LA Metro’s ambitious plan to connect San Fernando Valley with the Westside via rail comes down to a choice between an overhead monorail or underground subway, and in a new report based on 3,122 comments from residents, homeowner groups, environmentalists, elected officials and others shows 93 % want tunneling. Just 7% want a monorail.
In a virtual community meeting on Thursday, June 16, Metro officials reported on the two modes, and on various routes and stations outlined in six project alternatives.
The “scoping report” contains a broad brush tally of public views and gathered priorities between Nov. 30, 2021 and until Feb. 11, on the massive project that would move people between the two, heavily populated sections of Los Angeles without a car. Over 400,000 people travel the 405 and its nearby surface streets each weekday; car trips make up 98% of passengers.
In the minority, homeowner groups from Sherman Oaks and Bel Air oppose heavy rail, for fear of underground tunnels collapsing in earthquakes or fires, said Bob Anderson, chair of the Sherman Oaks group in an interview on Monday, June 20, 2022.
About the only certainties for this project are the two end points: the north end of the Sepulveda Pass Transit Project would be at the Metrolink/Amtrak station at Van Nuys Boulevard and Saticoy Street, while the south end connects to the Metro E (formerly Exposition) ) light-rail line, which runs from Santa Monica to Downtown LA. How to get there different between an aerial, Disneyesque monorail or an underground subway similar to those in other parts of Los Angeles. Or a mixture of the two.
From the scoping report, those who favor tunneling under the Santa Monica Mountains and elsewhere outnumbered the over-the-mountains monorail folks. Commenters said heavy-rail provides better transfer options to existing and future Metro rail lines, and faster travel times. And they cited Metro’s experience in building subways as a plus, according to the report.
The most common comment in the survey was from the 35% who said they support an on-campus UCLA station. Heavy rail options would make room for a station at UCLA. Otherwise, a monorail plan calls for reaching the campus via an automated people mover. City Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Paul Krekorian, Nithya Raman and Monica Rodriquez said they favored a UCLA station.
UCLA and the Los Angeles Community College District both said the project must include a direct stop on the UCLA campus and one in Westwood Village, with a connection to the Metro D (Purple) Line that is currently being extended west.
LA Metro is considering six configurations, with Alternatives 1-3 mostly monorail, and Alternatives 3-6 heavy rail. They are:
Alternative 1: (15.3 miles). Monorail with aerial alignment on 405 corridor and electric bus connection to UCLA
Alternative 2: (15.8 miles). Monorail with aerial alignment on 405 corridor and aerial automated people mover connection to UCLA
Alternative 3: (16.2 miles). Monorail with aerial alignment on 405 corridor and underground alignment between Getty Center and Wilshire Boulevard. This would allow for an underground station at UCLA.
Alternative 4: (14 miles). Heavy rail with underground alignment south of Ventura Boulevard and aerial alignment generally along Sepulveda Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley, with four aerial stations
Alternative 5: (14 miles). Heavy rail with underground alignment including along Sepulveda Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley
Alternative 6: (12.6 miles). Heavy rail with underground alignment including along Van Nuys Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley and a southern terminus station on Bundy Drive.
The reason so many oppose the monorail concept is that monorails require imposing overhead stations along the 405, causing negative visual impacts. And UCLA opposite Alternative 2 because a people mover “assumes use of UCLA property.”
Metro reports that a monorail would have six-car trains, each car with a capacity of 76-79 passengers, with peak-hour stops every 2 minutes. Heavy-rail options are broken into two kinds: an automated (driverless) train with each car carrying 170 passengers and a 2 1/2 minute frequency at stops. For heavy-rail transit with a driver, each car would have a capacity of 133 passengers with peak frequency of 4 minutes.
In agreements signed with LA Metro, the monorail, planned by LA SkyRail Express, with an aerial alignment within the 405 Freeway median and most stations on the freeway shoulder, was projected to cost $6.1 billion. Travelers would get from San Fernando Valley to the Westside in 24 minutes.
Also, Sepulveda Transit Corridor Partners, including Bechtel, Meridiam Infrastructure and American Triple I Partners, put the cost of their project at $10.8 billion. It would move passengers from the Valley to the Westside in 20 minutes.
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Bob Anderson of the Sherman Oaks group, said in an interview on Monday, June 20, 2022, “We are working with Bel Air Association because we have common ground. They don’t want subways under their hills and we don’t want subways under our hills.”
Anderson said the Sherman Oaks group prefers Alternative 2, a monorail in the middle of the 405 and along certain thoroughfares in the San Fernando Valley, with an aerial automated people mover connection to UCLA from the D (Purple Line) stop. He said noise from monorail cars with rubber tires “should be minimal.”
The CHP stated the agency is against monorail stations along the 405 Freeway and opposes Alternatives 1, 2, and 3 because the proposed stations “would create visual hazards, reduce traffic flow” and would “aggravate the existing challenging traffic conditions along the corridor.”
Anderson said since LA Metro has a project budget of about $7.5 billion, it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars to build an underground subway that he estimates, using inflation factors from engineering companies, to be closer to $16 billion.
When asked about explaining the costs of each alternative, Metro’s Peter Carter, project manager, declined to answer attendees’ questions, saying it was premature. He would not verify the project applicants’ cost estimates.
More intensive examinations of the alternatives will begin as Metro starts an environmental impact study. “We will be looking at costs,” he said, as well as the cost of buying rights-of-way, operating the line, ridership projections, track alignments, station locations and travel times for each alternative.
A draft EIR could take two years. Once completed, the public will have 45 days to comment. LA Metro is expected to give its next public update in the fall, he said. judgment, the LA Metro Board will determine the preferred route, mode and station alignments. Completion is estimated between 2032-2035.
Anderson in Sherman Oaks fears that should LA Metro or one of its partners begin building an all-underground subway, Metro would start out undergrounding but then run out of money and convert to at-grade or aerial guideways in the San Fernando Valley, something his group opposes.
“We don’t want one route under Bel Air as a subway, then above-ground in the Valley,” he said.
He said Metro needs to meet with homeowner groups and explain the cost-benefit analysis. Without such figures, the public can’t make informed comments.
Denny Zane, executive director of Move LA, a transit advocacy group, said more information is needed on the cost of the alternatives. “It appears that excluding a strict discussion of cost comparisons of the alternatives may unfairly prejudice the discussion in favor of options that are far more expensive but may not provide additional benefits commensurate with the additional costs,” wrote Zane in an emailed response.
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