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Metro tunnel under Beverly Hills High School approved despite objections from city, school officials

Michael Juliano/KPCC

Opponents of the station at Constellation Boulevard, which would require tunneling under Beverly Hills High School, wore orange pins at a recent meeting.

Beverly Hills city and school officials objected, but the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors approved Thursday tunneling under Beverly Hills High School as part of the Purple Line subway extension to Century City and Westwood.

The board voted in favor of the extension 7-2. The two dissenting votes came from L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich and Duarte Mayor John Fasana, who called for more study.

The board already approved the extension of the subway to La Cienega Boulevard and Wilshire. It had delayed approving the next two phases of the so-called "Subway to the Sea" (which doesn't actually reach the sea) so it could hear arguments from Beverly Hills officials about the subway's route.

Thursday's vote approves the next two phases of the extension. First it will go to Century City, then the Veterans' Administration hospital at Wilshire Boulevard and the 405 Freeway.

Beverly Hills officials content the Metro tunnel would put students in danger and interfere with renovation plans for Beverly Hills High School.

Last week, geologists and engineers hired by the Beverly Hills Unified School District presented analyses at a hearing, questioning the MTA's studies of earthquake faults in the area. The district's team argued there are no earthquake faults beneath the school and that a fault below Santa Monica Boulevard is not active.

Lawyers for the school district sent a letter to Metro board members urging them to delay voting on the subway's alignment until both sides' geo-technical experts can jointly meet with state and federal geologists to hash out disagreements over seismic and methane gas data.

Despite these objections, a Metro staff report released this week insisted the tunneling project would be safe and urged the board to move forward.

Metro's report acknowledged the subway alignment passes through a methane zone, but that levels near the school and proposed Constellation Boulevard stop are less than those encountered during the construction of the Red Line through downtown. The report also says MTA can safely avoid old, possibly unmapped oil wells during tunneling.

When the $5.6 billion extension of the Purple Line is complete, riders will be able to travel from downtown to Westwood in 25 minutes, according to Metro officials. They predict an average weekday ridership of 49,300 boardings.

Draft environmental documents put the cost at $4.36 billion in 2009 dollars. The final documents calculate the projected cost using the estimated value of the dollar in 2022, when the first phase is scheduled to open.

Metro hopes to break ground on the extension by the fall of 2013. Its timetable calls for the first segment to La Cienega to open in 2022. The 2.62-mile stretch to Century City would open in 2026 and the final 2.48 miles to the VA Hospital would open in 2036.

Local officials have been pushing for federal legislation that would advance funding for the project, allowing the entire 8.9-mile extension to be completed by 2022.

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