The ‘Never Happen’ Holy Grail of Transit Finally Pulls into the LA Station

LOS ANGELES

TRANSIT TALK--After years of calculating and planning and outreach, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, Westside LA Councilmember Mike Bonin and former Santa Monica Denny Zane reached high with the advocacy of Measure M. And after decades of being told it would "never happen", the Westside/Valley rail line--the Holy Grail of Transit--can become a reality.

Of course, it's remembered by so many how the Expo Line--arguably the seminal effort that made LA County's elected leaders recognize that all of LA County wanted rail alternatives to car commuting and mobility, and not just the San Gabriel Valley with their Gold Line--would "never happen".

So why is the Westside/Valley rail line (call it the Valley/Westside rail line if you live in the San Fernando Valley) the "Holy Grail" of Transit?

Three reasons:  the geographic distance from other connecting rail lines, the cost and the previous lack of political support and cohesion for this project.

1) With Measure M, we can fast-track the Wilshire Subway to reach the 405 freeway and the West Los Angeles VA a decade or more earlier, and upgrade the Orange Line to a rail line, so that the connection between the two east-west lines will occur in a more planned, comprehensive fashion.

The location of this far-west line is what also vexes the Southeast LA County Cities and the South Bay Cities with their own rail lines--they're far away from the central core of Downtown LA, but their regional traffic requires the presence of rail alternatives.

Of interest, though, is that a huge portion of those voting for the measure were from the Westside and Valley. 

One can only hope that the north-south Westside-Valley Subway will be planned and constructed in coordination with the Wilshire/Purple Line Subway.  And for those keeping score on other transit projects, ditto for a Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Line northern extension that will be a subway between the Expo and Purple Lines. 

2) The cost is prohibitive, but that was true for the Wilshire Subway.  After virtually 100 years of talking about it, the subway under Wilshire Blvd. is being built, with political and financial support that is now universal. 

Demands to both Sacramento and Washington for matching funds will almost certainly be ramped up, and a dogfight between Republican Congressional budget hawks and President-Elect Trump will occur over how to pay for $1 trillion in national infrastructure projects. 

For now, it should be remembered that $1 billion in Measure R's plan (the forerunner of Measure M) was dedicated for a Westside/Valley transit project, and it's not hard to conclude that paying for buses and Rapid Bus stations will occur between the Orange Line Busway and the Expo Line, with stops on Sunset and the Getty Center. 

Perhaps a Busway will be built, but that may be too expensive and inflexible--would that reside in the middle of the 405 freeway, and take over the carpool lanes?  Perhaps...but the stations need to be at the destinations residing off the freeway, so that a Rapid Bus line with many new buses (paid for by Measures R and M) might be what we see in the immediate future. 

At this time, however, the concerns of $5-7 billion for a north-south Westside/Valley Subway appear to have gone the direction of the Wilshire Subway: "Yes, it's expensive.  And?" 

3) The political will of a given region overrides all obstacles, or places a given rail project at the back of the line. 

There was never a counterpart to the "Friends4Expo Transit" for a north-south Valley/Westside (Westside/Valley?) transit project.  Of course, there was also no equivalent or counterpart to an Exposition Rail Line Right of Way.  And there was certainly no cohesion between San Fernando Valley and Westside political leaders, or even political cohesion within the Valley. 

And San Fernando Valley leaders are paying the price for not showing courage and vision when they let a rail right of way become a second-rate Orange Line Busway which could have been a first-rate light rail line like what occurred with the Exposition Light Rail Line. 

What to do, what to do?  The conversion of the Orange Line Busway to a light rail, or doing the big dig with a Valley/Westside rail tunnel?  Which should come first?  Can they both be worked on together? 

Similarly, the South Bay Cities, which did not vote in as high numbers for Measure M, are paying the price for not advocating for a South Bay Green Line Extension earlier (they've got their own roadblocks, and hence that region will have to suffer until the right leaders can expedite that project and confront those among them who are blocking it. 

And ditto for the Southeast LA County Cities (Gateway Cities) who still have major freeway projects and a lower priority for any rail projects.   

The regions without the political will suffer the most, but with Latinos and Millennials overwhelmingly voting for Measure M, it's likely the chorus for more rail projects will grow ever louder. 

On a final note, there is yet ANOTHER "holy grail" that has been ignored, and will remain ignored until LAX is connected to Metro's countywide transit system: a direct LAX to Downtown rail line.  

There almost certainly WILL be more individuals noting how Metro spent money and effort to create a cute Bikeway along the Harbor Subdivision rail right of way between Inglewood and the Blue Line and Southeast Downtown LA and Union Station. 

But that, too, is an issue of geography, cost, and (especially!) political will.   

Because the dilemma of HOW, and not IF, we're going to get to these "holy grails" is one we can now enjoy with the passage of Measure M. 

Which is a dilemma that transportation experts have sought for years to confront.  And that is one dilemma that will bring cheers and smiles (and jobs!) for decades to come. 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties.  He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)

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