Plans for potential $7 billion train through Downey finally unveiled

Speak now, or forever open your wallet.

The region’s local planning agency this week  is giving the public a look at alternatives for a massive transportation project that could cost up to $7 billion to build but also could end up providing cutting edge, fast transportation to some of Southern California’s poorest residents.

There’s an information meeting Wednesday in Bellflower and another meeting Thursday in South Gate. (Meeting details are posted below).

The Southern California Association of Government and cities in southeast Los Angeles County want the public to build a mass transit system on the old Pacific Electric right of way. The system would start in Los Angeles and then travel through the southeast Los Angeles region down to Santa Ana, cutting through almost every suburb in between, including the southwestern corner of Downey.

The proposed alternatives range from a $1 billion bus line to a futuristic $7.5 billion magnetic levitation train.

Click here to see the alternative plans.

After getting this last round of input from the public, the plan will be sent to the transportation funding agencies in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

The completion of the alternatives plan is a huge milestone for a project that for almost a decade has been bogged down in political infighting. The line, conceived in 2002, was supposed to be under construction in 2008. Only during the last few years have cities in Los Angeles County united around the idea of concentrating on land uses near train stops while the planning process played out among transportation agencies. The route, known as the Orange Line, already has $240 million in planning money from the Measure R sales tax initiative.

“This is a major step for the line,” said Michael Kodama, the executive director of the Orange Line Development Authority, which is a joint-powers group representing the Los Angeles County cities along the line. “It answers questions like: How does it stack up to other projects? Does it pass the smell test? Meaning, is this even a good idea. And I’ve got to tell you, compared to what’s going on in the region, it looks pretty darn good.”

If the transit system stretched from Los Angeles to Santa Ana, it would daily serve about 80,000 riders, an impressive figure that stacks up well against other transit projects, such as the Foothill Gold Line in the San Gabriel Valley and the Expo Line. The Expo Line from Downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica is expected to serve about 64,000 daily riders.

The Orange Line would have to compete against other local transportation projects for local, state and federal transportation dollars.

Most experts think Orange County cities will reject any effort to build a transit system all the way to Santa Ana. In Orange County, much of the line runs through quiet residential neighborhoods.

“While Santa Ana, Stanton, and, to some extent Garden Grove want it, other cities (in Orange County) don’t,” said Philip Law, the corridor program manager for the Southern California Association of Governments, which is the agency heading up the plan analysis.

If the system were to leave out Orange County and go from Cerritos to Los Angeles, it would only serve about 40,000 riders. It would also eliminate the chance for people in Los Angeles County to get to a growing job market in Orange County.

There’s a possibility that Los Angeles County could build it’s section and that Orange County could join in the future, Law said.

There are strong arguments for or against every type of transit system, he said.

(See below for a breakdown of cost and travel times).

A bus line would cost only about $1 billion to build and $50 million a year to operate, but Huntington Park and other communities are sick of buses, according to organizers. In addition, buses would tie up car traffic on streets along the line.

The idea of a trolley car system has also been floated. That option would likely cost about $3 billion, but it would snarl traffic at dozens of intersections along the diagonal route and would cost $220 million annually to operate.

“It’s a diagonal right of way, so it can be really awkward at a lot of those intersections,” Law said.

So far, a light rail system seems to be the most popular. Much of the line would be raised above cross traffic, and it would cost about $210 million annually to operate. Such a line would likely cost about $3 billion to build.

The option preferred by most of the Los Angeles County cities is the magnetic levitation model. It would be fast, quiet, and cheaper to operate. But it would cost a whopping $7 billion to build, more than twice the cost of the light rail. Plus, rules for federal transportation dollars mandate that much of the equipment be made in the United States. The builders would have to negotiate with the federal government to allow equipment from Asia, where maglev trains are common.

And the builders of the train would literally have to write the rules for such a train, working the the Federal Transit Administration  every step of the way, an expensive, time-consuming process.

There’s also the issue of getting the trains or buses out of downtown Los Angeles. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority doesn’t own any rail lines through the area, so the builders would need to negotiate with the Union Pacific Railroad to work out an arrangement to use the company’s rights of way.

Downey has a big interest in getting a stop on the southwestern edge of town near the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center. The county has long had a plan to create a massive office complex on the hospital’s now-vacant southern campus.

Kodama said city officials are anxious to see what plan shakes out. Many of the cities along the line have unemployment rates of 15 percent, in part due to the loss of manufacturing jobs to other countries. A train would give residents a way to get to and from work while also providing an economic boost near the train stations, Kodama said.

“We want to go as fast as we can go,” Kodama said of the speed of whatever option is chosen. “But we also want to provide economic opportunities.”

How to read this chart: TSM = No mass transit system, BRT = bus line, Street Car = Trolley, LRT = Light rail. East bank and west bank are referencing how the train gets out of Los Angeles and hooks up with the Pacific Electric line. Click on the picture a few times to make the chart big and readable.

If you go:

The Bellflower meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Simms Park, 16614 South Clark Avenue.

The South Gate meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the South Gate Park Senior Center, 4855 Tweedy Avenue.

Click here for meeting information.



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