By Alfredo Santana
LOS ANGELES — Nearly 20 community members praised the efforts to link Southeast area cities with downtown Los Angeles through the West Santa Ana Branch light rail corridor during the first of three public hearings on the project.
Conducted by Metropolitan Transportation Authority community relations officer Mark Dierking and project manager Meghna Khanna, the two-hour virtual gathering Aug. 19 provided an overview of the project that aims to provide public transportation to a region of 1.4 million residents to and from downtown before the start of the 2028 Olympic games in Los Angeles.
The MTA has drawn four potential routes, starting at Union Station downtown. One would utilize the MTA’s Seventh Street station downtown, another would utilize the A (formerly Green) Line’s Slauson Avenue station and a third route would run along the Glenn Anderson (105) Freeway. All routes would end at the Pioneer Station in Artesia.
Costs associated with each alternative vary due to the length and scope of construction involved. Alternatives 1 projects underground tunnels to connect the line with Union Station, a hub that offers links to street buses other MTA light rail lines and Amtrak trains, with construction estimates running between $9.1 and $9.5 billion.
Alternatives 1 and 2 would stretch 19.3 miles, but the second alternatative would weave into downtown and have three additional stations, at a cost of $9.3 to $9.5 billion.
Alternative 3 would start at the A Line’s Slauson Avenue station, and run for14.8 miles at a projected price tag between $4.9 and $5.1 billion. Alternative 4 is the shortest, running only 6.6 miles from the 105 Freeway to the Pioneer Station in Artesia, with an estimated cost of $2.3 to $2.6 billion.
The MTA’s Board of Directors will choose the final alternative sometime this fall. Staff involved in planning already submitted to the board their preference for Alternative 3.
Residents and businesses whose homes and properties are targeted by MTA engineers to widen the path of the light rail’s two-way tracks did not participate in the hearing, but will do so on a special virtual meeting Aug. 26 at 10 a.m., to discuss eminent domain issues, the appraisal process and relocation issues.
“The input in the project involves all comments and concerns gathered during this period,” said Dierking, adding that residents, stakeholders and potential commuters have until Sept. 28 to submit letters to Khanna using the link at http://MetroWSAB.com.
South Gate resident Mario Dominguez Jr. said the MTA spent more than 20 years investing in light rail lines covering north Los Angeles, the Westside and communities dotting the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, and the WSAB line has been long overdue.
“Metro has really neglected us,” Dominguez said. “What we need is for you to connect us to downtown L.A. as quickly as you can.”
Resident Eric Denial commended the MTA for its work to connect Southeast communities and reminded the audience they will not be forgotten anymore.
“I’m happy that Metro is fully committed to our area,” Denial said. “In South Gate and Cerritos, the final goal is to get us to downtown L.A.” and to hubs where street buses, underground light rail lines and Metrolink depart and arrive.
Khanna said that the West Santa Ana Branch corridor project would require collaboration with the state Department of Transportation building bridges for railroads, in freeway removal and widening of shoulders to accommodate the line’s engineering needs, and to demolish and rebuild street bridges.
She said three structures on the 105 Freeway would be torn down and rebuilt. More engineering challenges include sections that cross the Los Angeles River or train tracks.
Khanna said the MTA has already started talks with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Union Pacific Railroad to address the need of infrastructure and safe train and traffic crossroads.
“Coordinating work with Union Pacific and the Army Corps of Engineers is way critical to this project to operate with safety,” Khanna said.
The project manager confirmed that the MTA would acquire parcels adjacent to the tracks in what used to be the historic Pacific Electric West Santa Ana Branch corridor, and the number would fluctuate between 17 to 38 full acquisitions, and 54 and 254 partial purchases.
If Alternative 3 is picked by the MTA board, the agency projects to acquire 25 full properties, and slice off 188 more along the route. Many of those properties are industrial or commercial lots or portions of residential backyards.
“We will be needing property for the full impact of this project. Alternatives 1 and 2 are the largest, and 3 and 4 may need less acquisitions,” Khanna said.
Property appraisals cannot begin until an alternative is selected. Khanna said it may take the MTA up to two years to start making land purchases.
Also, the West Santa Ana Branch rail line would have a mix of ground-level and elevated stations that include a minimum of nine for Alternative 3, 14 for Alternative 1, 12 for Alternative 2 and four for Alternative 4.
There would be five parking facilities from Cudahy to Artesia with combined room for more than 2,000 vehicles, in addition to two train and cart maintenance facilities located between Paramount and Bellflower.
If Alternative 3 is adopted, light rail stations would be built in Huntington Park, Bell, South Gate, Downey, Paramount, Bellflower and Artesia.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, MTA officials had said an extension to a Cerritos station might be possible after the initial project is finished.
Residents of Bellflower and Artesia had voiced concerns related to noise created during construction and train operation, and called for environmental mitigation such as sound walls and technology that would make wheel friction with metal tracks less bothersome.
In addition, MTA officials got some pushback from homeowners fearful that homeless people from downtown would hop aboard the trains and exit in their neighborhoods in search for cleaner areas to live.
Last week’s participants called for increased security to patrol stations and suggested the success of the project hinges on making the bulk of the region’s car drivers switch to this transportation alternative and use it for daily commutes.