Villaraigosa Campaigns for Westside Subway’s Completion in Ten Years

Los Angels West Side Subway Alignment AlternativesProposed 2036 completion date — without extension to Santa Monica — worries the Los Angeles mayor.

Last November, Los Angeles County voters agreed to increase sales taxes by a 1/2¢ with the passage of Measure R, which will fund new transit projects throughout the region. One of the primary benefits of the new revenue is the ability to fund the construction of a “subway to the sea,” which will extend the existing Red and Purple heavy rail lines to Santa Monica. But the large number of projects on the drawing board have slowed down this west side corridor significantly; partial completion, along Wilshire from Western Ave to UCLA, won’t be done until 2036. But Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is now on a campaign to attract federal funds to push its completion date forward — perhaps to 2020.

For the first time in more than a decade, the west side extension, which has often been included in the city’s transit plans, looks like it might happen. After years of controversy, a loss of federal funds, and gas explosions, the stars have aligned, with local and federal money available and an ambitious transit agency board again willing to risk its political clout for a project that will serve Los Angeles’ densest and most traffic-choked community.

Yet, even with Measure R, Los Angeles will need decades to build this very expensive line. Estimates put total cost in a $4-9 billion range, depending on whether the route extends all the way to Santa Monica, rather than simply to Westwood, and whether a spur north through West Hollywood is included. The full project, with 14 stations, will greatly improve connectivity across the west side of Los Angeles as well as among the cities of Beverly Hills and Santa Monica; this is currently the preferred choice of most residents of the area and Metro itself. The project, though, is too expensive to build without a massive federal appropriation.

Metro, the local transit agency, initiated the completion of a draft Environmental Impact Statement on the line in January, beginning the first step towards what will be a major construction project. Metro will select a locally preferred alternative next fall and then begin engineering and eventually construction work. In the meantime, the city has been drilling holes across the west side — 70 of them in total, up to 80 feet into the ground — to begin assessing the quality of soil for subway construction. The results were positive, with no danger in sight.

Mr. Villaraigosa, in the meantime, has become a strong advocate of regional cooperation for the benefit of the project. The mayor encouraged politicians from across the County to push for federal funds to complete the line on an accelerated timetable. The U.S. government needs to expedite up to $5 billion to ensure that the full project can be completed. This kind of commitment, however, has been rare in recent American transit policy, which has rarely appropriated more than $1 billion to just one line.

The mayor’s vision is necessary, because a wait until 2036 for just the line to UCLA would be a disappointment and a disaster for the city as a whole. The traffic mess on the west side, even with the completion of the Expo Line, will not improve dramatically; the area continues to be the region’s biggest draw but it is harder and harder to reach. With direct benefits only being accrued in four of the region’s dozens of municipalities, it remains to be seen whether mayors and congressmen from the sprawling region will come together in support of the project.

Image above: Westside subway alignment alternatives, from Metro

Westside Subway Extension Service Map

26 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • One of the primary benefits of the new revenue is the ability to fund the construction of a “subway to the sea,” which will extend the existing Red and Purple heavy rail lines to Santa Monica.

    No, just the Purple Line. The Red Line goes north.

  • Jarrett –
    An branch of the subway would extend from the Red Line stop at Hollywood/Highland and then connect with the main Wilshire (Purple) line around Wilshire/La Cienega. While there would be a transfer required there, it would be hard to claim that this branch is an extension of the “Purple Line.” So while it’s technically not an extension of the Red Line, it’s not an extension of the Purple Line either.

  • Great post.

    I wonder if the “Subway to the Sea” brand was such a good idea. This project was always about the whole Wilshire corridor and the beach is its least important feature.

    A line of this magnitude needs a really strong western anchor — a bit mass of density and activity — and that’s really Westwood+UCLA. I wonder if it makes sense to make the final Santa Monica segment contingent on an adequate level of redevelopment at the Santa Monica end. This would push the Santa Monica segment another decade into the future and let work proceed on the segment to Westwood, which is really where the most urgent market is. The City of Santa Monica is very proud of its separateness from the City of LA, and could probably spin such a delay as a victory for them, while Metro would get a simpler project with an even better cost-effectiveness score.

  • Yonah re Comment 2: Check. Locals call that bit the Pink Line, as I understand it, but the terminology is in flux to say the least.

    Cheers, Jarrett

  • simple

    Jarrett, Your comment is the first time I’ve ever heard someone argue that Santa Monica lacks density and activity!

  • AlexB

    I’ve seen the map of the proposed subway extensions before. The specific routing always confused me. Would it function as a “Y” with N Hollywod-S Monica, S Monica-LA & LA-N Hollywood? Seems like that would be the most effective and logical.

