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Two Proposals for Rail Project

Transit: Plans agree on all but one disputed street crossing for Pasadena line. PUC is expected to vote in May.

April 18, 2002|GARIOT LOUIMA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A pair of recommendations to state regulators this week would clear the way for construction of most intersections along the Pasadena-Los Angeles light rail line. But the design of at least one street crossing remains in dispute--potentially adding years and millions of dollars to the project.

The $725-million project has distinguished itself from most mass transit projects in Los Angeles County by proceeding on budget and on schedule--with the first passengers expected to board in the summer of 2003.

But the public authority building the 13.2-mile rail line took a significant risk--launching construction before the state Public Utilities Commission had approved the design of about 70 junctions where rails will cross roadways.

Several community groups have said pedestrians and drivers will not be safe if trains cross roads at street level. The activists asked that the tracks either be raised onto bridges or sunk into the ground, to move them away from cars and people.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Wednesday April 24, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 3 inches; 76 words Type of Material: Correction
Gold Line--A story in Thursday's California section said two public officials had recommended that most crossings along the Pasadena-Los Angeles light rail line be built "as designed." The officials' reports to the state Public Utilities Commission said the structure of most crossings on the so-called Gold Line can remain the same. But the officials also recommended changes in operation of the line--including slowing train speeds and limiting the sounding of train horns--to improve safety and reduce noise at several crossings.

One PUC member recommended this week that all 14 disputed crossings on the 13.2-mile track be built as designed--without expensive "grade separations." An administrative law judge who has studied the dispute for the commission agreed that 13 of the crossings are fine as designed. But on another, at Del Mar Boulevard in Pasadena, he recommended that the tracks cross over or under the street.

The five-member PUC is expected to decide next month which option to follow, as builders work to finish the so-called Gold Line.

Officials for the construction agency remain hopeful that the PUC will approve the recommendation by Commissioner Henry Duque that construction be completed as designed.

"When the commission votes on this thing next month, hopefully we will be able to move ahead with it," said Rick Thorpe, executive officer of the Los Angeles to Pasadena Metro Blue Line Construction Authority. The project was renamed the Gold Line earlier this year.

So far, Thorpe said, the authority is still operating within its budget. But he warned that, even as builders wait for next month's PUC decision, more than $2 million could be added to the cost of construction. It's unclear how much costs could grow after that if the construction authority is forced to build a major crossing at Del Mar.

If the PUC accepts the recommendation of administrative law Judge Sheldon Rosenthal requiring an alternative route around Del Mar, Thorpe said, delays could be substantial.

"That could push the process back a couple of years," he said. "We would have to redo the environmental impact reports, redo the design. Right now there is no money for that, so we would have to find the funds to do it. All of that would certainly take quite an amount of time."

San Francisco attorney James D. Squeri, who represents the Pasadena group Citizens Against the Blue Line At-Grade, said he is happy that both reports at least recognized the safety concerns at Del Mar.

The citizens group advocates construction of grade separations at six Pasadena crossings, including Del Mar.

Rosenthal said the Del Mar crossing could be hazardous because a proposed development of apartments and shops next to the tracks would obstruct motorists' and pedestrians' views of oncoming trains.

The judge said the line won't be safe unless the tracks are separated from Del Mar by either a bridge or a tunnel.

The commission will accept comments on the two proposals for 30 days and is expected to vote next month on how the crossings should be designed.

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