MTA Rolls Out Plan to Double L.A.'s Rail Network

The Gold Line on the EastsideEXPAND
The Gold Line on the Eastside
Steve and Julie / via Flickr

It's finally here. Today, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority rolled out its spending plan for a new $120 billion tax on the November ballot, setting a course for the future of L.A.'s transit system.

As expected, the big item is a rail tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass, which is slated for completion by 2033. MTA officials plan to pay for the project by adding new toll Express Lanes on the 405 freeway.

The plan also calls for a new transit line, likely a light-rail line, that would run along Van Nuys Boulevard from the Orange Line up to Sylmar. Taken together, the projects are a big win for the San Fernando Valley, which was largely left out of Measure R, the last transit tax, in 2008.

"We are done being second-class citizens," says Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association. "Measure R was our money, and we got virtually nothing out of it."

Voters are being asked to raise the county sales tax by a half-cent for the next 40 years. Measure R would also be extended by 18 years, with both measures sunsetting in 2057. The measure must win two-thirds support to pass.

By the end of the 40-year period, the new plan would double the total amount of rail miles in the MTA system, creating several new north-south connectors that would significantly improve the network's connectivity.

"This is the most aggressive, expansive transportation plan in the country," said MTA CEO Phil Washington. "It's gonna open up the entire system."

The MTA provided maps, posted below, that lay out the plans for new highway and rail projects. Among other projects, the plan also calls for a new bus rapid transit or rail line down Vermont Avenue, an extension of the Green Line to Torrance, and a bus rapid transit line from North Hollywood to Pasadena. It would also complete the Wilshire subway by 2024, potentially in time for the Olympics.

The most ambitious part of the plan is the nine-mile tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass, connecting the San Fernando Valley to the Westside and allowing commuters to avoid the jammed 405 freeway. MTA planners project it would ultimately form part of a seamless line that would run all the way from Sylmar down to LAX.

"It's a high priority for the region," said L.A. Councilman Paul Krekorian, who serves on the MTA board. "Everybody would have to agree that having a real solution to the Sepulveda Pass impacts not just the Valley, not just the Westside, but it impacts all of Southern California."

The MTA has said it may try to attract a private partner to operate the toll lanes, which might help accelerate the project. The plan to open the line by 2033, however, does not depend on private-sector support.

The plan left several decisions unresolved. Among them, the MTA must choose whether to extend the Gold Line on the Eastside to Whittier or South El Monte. The agency also has not settled on whether to reroute the Green Line extension down Prairie Avenue to run past the new NFL stadium.

The MTA board is expected to consider the plan at its meeting next week, with the goal of making a final decision on the proposal to put before voters sometime this summer.

Some others have already signaled their displeasure with the spending plan. Supervisor Don Knabe, who represents the South Bay and the southeast cities, has said he is disappointed that highway projects in his district have not been given a higher priority.

And several local officials said they would push for a greater portion of the measure's funds to be returned to cities for smaller-scale transportation projects. The current plan calls for 16 percent of the money to go to cities, and sets aside another 2 percent for "active transportation," such as bike and pedestrian projects. That has already raised concerns.

"Cities really need to have local options on what they do with their streets," said Jacki Bacharach, executive director of the South Bay Cities Council of Governments, who is pushing to increase the "local return" to 25 percent of the measure.

Bacharach said the South Bay would be "violently opposed" to restrictions requiring them to spend certain amounts on bike and pedestrian projects.

Here are the maps:

And here is the draft plan:


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