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California high-speed rail sets aside $30 million to buy Union Station

The hub is slated to be a major stop on the 800-mile statewide bullet train system. The money would also go toward purchase of land in downtown L.A.

January 20, 2011|By Rich Connell, Los Angeles Times

California's High-Speed Rail Authority announced Wednesday that it is earmarking more than $30 million for land acquisition and related projects in the Los Angeles area, much of it expected to go toward buying downtown's Union Station.

The historic rail hub, which would be jointly purchased with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, is slated to be a major stop on the 800-mile statewide bullet train system. Officials want control of the 38-acre site so they can make improvements needed to handle an expected surge in passenger traffic from a proposed Westside subway extension and a new downtown rail connection, as well as high-speed rail. About 50,000 people a day use the station now, according to the MTA.

Wednesday's announcement was designed partly to bolster broader geographic support for the controversial, $43-billion high-speed train project. A recent decision to build the first $5.5-billion section of track in the largely rural Central Valley has drawn criticism, including from some high-speed rail backers.

The commitment of funds, part of $3 billion in federal stimulus grants, shows "high-speed rail is coming to Southern California," said Valerie Martinez, a Los Angeles spokeswoman for the project.

The funds will ensure that the state rail agency has access to Union Station, officials said. Some of the money could be used to improve track connections that will benefit Metrolink and Amtrak riders before the start of bullet train service, Martinez said.

When and if funding will be available to begin high-speed service between the Bay Area and Southern California remains uncertain.

The price tag for Union Station is confidential, but the bulk of the money is expected to come from the MTA. Negotiations with private equity firm TPG Capital, which is buying the property from Colorado-based ProLogis, are winding up. A deal could be concluded by late February, said Roger Moliere, MTA's chief of property management.

Public ownership of the art deco/Spanish revival station, which opened in 1939, will ensure its preservation, officials said. And millions of square feet of development rights around the station could be used to increase income, which now includes payments from train operators, restaurant concessions and film location fees, Moliere said.

rich.connell@latimes.com

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