LONG BEACH AREA — Project plans and an environmental impact report have been approved for an 18-mile freight rail expressway to connect the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles warehouses and manufacturing plants.
If financing is approved soon, construction of the recessed, $1.3-billion rail line down the center of Alameda Street could begin as early as mid-1995, said Gilbert Hicks, executive director of the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority, which approved the environmental and project plans earlier this month.
"This is a culmination of about three years of analysis," Hicks said. "It's a major step for us . . . leaving us just two more key steps before this can become a reality."
First, authority board members must finish piecing together a financing package using federal, state and local money as well as contributions from the ports and revenue bonds to be repaid by transportation fees, Hicks said. So far, the federal government has committed $57 million to the project and the state has set aside $80 million.
In addition, the ports are negotiating to buy crucial rights of way from three railroad companies--Southern Pacific, Union Pacific and Santa Fe.
The idea, Hicks said, is to move trains off the traffic-clogging network of rails they now follow through Wilmington, Harbor City, Carson and other inland South Bay cities and centralize them along a single, modernized rail corridor.
Plans call for the rail expressway to be built in a 30-foot-deep trench in the center of Alameda Street, with traffic on major arteries crossing the rail trench on bridges.
By eliminating rail crossovers, reducing traffic interference and computerizing switching systems, more trains could run faster between downtown Los Angeles and the ports than ever before, Hicks said.
Discussion of the Alameda Corridor project began in 1982 after harbor officials announced plans for a $4.8-billion expansion of the two ports, which already make up the busiest harbor in the United States. The expansion, to be completed by 2020, would at least double the 100 million metric tons of cargo moving to and from the port area, Hicks said.
Residents and city officials from South-Central Los Angeles to Carson complained that their streets already were jammed by as many as two dozen freight trains running through busy intersections each day, sometimes blocking police and fire vehicles from getting to emergencies.
Concerned that plans to double the freight traffic would cause gridlock, officials from Los Angeles, Vernon, Huntington Park, South Gate, Lynwood, Compton, Carson and Long Beach joined to focus the traffic on Alameda Street, already a popular trucking and industrial corridor.
As part of the project, Alameda's road surface will be repaired, better traffic signals installed and more left-turn lanes added to encourage truckers to use Alameda rather than stray into residential or commercial areas.
"Communities north of the harbor were getting more and more concerned about the impacts of trains and trucks in residential areas, air pollution, delays at grade crossings, and noise," Hicks said. "We needed to find a solution and this is it."