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An Almost Secret Project That's Vital to L.A.'s Future

Economic well-being may hang on the Alameda Corridor

September 02, 1997

Some very important people in Seattle and Tacoma are so nervous about Los Angeles County that 60 officials were sent down earlier this year to assess a project with undoubted impact on Washington state. They came to see the Alameda Corridor, and you can be forgiven if you haven't heard of it.

When completed, the $2-billion project will be a 20-mile-long, high-speed, high-volume, cargo-only rail and truck route. It will provide a seamless connection from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to the transcontinental railroad connection in downtown Los Angeles. On a scale of 1 to 10 its impact on the county and regional economy will be near 10. In terms of international trade--and Asia is the target--it just doesn't get much bigger than this.

The path follows Alameda Street, already an industrial corridor, which will be widened from four to six lanes for trucks. Down the middle will run a trench for dual train tracks. The trench will be 33 feet deep and 50 feet wide between the project's north and south terminals.

So what's the big deal?

You can start with the competition among U.S. seaports for international trade. West Coast ports have lost some market share in container-ship trade to those on the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. And in West Coast competition, Seattle-Tacoma is one day's sea travel closer to Asian ports. But the corridor improvements can mitigate some of that. At least that's the concern up north.

Trade officials note that the present tracks from the harbor to the downtown rail yards were built early in the century and have never been updated. Trains block each other at various points and move about as fast as the San Diego Freeway during rush hour.

Consolidating the tracks will be a big job, as will be the elimination of 200 grade crossings to separate cargo and commuter traffic and speed the way for both.

The Alamada Corridor Transportation Authority board now has just seven members. Los Angeles is represented by Port Commissioner John Thomas, port interim Executive Director Larry Keller and City Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr. Long Beach is represented by its port commissioner and its executive director, George Murchison and Steve Dillenbeck, respectively, and by Long Beach Councilman Jeffrey Kellogg. Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke represents the MTA. And the fact that we have heard little about the project probably has a lot to do with the MTA and its headline-grabbing notoriety.

The project is funded, in part, by a $400-million federal loan (considered important enough for a White House signing ceremony with President Clinton), by nearly $400 million more from the ports, $350 million from the MTA and $785 million in proposed revenue bonds, which will be paid off by usage fees and ought to receive IRS tax-exempt status.

For local cities, including Carson, Compton, Lynwood, South Gate, Huntington Park and Vernon, the corridor promises to generate local hiring to fill some of an estimated 10,000 construction jobs. It also could be a magnet for economic development in terms of distribution companies, cargo consolidators, manufacturers and others, especially since there is a shortage of suitable property near the ports.

This is all good news for Southern California, and there appear to be no reasons to throw obstacles in its path. Two decades of planning should result in a 2001 opening date, as scheduled. That would be a shining example for public works projects in these parts.

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