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Metro Planner Says Regional Connector Budget Has 'Little Margin,' Defends Scaled-Back Designs

By Eric Richardson
Published: Wednesday, October 05, 2011, at 05:00PM
Regional Connector - 2nd/Hope Metro

This new rendering of the Regional Connector's 2nd/Hope station shows only one entrance, at the uphill end of the sloping station site. A portal at 2nd and Flower is removed.

$1.4 billion just doesn't stretch all that far these days.

In response to blogdowntown's inquiries about Councilman Jose Huizar's concerns over the potential loss of entrance portals from two Regional Connector stations, a top Metro planner today acknowledged that the Regional Connector's budget is tight.

"This is a project that has very little margin," explained Diego Cardoso, Executive Officer with Metro. "We've got to balance costs. Where do you provide the best balance and keep and maintain the function of the system."

The Regional Connector is working with a budget of $1.366 billion, a number that was submitted to the federal government late last year. As the project planning has moved forward, more of that money has shifted to the Little Tokyo / Arts District station, which was originally proposed as an above-ground station, but now is planned to be constructed completely underground.

"The station at Little Tokyo / Arts District is a key station in the system, because that's where riders that are going to transfer," said Cardoso. "That station is like a 7th and Flower. That's why you need to have a more intensive planning of infrastructure there."

Cardoso defended the additional outreach that has been put into the Little Tokyo station, saying that the numerous small businesses and residents made the neighborhood "a lot more sensitive" than the one around the towers on Bunker Hill.

The Regional Connector's lack of a handy political soundbite may have also left it in the shadows when it comes to issues like a budget squeeze. The project "hasn't really had a political champion," Cardoso said.

He declined to provide any numbers for what the one-portal versions of the 2nd/Hope and 2nd/Broadway stations would save, but said that planners were "conscious about not precluding the ability to do things in the future." For the 2nd/Hope station, that includes adding a "knockout panel" that could allow the second station entrance to be added in later.

Also not part of any current project plans are the additional portals for the 7th / Metro station that were offered up as a possibility when the planned 5th/Flower station was cut over costs. Cardoso said that the agency is beginning a study of 7th/Metro improvements, but that it would be unfair for the extra work to be tied to the Regional Connector budget when multiple Metro projects will be contributing to increased traffic at the station.

"If Regional Connector is going to have to pay for all of the improvements that need to be made, we will not be able to build Regional Connector," he said.

That isn't a sufficient answer for Councilwoman Jan Perry, who in October called on Metro to continue study of the 5th/Flower station and to not pit one Downtown neighborhood against another.

"I'm extremely concerned," Perry said this evening. "We went through public hearings and built people's confidence in the project."

"I think that the commitments that have been made to the community after enormous debate and discussion should be honored."

Perry said that no one from Metro has reached out to her about the proposed changes, and that she has had to go in search of the information.

Planners need to finish the project's final environmental documents this month to have them in front of the Metro board in December. They then hope to get a Record of Decision from the Federal Transit Administration in January, and a funding agreement soon after that.

Only then will station design issues be brought back to public meetings.

"As soon as we get the green light from the federal government, we go back to the community," said Cardoso.

Update (6pm): Shortly after our story posted, Metro published a post addressing the station issues on its blog, The Source.

The agency downplays the changes, saying that "This type of value engineering typically occurs in the preliminary engineering phase of a construction project to bring costs in line."

_Update (6:35pm):__ Added quotes above from Councilwoman Jan Perry, who had criticized balancing the budget at the expense of other parts of the project back in October when the project went to Metro's board.


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