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Which Way, LA? Metro Has Some Plans for the Westside

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17 potential route alternatives consolidated on this map will be presented starting tomorrow at Westside Transit Corridor meetings with the public | View larger image

In an ideal world, one of the routes in solid black, pictured above, could be a reality in nine and a half years -- that would be the year 2017. Generally speaking, a project the size of a major public transportation extension to the Westside, towards the sea, could take a decade to complete from pencil and paper to the first day of operation, assuming full project funding

Lucky for us, we're already six months into that process. If this ideal world runs smoothly, we are looking at the Fall of 2010 to start swinging a shovel into the ground. Once that begins, there is even a chance that within a few years, maybe 2013, a transit system of some kind that could include the touted 'Subway to the Sea' will open the first phase of its route to the public.

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But we are speaking in ideals here, the best case scenario. Much of it depends on that elephant in the room -- funding. Where will $5 billion come from? The hope is that these scoping and alternative route meetings with the public will help develop a public transportation system backed strongly by the community, by the businesses, the local politicians and Metro itself. When the Federal government sees a plan, that Los Angeles is ready to walk the talk, money may appear.

Though, it is a bit of a catch-22. The federal government asked Metro to look at cost effectiveness in studies. If Metro waits for federal funding to do the initial studies, the money could never come. If Metro invests its own money into the studies and produces them, that is when eyes widen, ears perk. And that's exactly what Metro has been doing for the past few months.

Back in October, Metro held early scoping meetings for a study to help guide the development of alternatives addressing the growing traffic and congestion in a 38 square mile study area (see lighter colored area above). Nearly 500 individuals attended these meetings and over 450 formal comments were submitted by the close of the comment period.

Now that Metro has reviewed all public comments, they have developed a number of alternatives for further analysis including various modes, alignments and station locations. Starting tomorrow (see dates/times/locations here), the public is invited back to check out these alternatives and give more feedback. These meetings will give updates about the results of the scoping process, next steps in the study's progress and the emerging alternatives.

To that, nineteen alternatives are proposed, including the option of building nothing and only adding additional bus services. Among those proposed alternatives of substance, there are three for the Wilshire subway, five for the Santa Monica subway, five for a Wilshire/Santa Monica combined subway, three elevated options and one bus rapid transit choice (think Orange Line or dedicated bus lanes).

Within those nineteen options, surface light rail is not one of them. The agency is looking at elevated light rail alternatives. "We're not penciling [surface light rail] out yet," David Mieger, Metro project manager for the study, explained in an phone interview. "We have not figured out an at-grade rail alternative at this point on Wilshire or Santa Monica Boulevards that provide any reasonable operational advantage. Does taking two lanes out make sense?"

Jody Litvak, Metro's communications manager for the study, says the elevated above ground options include more than just light rail. Heavy rail, like the Red Line, can be above ground too. "The subway can come out of the ground like BART in San Francisco," she points out.

Some comments in the past have suggested the use of double tracking, like New York City, for express trains. Metro says it is too early to say, but hints that if there was a need for that, they could also look into double decking the rails like they do in Spain. Nonetheless, given the high density and traffic of the Westside, they suspect these alternatives will have high ridership no matter what.

The trend found in the 450 comments received by Metro from the public was that heavy rail subway was the preferred mode and the consensus want it to be Wilshire Blvd. Well, they said they wanted both Wilshire and Santa Monica Blvd. done, but Wilshire first, something that Metro did not expect -- that people found both routes necessary.

The comments were extremely helpful to Metro in determining areas that need to be served, making Metro ask it self how can they best develop an alternative that deviates from a straight-shot down one major artery to activity centers such as The Grove or Cedars-Sinai. Is it better to have a station at Le Conte/Westwood instead of Westwood/Wilshire to better serve Westwood Village and UCLA? How about Santa Monica/Ave. of the Stars or Constellation/Ave. of the Stars in Century City? Metro hopes the alternatives capture most of the ideas given to them by the public.

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For Valley residents who caught wind of the idea of having the Metro Red Line go directly from Universal City towards Westside; they found it to be an extremely exciting one. Metro still has to figure out how that would work technically if the Santa Monica Blvd. alternative is chosen (see above map to study the route options on this one).

But whether or not you're a Valley resident or a Westsider or Eastsider, Los Angeles knows this project is important. And Metro hopes to see the public over the next week at their three public meetings. Speak up Los Angeles! And we hope to see you riding the rails in 2017.

Post updated with corrections for clarity