Los Angeles County's transit agency wants the public's input on a new rail line that’s planned between Artesia and downtown Los Angeles, with the big question being how it will get into downtown.
The so-called West Santa Ana Branch transit project will confusingly not serve the Orange County city. It's named for a defunct Pacific Electric railway that will be the foundation for the new line. The light rail will run about 18 miles through the Gateway Cities of southeast L.A. County and into the central city, serving a densely populated area with a high reliance on transit.
The project in its latest incarnation has been in the works for about a decade. It was promised limited funding from Measure R, the half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2008, and additional dollars from Measure M, another half-cent sales tax approved in 2016. Together, the funding totals about $2 billion.
While most of the route will follow the contours of the old rail line, things get complicated on the approach to downtown L.A., the oldest, most built-up part of the city.
"There’s a lot of challenges to look at the potential ridership, the engineering challenges in a dense environment, and also the cost," said Metro Transportation Planning Manager Teresa Wong. That’s why the agency is considering eight different route options.
Metro had originally identified four options, all terminating at Union Station using some combination of aerial, street level and underground tracks. But after hearing opposition from some businesses in Little Tokyo that have previously sued Metro over disruption in the neighborhood, the agency added four more alternatives to consider.
Two of the new options would also end at Union Station, one would stop in the Arts District and another would terminate in the heart of downtown near the 7th and Metro station.
The proposed routes with the highest potential ridership are those that reach more destinations. But those same areas are tough to build through without disrupting businesses and carving up neighborhoods.
Going underground is possible, but then that bumps up the price tag.
Above-ground tracks in less crowded areas would cut down the price but it might not satisfy riders who want a direct route to jobs and transit connections.
"We basically support going forward any option that has a one-seat ride to Union Station," said Karen Heit, transportation analyst for the Gateway Cities Council of Governments. "That’s how we’ve always defined the project and that’s what we’re interested in."
She said reaching the regional rail hub is the top priority both for those heading downtown and those connecting with employers in southeastern L.A., where there's a higher-than-average density of jobs.
Before narrowing the options for environmental review, Metro is taking comments on all of the proposed routes both online and in person, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Progress Park-West Community Center in in Paramount, 15500 Downey Ave.
Because the route options could potentially impact Little Tokyo and Latino residents in the area, the questions posed by Metro for online comment are also provided in Japanese and Spanish.