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Road Sage

Westside subway proposal resurfaces

September 03, 2008|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

In a surprising and ambitious move, local transportation officials said Tuesday that they would pursue planning for two subway lines to the Westside, with one train along Wilshire Boulevard and a shorter leg partially following Santa Monica Boulevard before diving south to meet the Wilshire line.

Of course, the effort is still hypothetical, and Los Angeles still needs the money to build the multibillion-dollar rail line. But officials are showing unusual bravura for a project that looked to be dead a decade ago.

It was in 1998, amid several spending and construction boondoggles on the existing subway, that voters in L.A. County banned the Metropolitan Transportation Authority from using sales tax money for new subway tunneling.

That ban remains in effect, but complaints over Westside traffic have continued to pile up, fueling efforts to extend the subway.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, September 05, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 3 inches; 100 words Type of Material: Correction
Subway stations: A map that accompanied an article in Wednesday's California section on two possible subway routes on L.A.'s Westside omitted the location of four stations. One of the proposed lines would go along Wilshire Boulevard and another along Santa Monica Boulevard before meeting Wilshire; missing from those routes were stations serving Westwood and Century City; a station at the juncture of La Brea Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard; and another in the vicinity of Santa Monica Boulevard, at either La Cienega Boulevard or San Vicente Boulevard. Also, the station in Crenshaw should have been labeled as an optional station.

Various routes have been discussed over the years, with recent momentum falling on the Wilshire corridor. But MTA officials never formally settled on a route until launching a study a year ago that sought public reaction, and then they began crunching numbers.

"We thought people would say they want a Wilshire line or we want a Santa Monica [Boulevard] line," said Jody Litvak, a spokeswoman for the Metro Westside Extension study. "We were surprised they wanted both."

MTA board members will begin discussing the two lines at a series of public meetings that start tonight in Santa Monica. For more information on the meetings, go to www.metro.net/news_info/ press/Metro_140.htm.

The combined cost of the two lines would be about $9 billion if built today. But because such projects take years, inflation would probably drive up the final price. The Wilshire line would get priority for funding because it has higher ridership estimates, said David Mieger, project manager for the Westside study.

The reason the other line is being considered is that it would make the entire subway system more versatile by stopping near major job centers such as the Warner Hollywood studios, the Pacific Design Center, the Beverly Center and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. It would miss the Grove shopping development, however, by more than half a mile.

The second line would also chop significant time off a trip to the Westside from the San Fernando Valley. For example, Mieger said a ride from North Hollywood to Westwood could potentially drop from 61 minutes to 28 minutes.

The choices announced Tuesday are significant because the Wilshire and Santa Monica corridors would be the focus of future environmental and engineering studies -- if the 13-member MTA board decides to go forward. The board could take up the matter as early as late fall.

Mieger and Litvak said that under the best-case scenario, construction could begin in 2013. There are, however, no funds dedicated to the subway project.

MTA officials and others, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, have been pushing to place a half-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax increase proposal on the November ballot to help pay for mass transit and road improvements in Los Angeles County. The proposal, called Measure R, would set aside $4.1 billion for the subway.

But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger still needs to sign a state bill by Sept. 30 authorizing the election, and he has threatened not to sign any bills until the state budget stalemate is settled.

The sales tax lacks universal support among politicians. Three Los Angeles County supervisors have come out against it.

One reason: They think the subway will consume too great a share of the proceeds. The proposed tax is projected to raise from $30 billion to $40 billion over its 30-year life span.

Even if the subway studies are approved, much remains to be settled. Among the decisions that still need to be made are the location of stations, whether a station at Crenshaw Boulevard would be built, and the route between Century City and Westwood.

The lines could follow the street grid or tunnel under residential neighborhoods -- a proposition that will not be taken lightly by those living on the surface.

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Insurance by the mile

In recent months, environmentalists and economists have worked themselves into a frenzy over pay-as-you-drive auto insurance, also known as PAYD. If you believe the advance notices, this is the greatest thing to come down the pike since the double-double.

As the name implies, PAYD insurance more closely links the cost of annual insurance policies to how much motorists drive. The concept has been touted by the authors of "Freakonomics" and has also received major ink in a number of publications, including The Times.

Now, PAYD is coming to California. California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner released draft regulations Wednesday and has been a big proponent of PAYD. When exactly PAYD will be available and which carriers will offer it are not yet known.

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