Metro Committee Approves Study of New Regional Connector Plan

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Yukio Kawaratani presents a statement to the Metro Planning and Programming Committee on Feb. 18. MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo

By GWEN MURANAKA
RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR
Little Tokyo community members expressed support for a fully underground Metro Regional Connector on Thursday at a meeting of Metro’s Planning and Programming Committee. The committee voted unanimously to approve the inclusion of the new conceptual alternative for study in the draft environmental impact statement/report (DEIS/R).

The Regional Connector, if built, would create an almost two-mile transit link between the Metro Gold and Metro Blue Line light rail transit systems through downtown Los Angeles. The new alternative, a refinement of the underground alternative, eliminates the at-grade crossing for trains at Alameda and First Streets and an underpass for car traffic.

Two build alternatives, a partially underground and an at-grade alternative, were both vigorously opposed by Little Tokyo community members.
The new alternative would also add an additional $200 to $300 million to the cost of the project, budgeted at $910 million in 2008 dollars. Doug Failing, Metro chief planner, told the committee that the new alternative addressed problems with earlier proposals for the connector but also raised new challenges.

“We’ve had several options on the downtown connector that I was very unhappy with because they were incompatible with the stated objectives of the connector, they were operationally deficient,” said Failing. “We have an option now which may work and may allow us to achieve our objectives. However it may add cost on the order of $200 million. Because we have a project budget that is embedded in Measure R, we would need to find an equal amount of savings in this project by perhaps deleting a station or other reductions in cost.”

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky questions Metro staff about cost increases on the Regional Connector.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a member of the committee, questioned Metro staff about the estimates which bring the additional cost to between $200 to $300 million.

“Did I hear you say $200 to $300 million? The number I had received from my staff was $200 million, we never heard the figure $300 million,” Yaroslavsky asked.

Dolores Roybal Saltarelli, project manager, explained the figures accounted for two variations for portals that would allow trains to surface and connect to both the Metro Eastside Extension and the Metro Gold Line to Pasadena. Variation 1 locates a portal on First Street between Alameda and Garey Streets. Little Tokyo Variation 2, the more expensive option, locates two narrower portals on First Street between Alameda and Vignes Streets. She also noted that Variation 2 is opposed by Nishi Hongwanji Temple because of its close proximity.

More than 20 members of Little Tokyo and downtown communities offered statements of support for the new alternative during the public comments section, including representatives from Councilmembers Jan Perry and Jose Huizar’s offices.

“We strongly request that this new completely underground alternative be included in the study,” said Chris Aihara, co-chair of the Little Tokyo Community Council transit committee. “We approve of the concept of transit, however we are not in favor of the build alternatives as proposed, we feel they would have a destructive impact on our community.”

Others speaking for the new underground alternative included, Dennis Allen, Los Angeles Streetcar Inc.; William Briones, Nishi Hongwanji Temple; Jonathan Kaji, Nikkei Center LLC; Mike Okamoto, Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California; Satoru Uyeda, Uyeda Department Store; Yukio Kawaratani, Little Tokyo Historical Society; Kristin Fukushima, Pacific Southwest District, Japanese American Citizens League; Russell Brown, president of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, and Adele Yellin, widow of noted downtown developer Ira Yellin.

The Metro board will take up the committee’s recommendation at its meeting next Thursday, Feb. 25 at 9:30 a.m. If approved by the Metro board, the new alternative would be studied in the DEIS/R that would be completed this summer. The Metro board will decide on a preferred alternative in the fall.

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