DOWNTOWN L.A. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved the exploration of two possible routes for the proposed subway to Santa Monica on Thursday, allowing the project to move forward into its next phase.

Decision makers winnowed down the number of proposed routes from about 17 to two, one running down Wilshire Boulevard and the other connected to the Metro Red Line through Hollywood via Santa Monica Boulevard.

The board decision authorizes engineers to conduct an additional study to assess the environmental impacts and engineering needs of the projects.

“What was approved … was a broad, general level,” said Jody Litvak, the program lead for the Westside. “For instance, we may say that there should be a station in Westwood. Now comes the hard work of where in Westwood, what are the benefits and how to connect it to the system.”

After this process is complete, the next step is to choose a locally preferred alternative, meaning that one of the two routes will be selected based on community popularity and feasibility.

“We use a lot of community input,” said agency spokesman Dave Sotero. “During the process, the project team goes into the community with poster boards to show how and where the alignments [of the subway] would fit.”

According to Pam O’Connor, a Santa Monica City Councilmember and Metro board member representing the Westside and South Bay cities, the Wilshire route will probably precede the Santa Monica Boulevard route, though it is likely that both will eventually be built.

Though the city is excited by the proposed subway, O’Connor cautions that the project won’t be finished for a long time.

“We don’t want to intensify the land use on Wilshire Boulevard and we don’t have the density that is conducive to a subway,” O’Connor said. “It probably will get to the sea, but when push comes to shove, it is a low priority and a long way out.”

The problem, O’Connor said, is that subways have to be built segment by segment. The proposed route now ends at Western Avenue and will be built from east to west, meaning that any subway to Santa Monica would be a long time coming and subject to vagaries of funding.

“That means it’s a decade or more out even if it’s on the fast track. That means you won’t be hopping on a subway any time soon,” O’Connor said.

It is more important to complete the Expo Light Rail line, O’Connor said, which is more conducive to Santa Monica’s needs.

“The Expo Light Rail line is further along, we’ll get that in the next few years,” she said. “We do have the ridership for a light rail line.”

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