    Seems like the Orange Line and the future Crenshaw line would be nice to have as one long route. It would give the Orange Line some sort of purpose besides just being a feeder and would allow connections to the Expo Line and maybe the green and blue lines in south LA, depending on the routing.

  • orulz

    Are there any major $billion+ freeway projects coming up in LA? There have to be. Perhaps the mayor could propose cancelling those and putting the federal money that would have been allocated towards the freeways, towards the subway instead. That’s what got the Washington Metro built in the first place, isn’t it?

  • AlexB –
    I’ve sketched a map, now posted at the bottom of the piece, that shows how service would likely be implemented.

  • jon

    good, a 2036 completion date is an embarassment.

  • Why are they extending both lines to the Sea? Why not just one?

  • Adam

    How much does it cost to drill under Willshire as opposed to Second Avenue?

  • herenthere: They both extend to the “sea” because Pink line and Purple line will be operated separately each with its own headways. Purple line will be Union Station Santa Monica and Pink line will be Hollywood Santa Monica.

    Also by the time the subway is completed, it is likely that LA Metro will have abandon the color naming scheme in favor of something more logical. LA Metro has already said that it will most likely adopt a “letters and numbers” scheme like NYC (e.g. A train = Wilshire Blvd, B = Santa Monica Blvd etc). Personally, I think LA should adopt the Tokyo or London model and give each line a real name based on destination/route traveled:

    Purple line –> Wilshire line
    Red line –> North Hollywood line
    Orange line –> Valley line
    Pink –> West Hollywood line
    Expo –> Expo line
    Blue –> Long Beach line
    Gold Pasadena –> Foothill line
    Gold Eastside –> Whittier line
    Green –> Redondo line
    Crenshaw –> Crenshaw line

  • Erik G.

    The Pink Line would also run through West Hollywood and perhaps that is one reason it is being called “Pink”

    As for the Home of the Homeless™, Jarrett needs to stand at the Cloverfield exit on a weekday morning and get educated about the massive number of people who work on the Edge of America™.

    But…I think sending the subway up over Sepulveda Pass some day might be a very worthy endeavor.

  • How much does it cost to drill under Willshire as opposed to Second Avenue?

    I believe Wilshire is $300,000,000 per mile. Second Avenue is $2,000,000,000 per mile.

  • Wad

    Jarrett wrote:

    A line of this magnitude needs a really strong western anchor — a bit mass of density and activity — and that’s really Westwood+UCLA.

    At a recent round of community meetings, Metro representatives said they are anticipating such a high level of activity at Westwood that it would need to go west of I-405 as part of the minimum operable segment. It may either be the VA Hospital campus or even a mile west of that at Barrington Avenue.

  • Just to be clear, I’m well aware of the density and diversity of Santa Monica, but it’s not on the scale of Westwood+UCLA+Century City and I doubt it wants to be. My point is that end-of-line locations need to be especially large concentrations of demand if you want even high usage of a line all the way to the end, which is crucial in making such an expensive project pencil out. Wad, yes, I’d agree that pushing just past 405 for an MOS is logical.

  • Jarrett, you could argue this the other way: terminating a line at a high-demand area before its natural endpoint can cause congestion at the terminus; this is because people further down the road would take buses to just one station, leading to an excessive number of boardings.

    To some extent New York has this issue with all lines that stop before they hit water or the city line. On one line, the 7, the terminus is the busiest station in the Outer Boroughs as well as the busiest with fewer than 4 tracks, and is about as crowded as you’d expect. The lines whose termini aren’t so crowded are those that terminate a few stops beyond the main traffic generators. For example, the E/J/Z terminates one stop after Jamaica Station, splitting traffic between Jamaica Station for passengers from the LIRR and the terminus for bus riders from Eastern Queens. Together the two stations have the same ridership as the 7’s terminus, but they’re less overcrowded.

    Returning to Los Angeles, the natural terminus of the subway to the sea is the sea. Santa Monica won’t generate the same traffic as Westwood, but once the line to Westwood is there, the Santa Monica extension will also cost less. What it will do is distribute traffic among multiple stations, instead of have people from Santa Monica ride buses to the Westwood terminus and saturate the station’s turnstiles and passageways.

  • Wad

    Alon Levy wrote:

    What it will do is distribute traffic among multiple stations, instead of have people from Santa Monica ride buses to the Westwood terminus and saturate the station’s turnstiles and passageways.

