Transportation experts have embarked on a monthlong study to determine whether the future thunder of Metro Rail could drown out television announcers, radio disc jockeys and rock bands in studios and sound stages along Sunset Boulevard.
Entertainment industry officials last month protested plans for a section of the Metro Rail project that would run above ground along Sunset from Vermont Avenue to Gower Street.
Half of Los Angeles' television stations, one-third of the city's radio stations and several recording studios are located along that strip.
"It's the Miracle Mile of the electronic media," said Ira Goldstone, director of engineering at KTLA-TV. "They couldn't have picked a worse street to go down."
After hearing such complaints, City Councilmen Michael Woo and Nate Holden called for a study. Five independent transportation and engineering specialists from Los Angeles were selected and held their first hearing last week.
The so-called Independent Technical Review Panel heard testimony from Southern California Rapid Transit District officials and representatives of 30 production facilities and television and radio stations. The specialists also toured several studios along Sunset.
"Of course, our objective is to be sure that everyone concerned has the opportunity to express his fears and opinions," said Fred Llewellyn, the panel's chairman. "There is a difference of opinion between some of the studios and RTD, but it appears that the differences of opinion can be greatly narrowed, if not eliminated."
This process is just the latest in a series of snags for the $4.2-billion mass transportation system, which is intended to link downtown Los Angeles with outlying communities. The project is nearly $1 billion over expected cost and has had its start date delayed from the early 1990s to the year 2000.
The decision to raise the Sunset section of Metro Rail above ground came after officials learned that pockets of methane gas lay underground in the Fairfax area. The City Council--unaware of possible noise and vibration problems--approved the above-ground stretch in April.
The studios subsequently raised concerns in a number of areas. Broadcasters said that static from the electrified rails could interfere with recording and broadcasting. They also worried about noise and vibration both when the system is new and as it grows older.
"They can't predict how it will run in five years," said Andi Sporkin, a spokeswoman for KCBS-TV. "Is it going to be noisier?"
The studios have complained that it would be far too costly for them to seal their buildings from the vibration and noise they expect the railway to produce. And far more sensitive recording equipment could be produced by improved technology.
"Noise requirements are becoming stricter as new technologies develop," said Gene Jankowski, president of CBS Inc. "Consultant engineers have said that even if the Metro Rail system is able to meet generally accepted sound criteria for broadcasting and recording studios, CBS' ability to improve the sound quality of its television and radio production at Columbia Square would be severely limited."
Proponents of the above-ground section have responded by citing television station WLS in Chicago, whose studios are next to that city's elevated train system. Los Angeles city officials visited the studio recently to study its construction, said Joe Kresnicka, WLS's director of engineering. The RTD has offered similar examples from San Francisco and Florida.
"We've been here since 1939 and obviously we haven't had any problems or we wouldn't still be here," Kresnicka said.
These issues and others were brought before the panel at last week's hearings. Llewellyn said the panel is waiting to receive more technical data on the proposed Metro Rail. Another hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday.
The panel is expected to make recommendations by mid-November and Woo promised that they will be followed. Those recommendations could include building sound walls around the raised track, pushing the track underground or re-routing that section.
The panel's work could "have a dramatic effect on the plans," Woo said.