Plans for a major expansion of the region's transit system are expected to move forward Thursday when transportation leaders select routes for two missing links in the county's rail network.
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board will consider five options for the Westside subway extension as well as a $1.37-billion regional connector through downtown Los Angeles that would allow light rail users to travel across the county without time consuming transfers.
MTA officials say both projects will provide substantial benefits for transit users and an incentive for motorists to break their long dependency on the automobile by offering more access to key destinations and faster travel times, especially during rush hour.
The MTA predicts that the subway and connector will bolster ridership and help transform the Los Angeles area into one of the nation's transit capitals. The regional connector alone, officials say, could boost the number of subway and light-rail users anywhere from 5% to 18% depending on the line.
"Almost from the beginning of my administration, we've said we've got to deal with congestion and air quality, that we need to move away from the single passenger car and make rapid transit a priority," said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is also an MTA board member. "This is a major step forward with the subway and regional connector."
The selected routes and stations will be further studied and refined during the final phase of an environmental review process.
The possible subway alignments include a 9-mile extension from the Wilshire-Western station to Westwood- UCLA; a 9 ½-mile route to the Veterans Affairs' West Los Angeles Medical Center; a 12-mile alignment to the beach in Santa Monica; the route to the VA campus plus a spur to West Hollywood; and the 12-mile link to Santa Monica plus the West Hollywood spur. The estimated costs of the projects range from $4.2 billion to $9 billion.
MTA staff is recommending that the board approve the route to the veterans' hospital because it is projected to be the best performing in terms of cost and ridership. The estimated cost of that option is $5.15 billion, if completed in 2022 and adjusted for inflation.
Construction is set to begin in 2013 after the final environmental review.
The extension project could take until 2036 without funding secured by the mayor's 30-10 plan, which seeks federal loans and grants to help complete 12 transit projects two decades early.
MTA officials say the new subway will take about 25 minutes to go from downtown to the Westside, compared to 55 minutes by transit bus and 45 to 55 minutes by car during rush hour.
"Discussions about the subway go back 50 years. This is L.A.'s unfinished business," said Jody Litvak, the project's community relations manager. "People support the project, but they have questions about stations and specific alignments."
The city of Beverly Hills, for example, does not want to permit tunneling under residential areas, commercial buildings and Beverly Hills High School. Officials and residents favor a route beneath Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards to a station on Santa Monica in Century City.
"They have a lot of concerns," said David Mieger, project manager for the subway extension. "There are also seismic issues along Santa Monica Boulevard. We need to do more planning and engineering studies before making a recommendation" on the exact route.
The proposed 2-mile-long regional connector will go through the heart of downtown Los Angeles, linking the Gold Line, the Blue Line and the Expo Line, which is now being built. It would create a seamless network that will allow riders to travel from Long Beach to the San Gabriel Valley or from East Los Angeles to Santa Monica without changing trains.
MTA officials say the project will pare more than 20 minutes off the east-west and north-south trips for an estimated 90,000 riders who will pass through the connector daily by 2035.
To get to Pasadena from Long Beach today, transit users must take the Blue Line to Metro Center in downtown Los Angeles and board the subway for Union Station, where they can get on the Gold Line — a trip that requires three fares.
In addition, the regional connector will bring Gold Line riders into the middle of downtown instead of its fringes.
"Under federal guidelines, this is one of the most effective performing projects in the United States," said Robin Blair, MTA's director of planning for central Los Angeles. "This gives you cross-county access in a convenient way that you did not have before."
The recommended route proceeds underground via 2nd Street and beneath 1st and Alameda streets. MTA staff want the board to approve stations at 2nd and Hope streets, 2nd Street and Broadway, and 2nd Street and Central Avenue.
Blair said the MTA has considered several versions of the project since 1989, including options with sections of track at street level. The agency decided on the more costly underground connector because of opposition in Little Tokyo, safety concerns and the potential for dramatic impacts on downtown traffic flows, Blair said.