A battle is looming in the depths below downtown Los Angeles as transportation planners try to find a way to smooth out the commute for thousands who take rail into the city center each day.
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is studying how to link the three major rail corridors that go into the city center: the Blue Line, the Gold Line and the upcoming Exposition Line.
The idea is to create a rail thoroughfare so that passengers can travel seamlessly from Pasadena to Long Beach -- and eventually from Culver City to East L.A.
There is widespread agreement that linking the rail lines would help commuters, who must switch trains at least once to get through downtown. But some downtown residents worry that part of the rail connection would be above ground, potentially clogging already crowded streets."It would be a pox for the neighborhood," said Eric Richardson, a member of the Downtown Neighborhood Council and the editor of www.blogdowntown.com.
Richardson and others want a commitment from the MTA that all rail connections would be underground, which could hike the price of the project.
At two public meetings this week, the MTA is to unveil potential routes through downtown that would fill in the 1.6-mile gap between Union Station and the 7th Street/Metro Center station. Dolores Roybal Saltarelli, transportation planning manager for the MTA, said the routes and potential stops were being determined in large part by input from public meetings held last year.
This "would enable us to allow people to travel all over, depending on the operation, without a transfer. They wouldn't need to use the Red Line, for example, to go from Gold to Blue, the way it is done now."
The MTA's plan is being greeted with praise by commuters tired of transferring to two or three train systems daily.
For Craig Thompson of Altadena, creating a seamless transition through downtown would be "beautiful." Thompson, 50, takes the Gold Line -- and then the Red Line and the Blue Line -- to attend evening classes at L.A. Trade Tech College on West Washington Boulevard.
If the MTA gets its way, he said, "I'd be able to go straight from the Gold Line to the Blue Line, and then a few stops and boom! Right in front of school."
For Tracy Mason, a paralegal, the changes can't happen fast enough. Mason, a Monrovia resident, takes the Gold Line to Union Station every day, then changes to the Red Line to get to her downtown job.
Her law firm, she said, is planning a move next year to new offices near Staples Center, close to the Blue Line's Pico station.
"That would be very helpful," Mason, 46, said of the extension proposal. "That'd be a third train I wouldn't have to take."
Dan Parker, who gave up his car after moving downtown and now relies on public transportation, said he didn't care whether the trains ran above or below ground.
"Anything would be positive if they make that connection," he said. He said he was concerned that having the rails at street level would mean they would run slower than they could below ground.
Blog editor Richardson said he worried that having rail lines running along downtown streets would cause more congestion and ruin the pedestrian feel that downtown boosters are trying to achieve.
A map of potential routes released by the MTA showed one route passing along 2nd Street from Central Avenue to Grand Avenue. That stretch of 2nd Street is fairly narrow, and Richardson wonders how it can accommodate cars, pedestrians and trains.
Downtown boosters are not opposed to all above-ground rail. Officials last month unveiled a plan for a trolley line that would run along Broadway. Backers see the trolley as a way for residents and visitors to quickly navigate the spread-out downtown area, which stretches from the Staples Center area on the south to the Civic Center and Bunker Hill on the north. Broadway, they say, is an ideal location because it is a relatively wide street that already has several major bus lines.
The downtown connection plan is one of several big-ticket rail items the MTA is considering, and it remains unclear which ones will get funding. They include the Subway to the Sea along Wilshire Boulevard, an extension of the Gold Line from Pasadena to San Bernardino County and a new light-rail line from Southwest L.A. to El Segundo.
Roybal Saltarelli said that the MTA would conduct a more detailed technical analysis and that she expected to present several alternatives to the agency's board later this year. She said that at that point, officials would have specific cost estimates for each of several alternatives.
If the board approved moving forward, she said, the MTA would conduct an environmental impact report and begin identifying sources of funding for the project.
"It's all still very conceptual," Roybal Saltarelli said. "But it's a starting point."
Times staff writer Jack Leonard contributed to this report.
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Public meeting alert
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is holding two sessions this week to discuss its study of the proposed connector that would tie together the light rail lines that come into downtown Los Angeles and reduce time-munching transfers.
The downtown meetings are:
Tuesday, 6:30-8 p.m., Japanese American National Museum, 369 E. 1st St., L.A.
Thursday, noon to 1:30 p.m., Central Library, 630 W. 5th St., L.A.