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Road Sage

MTA still aiming for the sea

Four possible subway routes remain. Lack of money may make the plans hypothetical.

June 06, 2008|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority last month pared down its list of potential subway routes on the Westside. Four remain.

There's a lot of interest in the project; the MTA even set up a Facebook page for it. So here's a quick Q&A for those not already obsessed with it.

What exactly is the MTA doing, subway-wise?

The agency is finishing up an "alternatives analysis" to determine what type of additional mass transit would best serve the Westside.

As early as August, it is likely that the MTA staff will release a draft of its recommendations. First, staffers will pick a mode of mass transit, said Jody Litvak, the project's spokeswoman. Based on what they've already said, it's likely to be a subway because it carries more people and doesn't get stuck in traffic.

Then the agency will pick a route.

Don't get too excited. This is a highly hypothetical exercise. There is no funding yet for a subway to the sea, nor has the MTA board decided to go forward with the project. It's important, however, because the chosen route is likely to be the one that is subject to more study -- making it the one likely to get built.

So, which route is it going to be?

I have pressed, pleaded, begged, sweet-talked and cajoled Litvak to tell me which route the MTA staff is going to choose for the presumptive subway. I tried again early Thursday afternoon and Litvak repeated what she told me the last time: "I believe my exact words to you were 'we love all our alternatives equally.' "

Most of the talk has centered on a route that largely follows Wilshire Boulevard but deviates to reach Century City. But the agency is also looking at a two-legged extension: one subway would go west along Wilshire and another would go west from Hollywood and then join up with the Wilshire line.

If you live in the San Fernando Valley, that's great news; that line from Hollywood would be a shortcut to the Westside.

Litvak would allow only that there is significant support for the combo option. The line would go through West Hollywood and the Beverly Center area, which Litvak said is a high-ridership area because it's also an area with a high job density.

The big problem, however, is money. Just building the Wilshire line has been estimated to cost $5 billion to $7 billion. The cost of building two lines? Throw a few more billion dollars on there.

What happens once the MTA picks a route?

Then it falls into the lap of the 13-member MTA board, which will then be headed up by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He just happened to run in 2005 on a platform of building the subway to the sea.

The board will then have to make a choice. It can either say to Litvak & Co. something like "nice job on those power points, now get lost" or it can vote to begin environmental studies of the project.

She said that would mean "probably two more years of studies and engineering work before you could move into shovels and tunneling machines, assuming there's money."

Most of the snow has melted and many of the roads to the Sierra high country recently opened for the summer, including Tioga Road in Yosemite National Park.

Now comes the hard part for Yosemite officials: getting motorists in the park to slow down and not run over the park's wildlife, including black bears.

This is one of those problems that won't go away and, needless to say, it's terribly tacky to plaster a bear with your Beemer in a national park.

Over the last five years, 68 bear-vehicle incidents have been reported, and 15 dead bears have been found by the roadside, according to information collected by Yosemite ranger Adrienne Freeman.

Tioga Road has had the most bear-car incidents, with 14. Ten have happened in the Yosemite Valley and nine on Glacier Point Road. The rest have happened throughout the park.

In response, Freeman got an idea: Whenever a bear gets hit, a sign goes up by the roadside to show it, the idea being to shame people into slowing down. A few were stolen -- is nothing sacred? -- so the signs are now chained to roadside objects.

"People don't have a lot of sympathy for the smaller animals, but if you can focus the educational campaign on the mega-fauna, you hopefully have people slowing down," Freeman told me recently.

There have been two bear-vehicle collisions already this year. In one incident, a park employee found a young bear with two fractured legs by the side of the road. It was euthanized.

No motorists reported it.

The sign idea evolved from another idea that was abandoned but that I kind of liked because of its crassness: painting the chalk outlines of road kill on the road.

And, while on the subject of the Sierra, the road from Mammoth Mountain to Red's Meadow is scheduled to open Saturday, according to the Inyo National Forest.

Hiking tip: Try the 3.5-mile tramp from Agnew Meadows to Shadow Lake.

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Steve Hymon writes the Bottleneck Blog, which covers traffic and transportation issues in Southern California. Check it out at latimes.com/bottleneck.

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