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Regional Connector Goes to Metro Board Minus One Station

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, October 26, 2010, at 03:25PM
Regional Connector Update Metro

This station at 5th and Flower would be deleted from Regional Connector planning if Metro's Board of Director approves the staff recommendation.

After two and a half years of public input, Metro's Board of Directors will get the final say Thursday on how planning should proceed for the Regional Connector, a $1.3-billion project designed to join the region's light rail lines into a single system.

The project recommended by the transit agency's staff would create an entirely underground link between the Blue Line's current terminus at 7th and Metro and the Gold Line's tracks at 1st and Alameda, adding stations at 2nd/Hope and 2nd/Broadway and replacing the existing Little Tokyo / Arts District Gold Line station with one that is underground.

It won't, however, add a station at 5th and Flower as earlier proposals had done.

That station was recommended for removal earlier this month as planners sought to bring the project back within the budget numbers set in earlier plans. Each stop has a roughly $185-million price tag.

If one station had to be cut, removing the 5th and Flower stop was "the least damaging within the system," explained Metro Planning Director Robin Blair on Tuesday.

Metro is also studying the possibility of adding more portals to the nearby 7th and Metro station to help alleviate the overcrowding created by the 90,000 passengers the agency expects to ride through the Connector. It may be possible to convert existing emergency exits north of 7th street to passenger service, Blair explained.

Still, 5th and Flower does have its backers. On Monday, Metro held a meeting with property owners around the intersection. "I think what we gleaned from that is that there's a lot of support for keeping that station alive," said Ann Kerman, who handles communications for the project.

The City of Los Angeles is also a proponent. In its multi-agency comments on the project's draft environmental documents, the city urged Metro to keep the station. 5th and Flower "can attract a wider array of transit users and relieve overcrowding," it said, calling the station "integral."

While the board could choose Thursday to add the station back to the "Locally Preferred Alternative" (LPA), it is much more likely that a motion would be made to maintain 5th and Flower as an optional station, proceeding with study while not formally changing the project's cost numbers. Doing so would cost approximately $2.5 million.

"That buys you about 12 to 14 months," said Blair. At that point, funding for the station would either need to be identified or the station would need to be officially dropped from plans.

Metro hopes to get at least half of the project's funding from the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program. A draft request has already been submitted, and the board's approval of the LPA this year would allow Metro to quickly seek engineering funds.

The need to move forward quickly may ultimately make any attempts to add the 5th and Flower station back as a full part of the project damaging to the overall Connector effort.

"We are in a very tough budget process," Blair said. "To try and propose a project that does not have funding is to really defeat the project ultimately."

Metro currently anticipates opening the Regional Connector in 2019.

Connector By the Numbers

  • 1.9 miles of new track
  • 20,400 daily hours of commute time saved (6,477,000 hours annually)
  • 17,300 new transit trips

A Long Road Underground

The Regional Connector's recommended fully-underground alternative was not officially added to the project until February of this year. When the agency started its public outreach in late 2007, staff seemed convinced that an aboveground or partially-underground project was all that could be funded. While community feedback was clearly in support of a fully-underground option right from the beginning, the Little Tokyo community's organized calls for an underground line likely played the largest role in getting the project to its current point.

Construction Impacts

Even though it appears headed underground, construction of the Regional Connector will still create impacts for Downtown.

Cut-and-cover construction would be used along approximately 1,600 feet of Flower Street between 7th and Metro and the planned 2nd and Hope station. Tunnel boring machines (TBMs) would dig out the section of track below 2nd street, but surface holes will still be needed in the spots where the TBMs are inserted and at the 2nd and Broadway station.

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