What’s Next for Metro’s Hot-Button Crenshaw/LAX Line?

GETTING THERE FROM HERE-For years, those of us in both the political and grassroots transportation advocacy worlds who've struggled with figuring out the best way to both create a north-south rail line to connect the Metro Green and Expo Lines, as well as creating a comprehensive Metro Rail/LAX connection, have suffered from two major obstacles:  intransigence from LA World Airports and issues surrounding "the Crenshaw Portion" of the Crenshaw/LAX Line. 


Now we're pretty much on the verge of getting past both.  We've already got $100 million or so dedicated for an underground Leimert Park station to accommodate concerns of neighborhood preservation and light rail access to that neighborhood and adjacent region, and while issues such as parking and economic revival persist, the issue of an unaffordable Park Mesa tunnel has been put to rest by Metro. 

It was an expensive but tough compromise, and we've now got a $2 billion north-south link between the Green and Expo Lines in the making...but a relatively poor and entirely nebulous link of this line to LAX. 

Furthermore, while the benefits of the Metro Crenshaw/LAX Line for the Mid-City are fairly obvious, the benefits of the line for Westside and the South Bay remain unfulfilled (for which this line is supposed to benefit as well, and from which dedicated Measure R and other Metro funds have been assigned).  

Westchester and the rest of the Westside, after fighting for years, was able to get roughly $15 million of City funds for a small at-grade station on Hindry near Manchester/Aviation (which was shown much too little love by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who should have known better), and there is still no extension of the Green Line (to which the Crenshaw/LAX Line will connect) to the transit center at the Galleria Mall in the South Bay. 

Fortunately, Supervisor Don Knabe, former LA City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl and others have come to the rescue of Westchester and Westside transit advocates and planners, and Knabe's leadership in calling for a Metro Rail/LAX connection by 2020 couldn't have come at a better time. 

Arguably, if the Measure R sales tax measure is extended into the future (which would create no new taxes!), the main issue to convince voters might NOT be the Wilshire Subway (which has its tremendous benefits and advocates, to be sure) but for proper rail/airport access combined with a countywide rail and freeway system (which means pleasing voters in the SFV, SGV, South Bay and Southeast Cities, and not just the City of L.A.). 

Yet intransigence at LA World Airports (LAWA), led by one Gina Marie Lindsey, still was and is a problem.  For decades, LAWA looked with disdain on Metro efforts to create a proper airport/rail connection, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) made the required north-south link between the Aviation/Imperial station and a potential Century/Aviation station both prohibitively expensive and challenging to build. 

For the better part of a decade, Friends of the Green Line and the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee heard from both Metro and LAWA planners (some helpful, some confrontational), and it's been very, very difficult to wonder how we could connect Metro Rail to the central airline terminals (a TRUE LAX connection, right?). 

Bill Rosendahl was disallowed from being a Metro Boardmember throughout his political tenure, and the administration of former Mayor Villaraigosa (while making progress) presumed that a Crenshaw/LAX line with a Century/Aviation station would pretty much fix the problem. 

Except that the Westside (as with the Expo Line) was still too underrepresented, and the Century/Aviation station was too far to the east to serve the Westside and a close LAX connection.  There was no discussion of laying the groundwork for a future north-south rail connection to the Westside (just as vital and important for a north-south rail connection to the Mid-City), and no formal discussion of a LAX People Connector to the airport. 

Mayor Villaraigosa, to his credit, did do a lot to convince the car rental companies of the need to consolidate to the region surrounding Century/Aviation, and Century/Aviation truly is a potential link for Metrolink or Metro Rail to connect directly to Downtown Union Station (which the Crenshaw Line does NOT do, despite its proper placement to serve Inglewood and Mid-City L.A., and someday the Wilshire Corridor). 

And Gina Marie Lindsey has, as aforementioned, been part of the problem rather than the solution with respect to being an advocate for remote rail connection to LAX. 

Enter a host of new planners from the City, working with or from the Westside Council Districts of CD11 and CD5 that now are working from both LAWA and the key City Councilmembers, and enter a world where Gina Marie Lindsey (lo and behold!) wants to stay on at LAX beyond the Villaraigosa Era...and they're reaching consensus through cooperation and discussion (and probably a history of years of personal teamwork). 


In short, it involves a proposed Intermodal Transportation Facility (ITF) at 96th/Jenny (just outside the central airport terminal loop) as well as a slight swing of the Crenshaw/LAX Line to the west at Arbor Vitae and an underground Metro station to take the place of the station at Century/Aviation that probably everyone (myself included!) presumed was essential for the Crenshaw/LAX line. 

There would be an eastern terminus of the LAX People Mover to link the central airport terminals, the ITF and the proposed consolidated rental car facility (CONRAC) at Century/Aviation.  So Century/Aviation is still very much part of the equation.  But land acquisition and finalizing this connection to the CONRAC (still a work in progress) makes this Century/Aviation setup one of the last (not the first) Metro/LAWA issues to resolve. 

To describe this westward swing, the Crenshaw/LAX line would proceed west from the Harbor Subdivision Right of Way south from the maintenance yard in Westchester, swing west north of 96th street, turn south on Airport to have an underground station (taking the place of the Century/Aviation Metro station), proceed east to approximately Century Blvd., and then proceed back to the Harbor Subdivision Right of Way. 

There would be a LAX People Mover to connect from the central airline terminals in the west to the CONRAC in the east, and hopefully 1-2 stations to serve the local hotels and business district along the way. 

As with all airport/rail connections, questions and problems abound.  However, unlike the proposed underground Metro Rail connection with an underground station in the central airline terminals, there is less expense for Metro and less environmentally and costly underground tunneling issues, and probably less FAA resistance.  And a driverless LAX People Mover could operate 24-7 even when Metro is shut down in the wee midnight hours. 

Of course, LAWA owes Metro a big hunk of money and apologies for not coming up with this years ago, and it should be reminded there is still about $200 million of funds for a Metro Rail to LAX project in Measure R.  Furthermore, the question of how a Green Line could proceed north to the Westside in the future also remains unanswered (trust me--the Westside and San Fernando Valley want that). 

But this is one heckuva big change order for a Crenshaw/LAX Line already plagued with cost hikes and political delays...and it's beyond the eleventh hour in timing. 

However, this CAN be done if it is determined that immediate construction of the Metro Crenshaw/LAX Line to LAX will be prioritized from the Westchester maintenance yard to the Expo Line FIRST, and if the political will and consensus is there to show Metro that this option will please all parties (and did I say that LAWA owed Metro a hunk of money and an apology?). 

There will be calls for a Supplemental EIR that could be both time consuming and costly, but if consensus and the will to move fast (particularly if LAWA puts its political and financial back into it) predominates, the possibility of a Mitigated Negative Declaration to move this forward might just get the job done. 

"Might" is the operating word, of course--again, this is one heckuva change order that its proponents need to show has consensus over the many, many other alternatives proposed over the past few decades. 

But it certainly IS time to put the LAX portion of the Crenshaw/LAX Line into focus, and if LAWA is willing to put its money and muscle where its mouth is, then Metro and the City of LA can potentially fix a problem that has hounded taxpayers and commuters for about 50 years.


(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember 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 CD11 Transportation 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.)







Vol 11 Issue 81

Pub: Oct 8, 2013