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Out of Public Eye, Regional Connector Planning Raising Concerns

By Eric Richardson
Published: Saturday, September 17, 2011, at 11:42AM
Regional Connector - Bunker Hill Station Plan Metro

While this design for the Regional Connector's Bunker Hill station was just released in July, stakeholders are worried that entrances it shows may have already been scrapped to keep the project on-budget. Similar concerns follow the Historic Core station.

With the $1.4-billion Regional Connector deep in the final phases of its environmental studies, Metro's biggest light rail project hasn't kept a very high public profile lately. That doesn't mean there isn't plenty going on behind the scenes.

It remains to be seen exactly what project emerges. A letter calling for serious changes to the project's route and cost-cutting measures in the station design have some stakeholders concerned.

The letter, from the "Community Connector Coalition" and signed by billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, calls for the Connector to run under 1st Street instead of 2nd and for both the Bunker Hill and Historic Core stations to be repositioned. You can read it in this L.A. Streetsblog story.

Asking around this week, two things became clear: everyone has heard of the letter, and no one is quite sure what to make of it. While the merits of a 1st Street vs. 2nd Street routing are certainly debatable, at this stage in the process any serious changes to the scope would require months of repeated environmental work and potential delays that could make the project's federal funding situation much more cloudy.

While Broad's signature is prominent, multiple sources told blogdowntown this week that the man behind the letter is John Welborne, the man best known for Angels Flight. Welborne's wife Martha just happens to be Metro's top planner, putting her in charge of project's such as the Regional Connector. Welborne is said to have been taking numerous meetings in recent weeks to pitch the coalition's plan. Calls and an email to Welborne were not returned on Friday.

While the group's letter was submitted during the comment period on the Connector's draft environmental impact report, requiring a response from the project team, the speculation around Downtown this week was whether a member of Metro's board would make a motion directing the project staff to study the concept in even greater detail.

In a response to blogdowntown that it then posted on its blog, Metro said that it plans to use its "well-established technical process to review and respond to all letters and comments to the Regional Connector’s environmental document."

Meanwhile, several Downtown stakeholders that blogdowntown spoke to this week expressed their dismay that station designs that have up to now shown two entrances at the Bunker Hill and Historic Core stations were being scaled back to only include a single point-of-entry for each stop.

A Metro spokesman said he would look into the station changes on Friday, but did not provide any updates as of the end of the day.

The change would be particularly troubling at the Bunker Hill station, which sits on the steep hillside between 3nd and Flower and 2nd and Hope. blogdowntown believes the single entrance would be at the top of the hill, greatly reducing the stop's usefulness to those working in the office towers south of the station.

Those same riders would have been close to the 5th and Flower station that was part of the project until last October, when it was cut to keep the project on-budget.

It remains to be seen whether the Regional Connector will make any appearance on the agenda for next Thursday's Metro board meeting. If not, the project would likely make its next public appearance at the end of October with the release of the final environmental impact report. That report is intended to go to the board in December.

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