30 Years Ago: People Mover Plans Killed When Feds Yanked Funds
Sketch of proposed Downtown Automated Rapid Transit system—including an elevated, mid-block pedestrian promenade—from a 1970 city report.
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES — On March 10, 1981, the Reagan administration pulled $111 million that had been promised to the controversial L.A. people mover, a fixed-guideway transit system that would have connected Union Station to the Convention Center.
The elevated system would have carried cars holding roughly 50 passengers, and was intended to be run in an automated fashion.
The line had first been proposed a decade earlier as part of the Downtown Auxiliary Rapid Transit (DART) plan, a system proposed to supplement regional transit and connect Downtown office buildings to large peripheral parking structures on the edges of the Central City.
In 1976, Los Angeles was one of more than three dozen cities to submit proposals its people mover plans for funding under a program run by the federal Urban Mass Transit Administration. The city sought $122 million toward a $160 million system that would stretch 2.6 miles and include 11 stops. On December 22, 1976, the city was one of four to be awarded funds, receiving $100 million.
Environmental study of the project got underway in 1978, and the Central City Association and Chamber of Commerce signed on to commit $1.3 million annually toward defraying operating expenses. City Council gave its approval to move forward in a March 27, 1979, vote.
Legal challenges and conditions placed on state funding bogged the line down, and a battle to scuttle the system intensified as the city started to search for a contractor in 1980. The Los Angeles Conservancy was behind the creation of TRANSIT—the Taxpayers Revolt Against Needless Special Interest Transit—an umbrella group of those opposed to the line.
Money woes succeeded where the advocacy groups didn't. By the time the city was ready to certify the contract, inflation and escalating costs had taken the project to a price tag as high as $259 million, well above what the city had the ability to pay. Planners went back to the drawing board to shave costs from the system.
Reagan's cuts made that work unnecessary. The federal government told the city to suspend work on the project in April of 1981.
Remants of the project remain today. A 1,200-foot tunnel through Bunker Hill and the foundations of several towers was partially completed, and plans for a station left the World Trade Center with an odd courtyard space at 3rd and Figueroa.
At the time, planners said that the tunnel would come in handy for a future project, but thirty years later none has materialized.