Commentary, Editorials

LA Busy Building over 35 Miles of New Rail Transit over the Next 10 Years.

Report by Noel T. Braymer with illustrations from LA METRO

Los Angeles County has two major Light Rail extensions under construction now that are planned to be finished by 2015 which will be added to its existing 87.8 miles of rail transit. There is the 6.6 mile extension of the Expo Line using an old PE ROW which will connect Santa Monica at Culver City to downtown Los Angeles at a cost of $1.5 Billion Dollars. This will connect with the existing 8.6 miles Expo Line which opened in April 2012. The other project now under construction is a $735 million dollar, 11 mile extension of the Gold Line from eastern Pasadena further east in the San Gabriel Valley to Azusa on the old Santa Fe Line between Pasadena and San Bernardino. This is the first of 3 segment with the next planned to continue past Azusa to Montclair at the Los Angeles/San Bernardino Counties Border. Ultimate plans are to extend the Gold Line to Ontario Airport in San Bernardino County.

Gold line extension from Pasadena to Azusa

The extensions of both the Expo line to Santa Monica and the Purple line to Westwood

The biggest project is extending the Purple Line subway from LA Union Station now ending at Western Avenue 9.4 miles west to Westwood. This is estimated to be a $6.3 billion dollar project. Current plans are to build it in three segments. This November ground breaking was held on the start of the first segment with utility work. Major tunneling isn’t expected until 2014. The first segment is 3.9 miles long and will end at Wilshire and La Cienega with an expected completion by 2023. If Federal Loans are available the plan is to accelerate construction to have all 3 segments finished by 2023 with future sales taxes funds used to pay off bonds and loans. With the narrow loss of Measure J to extend the transportation sales tax past 2039, this has become more difficult which could mean completion to Westwood by 2036. However L A Mayor Villaraigosa has pledged to keep working to find funding to finish construction by 2023.

The route for the LA Streetcar in downtown

Just this December voters in a special election in downtown Los Angeles approved a special tax district to help pay for a downtown Streetcar. This local money is expected to pay half of the estimated cost of this $125 million dollar project. The other half is planned to come mostly from Federal grant money. The hope is construction can start by 2014 with service running by 2016. The Streetcar will be a 4 mile single track loop in central downtown Los Angeles starting on Broadway and 1st Street. At 11th Street the line will turn right and turn right again up Figueroa Street to 7th Street turning right again until it gets to Hill Street where it will turn left back up to 1st before turning right back to Broadway. The Streetcar will connect with many local bus routes as well as the Red and Purple Subway Lines and the proposed Regional Connector, The Regional Connector is a planned 1.9 mile subway in downtown Los Angeles that would extend the Blue and Expo Lines now terminating at 7th St and Flower to Little Tokyo to connect with the Gold Line. In the future will could see through Light Rail service from Santa Monica to East Los Angeles and from Long Beach through LA Union Station to Pasadena on to Azusa and Ontario Airport. Construction began in late 2012 on this $1.3 billion dollar project and is planned for completion in 2019.

The green line shows the route of the Regional Connector in downtown Los Angeles between 7th and Flower and Little Tokyo

What ties much of this together will be construction at Los Angeles Union Station. The single biggest project at Union Station will be the new Run-Through Tracks which will reduce running times for trains coming and going at Union Station and greatly increase track capacity and reduce congestion at the station. A master plan for development for Union Station is also being developed. Much early planning is centered on improving pedestrian and cyclist access to Union Station and surrounding area. Transportation drives development and happens when there is good access to transportation. This includes housing and commercial development. Much of the planning for train stations tend to be for office buildings and arenas. But housing is often ignored as is services for travelers including hotels, restaurants and stores and services like dry cleaning, florists etc. Most people know that Park Avenue is some of the most expensive housing in America if not the world. Most people don’t realize that it is next to Grand Central Station in New York. Park Avenue as an upscale place to live wouldn’t exist without Grand Central. As it is Park Avenue is on top of the old New York Central railroad mainline which was put underground and became Park Avenue when Grand Central was built.

