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Wilshire route picked for L.A. subway extension

Precise path to the VA hospital from Western Avenue station must still be OKd. Estimated $5.15-billion project would start in 2013.

October 29, 2010|By Dan Weikel and Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times

Development of a long-awaited subway link from downtown Los Angeles to the traffic-tangled Westside took a giant step Thursday when county transportation officials approved a general route along job- and population-heavy Wilshire Boulevard.

Wilshire Boulevard subway: An article in the Oct. 29 Section A about the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's approval of a Wilshire Boulevard subway route gave 850,000 as the current annual attendance at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The most recent annual attendance at the museum, which is along the proposed route, was 905,000. —

The 10-0 decision by the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board was quickly hailed as "historic" by First Vice Chairman and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, perhaps the foremost advocate for building a so-called subway to the sea.

"We've been discussing the subway for 50 years, one way or the other," Villaraigosa said. "People said it wouldn't happen. Now, the only question is when."

The action sets the stage for the even trickier business of going block by block to establish the precise path from the existing Purple Line Wilshire-Western station to the veterans hospital in Westwood. Residents of Beverly Hills, in particular, showed up Thursday to underscore their concerns about having trains pass beneath their homes and businesses.

If all goes as planned, construction will begin in 2013 after an environmental impact review.

"This is a big moment," said Genevieve Giuliano, director of USC's METRANS Transportation Center. "A subway is the single biggest item on the transit construction list, and this is the single busiest corridor in the entire region. If there should be a subway anywhere, it should be there."

On another 10-0 vote, the MTA board approved a $1.37-billion regional connector that would run beneath downtown L.A. to unite existing light-rail lines. It would allow rail users to travel across the county without time-consuming transfers.

County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, the board's second vice chairman, abstained from voting on the subway extension; and Supervisor Gloria Molina was absent, as was Lakewood City Councilwoman Diane DuBois. On the connector vote, the mayor, Molina and DuBois were absent.

The 1.9-mile connector would proceed underground via 2nd Street and beneath 1st and Alameda streets. It would include three stations, at 2nd and Hope streets, 2nd and Broadway, and 2nd and Central Avenue.

MTA officials have said both projects would provide an incentive for motorists to break their dependency on cars by offering more access to key destinations and faster travel times, especially during rush hour. The regional connector alone, officials said, could boost the number of subway and light-rail users from 5% to 18% depending on the line.

The project, estimated to cost $5.15 billion, will be paid for by a combination of federal funds and Measure R, a half-cent sales tax for transportation approved by voters in 2008 just before the global recession struck.

Leaders of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art think that attendance, currently about 850,000 a year, could get a significant boost once the subway line opens, thanks to the stop at LACMA's doorstep — the northeast corner of Wilshire and Fairfax Avenue.

"We know the subway will be a game-changer for LACMA visitorship," said the museum's president, Melody Kanschat. Getting a nearby subway stop was enough of a priority that the museum contributed about $900,000 to the campaign for Measure R.

MTA staff members had recommended the 9.5-mile Westside route along Wilshire — past Hancock Park, Beverly Hills, Century City and UCLA to the Veterans Affairs West Los Angeles Medical Center — because of higher ridership projections. Stations were approved at Wilshire and Fairfax, La Cienega, Century City, Westwood/UCLA and the veterans hospital campus.

The immediate losers Thursday were advocates of the four other subway options that had been under consideration. Those were: a nine-mile extension from the Wilshire-Western station to Westwood-UCLA; a 12-mile alignment to the beach in Santa Monica; a route to the veterans hospital campus plus a spur to West Hollywood; and a 12-mile link to Santa Monica plus the West Hollywood spur. The estimated costs of those projects ranged from $4.2 billion to $9 billion.

Experts said approval of the subway and connector projects has the potential to shape where people live and work as well as the duration of their commutes. The connector would make all parts of the system faster, and the Westside extension would fill a major gap.

Martin Wachs, a transportation expert at Rand Corp., the Santa Monica-based think tank, said the subway approval is significant in that it has been sought for years but held back by political concerns.

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