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You can't ride a study

October 02, 2005

IF YOU'RE RIDING METRO RAIL from, say, Pasadena to Staples Center, here's what you have to do: Take the Gold Line to Union Station, where you have to switch to a Red Line train, which you take to the 7th Street station, where you have to switch to a Blue Line train, which will take you to the Pico station. From there it is a two-block walk to Staples Center.

In other words, it can be done -- but not quickly or easily.

The proposed solution is a 1.5-mile subway that would connect the Blue Line and the Gold Line through the middle of downtown Los Angeles. Though not a high priority now, such a line would be crucial when two giant mixed-use projects downtown are completed: The L.A. Live entertainment complex around Staples Center and the Grand Avenue project near City Hall. The connector would allow people to take one train straight from Grand Avenue to L.A. Live.

It will be years or maybe decades before the connector is built -- if ever. But the excessive caution of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board is only slowing the process, perhaps fatally.

The board was originally asked to approve a study of the line's costs, estimated ridership, timeline and funding sources at its Thursday meeting. But the motion was amended by Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke to become an analysis of the costs of studying such matters. In other words, a call to study the downtown connector became a call to study the costs of doing a study.

Burke's efforts to protect public funds and ensure that a low-priority project doesn't interfere with more important matters are admirable. But it's possible to be penny wise and pound foolish. It's vital to study the connector now because developers are in the planning stages of the Grand Avenue project. Decisions need to be made soon on the location of the line and its stations so they can be incorporated into the Grand Avenue design. If they have to be added later with no prior planning, it will add enormous expense and difficulty.

The MTA staff has been directed to complete its cost analysis before the November/December board meeting. When it does, the board should stop dithering and spend what it takes to complete a real study.

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