NPR Story
2:45 pm
Thu April 3, 2014

Los Angeles Subway Extension Clears Legal Hurdle

Originally published on Thu April 3, 2014 3:23 pm

After years of hurdles, an expansion of the Los Angeles Westside subway has survived a court challenge.

On Wednesday, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled that the transportation authority had taken all necessary environmental steps to move forward.

The expansion has received flak for its plans to tunnel the new system underneath Beverly Hills High School.

Laura Nelson, transportation reporter for the L.A. Times, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to talk about next steps for the transit plans.

Guest

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Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

For years in Los Angeles, one thing or another has held up plans for what they call the subway to the sea, a public transit extension that would allow passengers to go from downtown L.A. out to the West Side. One of the most heavily trafficked commuting corridors in the country just got some news last night. One of the most stubborn holdups was the idea of a tunnel running underneath Beverly Hills High School, and last night a judge granted permission to the county's transportation authority to move forward.

Joining us from the L.A. Times is transportation reporter Laura Nelson. Laura, tell us about this controversy. Why didn't people want a tunnel underneath the Beverly Hills High School?

LAURA NELSON: Hi, thank you for having me. They didn't want a tunnel under the high school. Officials in Beverly Hills didn't want that because they said it would disrupt possible future construction on the campus, and it would also disrupt campus activities. It would be hard for students to learn when there were trains going underneath, when the construction was underway.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Los Angeles has said that that is the safest route for the subway because there are nearby earthquake faults surrounding the school that would make building a station in another location impossible.

HOBSON: And was this the last big hurdle for the subway to the sea, or are there others?

NELSON: It depends on who you ask. This is one of the last big ones. There are still two lawsuits related to this issue pending in federal court against the USDOT and the FTA, and those have yet to be decided.

HOBSON: And how long of a process has this been? How long have they been trying to do this and had things get in the way, one thing after another?

NELSON: They've been trying to do it for longer than I've been alive.

(LAUGHTER)

NELSON: It started in the early 1980s, and it's been under discussion and under study for more than a generation. This is finally the point where it looks like it's actually moving forward and actually going to become a reality. Federal funding is expected for the first phase of the project in the next couple of months, to the tune of more than a billion dollars, and that's one of the last other big hurdles, is the money.

HOBSON: Well, tell us about the full cost of this thing. You say a billion dollars in federal funding, but what's the whole thing going to cost?

NELSON: Well, the whole thing is three different stages, and this is just the first step. So total, all nine miles, all nine miles of subway heavy rail, is going to cost more than five and a half billion dollars. The first phase, which is going to open in about a decade, will cost about two billion.

HOBSON: And we should say, you know, we're talking about a subway in L.A. A lot of people don't even think that there is any subway in L.A. at this moment. In fact there is. There are some lines that go to some places, it's certainly not extensive like New York or Chicago or Washington, D.C. or Boston. But it is expanding now. But how much of a difference would a line make that would be this east-west subway to the sea?

Tell us about, you know, how many people travel that route and what kind of a difference it would make to have a train.

NELSON: Sure. Well, the Wilshire corridor is one of the most heavily trafficked corridors in the United States. The exact number escapes me, but it's, you know, hundreds of thousands of people who are riding transit and in their cars every day on this route. So it's not expected that this will actually make much of a difference in terms of traffic congestion. It's not going to make it faster for you to get to work if you go down this street, but it will give people another option.

And that means a lot, especially when it's heavy rail, it's a subway, which travels faster and has a higher capacity than a lot of the 88 miles of light rail that L.A. has right now.

HOBSON: And how do people in L.A. feel about this? Do they want this to be built, or are they worried about the cost? Do they not think it's going to help them or affect them?

NELSON: For the most part, people, I believe, are interested in having it. I mean, it's getting to the point on the west side of L.A. where it's really hard to get anywhere during rush hour. It's just kind of gridlocked on even the smaller side streets. So if this is something that makes it easier for people to get to their jobs on the west side or traveling the reverse direction, people are in favor of it, I believe.

Those who don't think they'll use it, some people are ambivalent, some people are against it. It's a range of opinion.

HOBSON: Yeah, when was the last time you took the metro in L.A.?

NELSON: About three days ago.

(LAUGHTER)

HOBSON: OK, so you're a user.

NELSON: I try to, yeah. I try to use all modes. I do drive to work, but I try to take the bus and the train because I cover them.

HOBSON: All right, what about the opponents today? What are they saying? You say there's a couple of lawsuits still in the works.

NELSON: There are, and there are not - officials from Beverly Hills aren't really talking about this because they have pending lawsuits in federal court. But it's my understanding that in the next couple of weeks the city of Beverly Hills will decide whether they're going to appeal this decision or not.

HOBSON: All right, Laura Nelson, transportation reporter for the Los Angeles Times, talking with us about the news last night from a judge. It looks like a tunnel will be able to run under Beverly Hills High School, which would clear one of the hurdles that's been there for a while on this potential subway to the sea in Los Angeles. Laura, thanks so much for joining us.

NELSON: You're welcome.

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

And we have some other stories we're following. Thanks to an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, a surge of water is being released from the last dam on the Colorado River in Mexico. This water will recharge the Colorado River Delta, that's the enormous wetlands that's dried up under the pressure of 30 million people using water in the Southwest.

Also some of the most promising future March Madness competitors don't attend traditional high schools. Instead, they play for so-called prep schools with teams that don't participate in state associations. That means they can't play for state championships. So we'll take a look at what all that means later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.