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A City Divided : Plans for Boost in Rail Traffic Bring Howls From Compton

February 02, 1989|MICHELE FUETSCH | Times Staff Writer

The two railroad lines that cut through the heart of Compton are carrying increased train traffic these days, as well as loads of worry for officials struggling to redevelop a community besieged by poverty, drugs and gang violence.

For years the rail lines, which run north-south along Alameda Street and Willowbrook Avenue, were nearly empty. But a recent boom in freight traffic that has an average 12 trains a day running through Compton is causing traffic jams that city officials say will keep shoppers out of their new downtown.

The city redevelopment agency has helped build one shopping center downtown and has another on the drawing boards. Both centers lie between the rail lines, and traffic on the tracks is projected to become heavy enough to strangle the revitalization efforts, city officials fear.

"The amount of money we spent to clear that land is down the drain if we can't get people down there to shop," Mayor Walter R. Tucker said.

Plans are under way to divert all freight traffic originating at the prospering ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach onto one line in Los Angeles County--the one that runs along Compton's Alameda Street. That track would be expected to carry 106 trains a day by the year 2020, according to studies by the port, the railroads and county transportation agencies.

Two blocks to the west, along Willowbrook Avenue in front of City Hall, the second track would begin carrying commuters from Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles next year. By the year 2000, the light-rail passenger line operating on the Willowbrook track would bring a train through Compton every three minutes.

'Going to Destroy Our City'

"They are going to destroy our city," City Councilman Maxcy D. Filer said.

Both the light-rail and freight lines will pass through parts of other cities, but no community, Compton officials insisted, will suffer as Compton will suffer. The difference, Assistant City Manager Edmundo Sotelo said, is that in most other cities the rails go through industrial areas. In Compton, they cut through commercial and residential districts.

"There is nothing that would compare with Compton, absolutely nothing," Filer said. "It's our soul, the downtown."

Along with other corridor cities along both lines, Compton has been fighting for bridges and underpasses that would route trains over or under major automobile arteries. The city's major east-west traffic streets are Rosecrans Avenue and Alondra, Compton and Greenleaf boulevards.

But one grade separation, as the bridges and underpasses are called, can alone cost $5 million to $10 million, which is why railroads and state and county transportation officials try to avoid building them.

Compton is trying to cooperate with both the light-rail and freight projects, city officials said. The city has pledged $10 million toward a grade separation being built where the Alameda line crosses Rosecrans Avenue. A $67-million track diversion project is being built there by the Los Angeles County Transportation Authority.

But Compton needs other grade crossings, its officials argued, or the city's redevelopment will wither. And city officials consider redevelopment a key to a brighter future for Compton, where at least a quarter of the more than 94,000 residents are on public assistance.

Development's Role in Future

"That's one of the reasons we have drugs and crime," the mayor said. "We don't have a shopping area downtown. We haven't had economic development to provide jobs."

Some city and transportation officials have argued that the light-rail line will boost Compton's economy because passengers will get off to shop in its downtown commercial area. But with only a grocery store, some specialty shops, a hamburger chain store, a pizza parlor and one sit-down restaurant in the first redevelopment shopping center, Filer scoffed at the notion.

"There's nothing to offer," he said. "I love Compton, but there's nothing to offer."

Meanwhile, Filer and other city officials fear that shoppers will be deterred by traffic jams caused by rail traffic.

Even if grade separations are built, Filer said, "It will be 10 years from now, and they will have shut the city down by then."

Obvious Problems

It's obvious that Compton will suffer traffic problems if 106 freight trains travel the Alameda line at street level every day, said Royce Green, public projects engineer for Southern Pacific Transportation Co. in Los Angeles County.

"In the matter of grade separations, the railroad is definitely in favor of them," Green said.

Money is the issue. Green said the railroad typically pays just 10% of the cost of a grade separation. The bulk of the cost must be covered by taxpayers at various levels of government.

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