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'Subway to the Sea' timetable is too long for Villaraigosa

Transit officials overseeing Measure R say it may take until 2032 to extend tracks 10 miles to Westwood. An aide to the mayor says that is unacceptable.

January 07, 2009|Steve Hymon

According to a timetable set by transportation officials overseeing Measure R, one of the most significant projects to speed travel on Los Angeles' Westside -- the "Subway to the Sea" -- is set to go very, very slowly.

The proposed rail line doesn't figure to pass engineering and environmental muster until 2013, just in time to see its biggest booster, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, leave office if elected to a second term. And it won't even reach Westwood until 2032, at which point Villaraigosa would be 78.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the mayor said that was unacceptable and noted that Measure R "allows us to seek federal support and advance the timeline.

"We have for the first time an administration in Washington that intends to invest in public transportation," said Villaraigosa press secretary Matt Szabo. "When the mayor was running for office, the Subway to the Sea was mocked as a pipe dream. Now the question is not if it's going to be built, but when it's completed."

The timeline, issued last week, is part of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's long-range plan that probably will be considered for approval by the agency's board of directors later this month.

The board, currently chaired by Villaraigosa, has the power to alter the plan if it doesn't like it, although members typically don't offer wholesale changes to such reports.

Many of the construction dates have been known in general, but this blueprint is the most detailed to date.

Measure R is expected to raise $40 billion over its 30-year life span. But the list of highway and transit work that local officials promised to build is long, meaning that proceeds of the tax must be spread around the county.

That poses difficulty for the subway project, which is slated to get at least $4.1 billion but is expected to cost more than $6 billion, at least half of which officials hope to secure from the federal government.

The project is already the most expensive on the Measure R list and the largest beneficiary of the sales tax -- and the reason politicians in other parts of the county worry that it will become a black hole consuming time and money.

"If we want to see something in our lifetime, let's look at other alternatives," said Tony Bell, a spokesman for Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who also serves on the MTA board and would be 92 in 2032. "We don't have to have this tunnel vision."

If the timetable is unchanged, the subway extension to the Westside would reach La Cienega Boulevard in 2019, Century City in 2026 and Westwood by 2032. When and where the subway would reach the ocean in or near Santa Monica remains uncertain.

The Purple Line subway now ends near the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue, about 10 miles from Westwood.

Many decisions remain on where the rest of the westward route would fall. A study completed by the MTA last year indicated that the subway probably would follow Wilshire Boulevard, swing south to Century City and then back north to Westwood. But many key issues remain unresolved, including the precise alignment and depth of the line and the exact location of stations.

The new Measure R timeline contains at least one new element.

The spending plan on the ballot told voters that a light-rail line or busway mostly along Crenshaw Boulevard and ending at Los Angeles International Airport would be ready by 2018. That plan has been pushed back a decade, with the MTA now calling the Green Line extension to LAX the first phase of the Crenshaw line.

The change had to do with money, said Carol Inge, the MTA's chief planning officer. She said the agency wants to first build projects that are likely to snare some federal funding because of higher ridership projections than the Crenshaw line.

"It's a wonderful project and we're committed to it, but as far as competitiveness for federal funding it's probably not going to be as competitive as the others," Inge said.

Damien Goodmon, a transit activist in South Los Angeles, said the Crenshaw line delay was a betrayal of residents in the community who overwhelmingly voted for Measure R, thinking the tax hike would get the project built more quickly.

If the MTA "had told us they were going to increase our sales tax so they could build projects in other more affluent communities before us, I don't think we would have voted for it and I don't think it would have passed," he said.

The MTA's long-range plan also includes dates for the completion of other much-anticipated projects. For example, the Expo Line light rail from downtown to Santa Monica would be completed in 2015, the Green Line extension to LAX by 2022, the Gold Line's Foothill extension to perhaps Azusa by 2017 and a downtown light-rail line to connect the Blue, Gold and Expo lines by 2025.

Among some of the more distant projects, an extension of the Gold Line from East Los Angeles to possibly Whittier could be up and running by 2037. And a to-be-determined transit project along the 405 Freeway between the San Fernando Valley and the Westside would be done the next year.

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steve.hymon@latimes.com

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