Airport. Revenue from a half-cent sales tax that Los Angeles voters wisely imposed on themselves will ensure that over the next 10 to 15 years other lines will fall into place.

Metro Rail's status as a symbol of the city's determination to make tracks toward the future may be out of proportion to its contribution to the entire network. But symbol it is, and the contemplation after all these years of an actual groundbreaking sometime this year is welcome and encouraging.

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