MID-WILSHIRE — The so-called “subway to the sea” could still make it to the shore, but funding has yet to be identified for any part of the purple line extension project beyond the current planned Westwood/VA Hospital stop.
A groundbreaking ceremony on November 7 officially kicked-off phase one of the three-section purple line plan. Construction for that phase is scheduled to run through 2023, with the new nine miles taking until 2035 to be entirely operational.
Santa Monica Mayor Pam O’Connor, who helped shovel away the ceremonial dirt earlier this month, said there is currently no known funding to bring the line down Wilshire to Santa Monica, but she hopes it will happen someday.
“That’s down the road a bit,” she said. “But we’ve got to keep pushing for it.”
“In the future, we’d have to have some sort of other funding mechanism to get to Santa Monica,” agreed Metro communications manager Dave Sotero.
The total budget for the current extension is $6.3 billion, with funding from local and federal funds and loans including Measure R, which L.A. county voters passed in 2008. The project has a $1.25 billion federal grant for phase one, and Metro is still seeking more federal funding to accelerate the construction of later phases.
O’Connor, who also serves on the Metro board of directors, said because the ridership in Santa Monica is less dense, if the purple line had planned to reach the area at first, it would have pulled the ridership numbers down and the line would have been less competitive in the federal funding process.
“That’s why it was especially important for Expo light rail to get built, so we have a rail option going into Santa Monica,” she said.
Neighborhood opposition, O’Connor said, is part of why it took so long to get any line out to the Westside. As communities protested the path, the gold line to Pasadena ended up getting built first.
The environmental review of the purple line expansion looked at alternatives that would have gotten the line to Santa Monica, Sotero said. They reviewed many options, including stops in West Hollywood, but in the end, subway construction is expensive and they had to pick the “right transit for the right corridor,” he said.
“Wilshire is hands-down the most important corridor we want to put a high-capacity subway underneath,” he said.
Even though Southern California was once home to more than 1,000 miles of track, by 1963 all of the privately owned rail lines had been replaced by bus service.
In the 1980s, the county purchased the old railroad right-of-way, O’Connor said. It would have been harder to piece together something linear for the Expo line without it, she said.
Construction first began on the Metro rail system in 1985, using revenue from voter-approved sales tax increases. O’Connor said previously, the county had prohibited using sales tax for subway construction, plus there was a prohibition on tunneling.
The Blue line opened in July 1990, 27 years following the final streetcar line closure.
“If you looked at a map of the region from 1990 you would not see a single rail line on it,” O’Connor said. “All of this has happed in the past 25 years, and we’re building more.”
Prior to 2008, Metro didn’t have any funding identified to build a subway extension, and just in the last few years they’re now ready to start construction, Sotero said.
“Getting in and out of the Westside was a goal for such a long time,” he said. “This project is going to do a lot of good. It’s getting people transportation options in the busiest urban corridor.”
Major construction for the purple line extension is set to begin next year. Metro is working on utility relocation right now.
O’Connor said the Metro projects currently account for the largest public works project in the country. She is excited about how technology has given ridership a boost, too.
“It adds to people’s confidence,” she said. “We have this convergence of the vision and implementation of building a transit network and new innovation and technology. Who knows what the future will bring.”
For more information on the purple line extension, visit www.metro.net/projects/westside or call (213) 922-6934.