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Mayor's Tunnel Vision Might Speed Up Subway

October 02, 2006|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

There are only 84 shopping days left until Christmas, so those who want to buy Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa a gift better hurry, because it would be a shame if hardware stores run out of shovels.

As everyone knows, politicians have only one good use for a shovel -- and that's to dig a subway.

The mayor of Los Angeles has been talking a lot lately about building the subway to the sea. If you're reading this while driving -- OK, parked -- in Westside traffic, there may actually be a reason to believe the thing may finally get built.

First, the state infrastructure bond measure on the Nov. 7 ballot could pump more than $1 billion into local public transportation coffers. Some of that could potentially be used for the subway.

Second, the House of Representatives on Sept. 21 repealed a ban on subway tunneling engineered by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) after a Ross Dress for Less clothing store exploded when underground methane gas was ignited in 1985. Waxman said that new tunneling technology would prevent that from happening again.

And that raises a question:


Question: How long does it take to dig a 13-mile tunnel to the sea?

Answer: A long time if Villaraigosa goes at it alone. Maybe not so long if he employs his crack team of eight press secretaries who shovel it every day.

Just kidding!

On the other hand, what if Villaraigosa employs twin tunnel-boring earth compression machines?

In fact, Metro (the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, perhaps entertaining visions of Paris, has given itself a new name) is currently digging two side-by-side 1.8-mile tunnels below Boyle Heights for the Gold Line's extension to East Los Angeles.

On most days, the machines are making about 60 to 65 feet of progress. The most they've done in a single day since work started last winter was 90 feet.

So, let's do some math.

13 miles x 5,280 feet = 68,640 feet.

Now, let's assume that tunnelers can make only 50 feet a day. Why only 50 feet?

Well, this is Los Angeles, and it's safe to assume one extremely weird thing will happen during digging. Example: tunnelers wake up a pod of dormant underground space monkeys that then destroy the Earth.

68,640 feet divided by 50 = 1,372.8 days or about 3 3/4 years.

Not so fast, says Metro spokesman Marc Littman.

The subway project, Littman says, has not received a green light from the Metro board. If it does, it would likely take seven to 10 years to get from green light to opening day, he said.

Up to now, the only things the board has done are assign the unbuilt line a color (purple) and approve the hiring of a few staffers and a consultant to study, among other things, potential routes and possible subway alternatives.


Q: So they're studying how not to build a subway?

A: Yes.


Q: Is there any reason to be optimistic it will be built?

A: Absolutely.

Villaraigosa was in London last week to learn how the city secured the 2012 Summer Olympics. The mayor wants to bring the 2016 Games to Los Angeles, and it's not just because he wants to see world-caliber badminton in person.

Rather, Villaraigosa believes that bringing the Olympics back to Los Angeles would help get the city off its collective keister and force it into building the kind of vast infrastructure improvements needed to host an Olympic Games. Including a subway to the Westside.


Q: Back in City Hall, is City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo really serious about cleaning up the county's Department of Children and Family Services?

Los Angeles resident Rebecca Constantino isn't sure.

A few weeks ago, Constantino read in this newspaper that Delgadillo was calling on the Los Angeles County civil grand jury to investigate the county's child-protection agency.

At the time, Delgadillo told reporters that he was genuinely concerned about the welfare of children and that he wasn't taking this unusual step as a way to rehabilitate his image after his unsuccessful bid last spring for attorney general.

After reading the story, Constantino sent Delgadillo's office the following e-mail:

"I am a foster parent who has been working with the system for some time. I read about your office's interest in investigating the agency. I know of several cases where the department has put children in very precarious and unviable situations.... I look forward to hearing from you."

Constantino didn't get any response to her e-mail, then left six phone messages. No one called back, she said.

"Even if I'm a nut case, he or someone in his office should call back to see if I'm a nut case," said Constantino of West Los Angeles. "It's not like I initiated this -- he did."

City attorney spokesman Jonathan Diamond was apologetic and said the lack of response was the office's fault.

"We've since responded to her," Diamond said, "and it's unfortunate that it didn't happen more quickly. But there have been many more cases -- dozens of them -- where people have called and we've responded."


Q: How much does it cost to fly to Wichita, Kan.?

A: If you're Councilman Ed Reyes, it cost $1,187.20 in May.

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