    This is primarily why Metro is planning on adding a west-of-405 station to what would have been the end of the line at Westwood. Since it is central to UCLA, the Federal Building, the Westwood business district of high-rise offices on Wilshire and the retail district of Westwood Village, the expected passenger flow may exceed the physical capacity of the station. The operational constraints of the subway are maximum headways of 90 seconds for signals and platform capacity of a train of six 75-foot cars, so this is probably the passenger capacity of a certain level of demand.

    As you’ve said, the natural boundary is the sea, but Metro is projecting this as the last MOS. The gold-medal option of $9 billion includes the “Pink Line,” the branch through West Hollywood. That leapfrogged the west-of-405-Santa Monica MOS to be fourth priority — even though it was a late addition.

    For the same tunneling distance, the West Hollywood branch is likely to produce more boardings than a west-of-405 extension. Also, the windward side of the 405 won’t be rail-poor; the Expo Line will open by about 2015-2016. West of the 405, the subway and the Expo right-of-way run closer together — close enough that two rail lines may split the difference among passengers and end up reducing productivity on both lines.

    This does not eliminate the subway’s merit, though. Wilshire is still a dense, attractive corridor up until Bundy Drive. In Santa Monica, it becomes a low-rise auto-oriented linear corridor, albeit surrounded by medium-to-high density housing. Santa Monica’s central business district is not in downtown but near its eastern edge. Expo will take care of this.

    Santa Monica primarily employs low- and medium-wage services and professional careers, so it’ll draw from people using transit already. Santa Monica is also a very important tourist and recreation destination, so it’ll produce robust weekend and holiday ridership.

  • Steven

    In looking at the map, I think the Expo line should be extended to the Wilshire & 4th Purple/Pink station. It seems ridiculous to me to have have these two lines terminate a half mile apart instead of allowing easy transfers between the two.

  • Alon. Yes, I agree that it makes sense to go just west of 405 so that you can push some of the access impacts out of Westwood proper. Remember though that UCLA is a colossal transit destination. Any bus coming from the west is going to flow on through Westwood to the campus, even if it connects west of 405 as well. The other issue is that Brentwood and the Palisades will generate a lot of Kiss-and-Ride, and it’s a big win for all sides if those cars don’t have to cross 405 to get to a rail station.

    Wad’s right that the Pink Line has a much bigger payoff than doing the last few miles into Santa Monica.

    General principle: When your proposed line has an outermost segment that’s weaker than the rest, and you don’t have a compelling region-wide interest in building that segment (e.g. to make an important connection in the network) you might as well put that city on the spot. Tell them that if they want the line to get to them, they’ll have to add enough density so that their segment pencils out. That’s what I call empowering local government. I hope similar conversations are happening around proposed Gold Line extension east of Pasadena.

  • “In looking at the map, I think the Expo line should be extended to the Wilshire & 4th Purple/Pink station. It seems ridiculous to me to have have these two lines terminate a half mile apart instead of allowing easy transfers between the two.”

    ———————

    The planned terminus of the Expo Line is in a great location, near the “Promendae” and the Santa Monica Pier and the civic center area. As an above ground, light-rail project, there would be no natural way to extend it to 4th/Wilshire.

    Actually, as someone who lived in Santa Monica, I suggested the reverse. That the Purple/Pink terminal be where the Expo Line ends in a grand Coney Island type station.

    Moving the West Hollywood branch up to Phase 4 was the right decision and I hope that Metro commits to building at least the first four phases in my lifetime.

  • ArtMedina

    I fully encourage the “Subway To The Sea”! Since I live in San Pedro, I also encourage extending the “Green Line To The Green Bridge”. The ‘Green Bridge’ I mean is The Vincent Thomas Bridge here in San Pedro. Let’s lace the L.A. Area with rail transit, both subway and light-rail!

    • Leary Beglan

      I agree, but don’t forget “The Green Line to LAX”, too. Just like the South Bay’s local ‘Daily Breeze’ newspaper says about its news coverage area: “From LAX To L.A. Harbor”.

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  • Mack

    The “Pink Line” connecting the Red Line in Hollywood to the Purple Line via Santa Monica Boulevard will not happen for decades. There is zero money for it and little political support for it on the MTA Board. Same for the extension of the Purple Line beyond Westwood/VA. What order they are in is just academic at this point.

    There will be no canceling of freeway projects to pay for these extra subway extensions. The MTA Board represents the entire County, not just West Los Angeles, which may come as a surprise to some people.

    And the cost per mile to tunnel for the Wilshire subway is going to be much, much more than $300M per mile. And that won’t include the station boxes.

  • Ian

    How about just putting a tax on new cars sold in California? Let’s say $300 per new car. CA sells about 1.5m a years. In 10 years time it will pay for it! Free metro!

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