Track Layout of LAUS with new Run-Through Tracks

Luxury Condos built right next to the San Diego Train Station. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

The next major rail projects are a pair that will both connect near LAX. The new Crenshaw Line which is 8.5 miles long starting next to the Crenshaw Station of the Expo Line will end at the Green Line Station at Imperial Highway and Aviation Blvd. This $1.75 Billion Dollar project which is expected to be built by 2018 will not go into the Airport. The plan for the Green Line is to extend a branch up Aviation Blvd to Century at a joint Crenshaw/Green Line Station. From there it would follow Century Blvd towards the Airport. What hasn’t been resolved is how Green and Crenshaw Line passengers will get into LAX. The problem is LAX hasn’t made up its mind for the next round of improvements to the Airport. Many people want Light Rail service directly into LAX. LAX is still studying expanded bus service, people movers and other technologies. Because of this it is hard to set a date when the Green Line will be extended and a connecting service to the Airport built. Many airports have automated people mover systems to carry transit riders to the terminals along with people renting cars and drivers parked in lots outside of the terminals. This is the most likely solution for LAX. The problem with the current planning is it could force Crewshaw Line riders to transfer twice to the Green Line and then a people mover to get to the Airport. The Crenshaw Line is a stand alone operation only 8.5 miles long making it the shortest line of Los Angles Metrorail. There are no plans to run Crenshaw Line Trains on the Expo Line because it is thought this would congest the Expo Line.This means there are no plans for direct rail service from downtown Los Angeles, let alone LA Union Station to LAX. The options will be Blue Line, with a transfer to the Green Line and a likely transfer to a people mover to get to LAX. Or travel on the Expo Line to the Crenshaw Line to the Green Line and or to a likely transfer to a people mover.

The Crenshaw line between the Expo and Green Lines

Plans for a future Green Line extension towards but maybe not quite into LAX

These are the projects most likely to be built in the next 10 years or so. There are plans in the future after 2023 to extend the Gold Line from Azusa as far as Ontario Airport. There also plans to extend the Gold Line further east in East Los Angeles. There are two routes being looked so this project is still in the study stage. There are long range plans to extend the Green Line further south into Torrance. Another project that was approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008 is what is called the West Santa Ana Corridor. This is 20 miles of old Pacific Electric Right of way which is now publicly owned between Santa Ana in Orange County and Paramount near the Century Freeway and the junction of the old UP Harbor Line which is also now publicly owned, So far no decisions on what technology will be used on the route be it Mag Lev, Bus Rapid Transit or Light Rail. The one thing that hasn’t been studied it seems is using this for Metrolink Trains which would be the least expensive alternative. What has happened is there is interest in expanding this project to go into downtown Santa Ana and ending at the Santa Ana Transportation Center and train station. There is also interest in running this service up the old UP Harbor Line towards downtown Los Angeles and Union Station. Extending this service to Union Station and the Santa Ana Transportation Center would bring it to 34 miles long. This would make more sense as light rail since it would be able to share the trackage for a planned Streetcar service from Santa Ana to Garden Grove that is already being planned. As Light Rail it would sense to run a branch on the Green Line to LAX.

To recap; in the next 10 year Los Angels County should see at least 6.6 miles of Light Rail to Santa Monica and 11 miles of Light Rail to Azusa by 2015. By 2016 the plan is to have 4 miles of Streetcar service for Downtown Los Angeles. By 2018 the plan is to build 8.5 miles of the Crenshaw Light Rail Line between the Green Line and the Expo Line. Also by 2018 the Run-Through Tracks should be in service at LA Union Station. By 2019 the plan is to build the Regional Connector which is 1.9 miles of subway to connect the Gold Line with the Blue and Expo Lines,. And by 2023 depending on funding we would have 3.9 miles of subway extend to Wilshire and La Cienega on the Purple Line or all the way to Westwood for a total of 9.4 miles. If all of these projects are funded that is over 12 billion dollars new transit rail service in Los Angeles County by 2023.

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