Next phase of the Wilshire subway receives $1.6 billion in federal funds

The announcement in Los Angeles on Wednesday of more than $1.6 billion in new funding for the Westside subway brings transportation officials one step closer to their ambitious goal of finishing the nine-mile line before the 2024 Olympic Games. 

More than $1.3 billion in grants and $300 million in loans will free the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to begin construction on the next phase of the long-awaited subway along one of Los Angeles County’s most congested corridors.

Construction on the first phase of the rail line, which will connect the current terminus in Koreatown with the Miracle Mile, is underway and scheduled to be completed by 2023.

The now-funded second leg, which also has $747 million in dedicated local tax revenue, will add stations in Beverly Hills and Century City by 2026.

The final phase, with stops in Westwood and West L.A., is slated to open by 2035.

But Metro officials have vowed to finish the subway by 2024, so that if Los Angeles is selected to host the summer Olympics that year, visitors could ride the train between venues at UCLA and downtown.

The International Olympic Committee is expected to choose among L.A., Paris and Budapest in September. 

Metro Chief Executive Phil Washington said he hoped tunneling on the Purple Line’s two final phases could take place concurrently.  That aggressive schedule could pose challenges for the agency, which often struggles to complete major construction projects on time

“You have my word,” Washington said during a press conference Wednesday in Century City. “If it doesn’t happen before 2024, you can fire me.”

The Purple Line is expected to provide a 25-minute ride between Westwood and downtown, and will carry nearly 50,000 passengers each day during its first full year of operation. The route will become a transportation backbone between the region’s two largest employment centers, officials said. 

“There are very few places in our country where the vision is big enough for the challenges we face,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. Where Los Angeles points the way, he said, “the rest of the country is going to follow.” 

The timing of the agreement, just before the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, has stoked concern that possible budget cuts in a Republican-led House and Senate could harm L.A.’s ambitious transit construction agenda.

The $307-million low-interest loan for the Purple Line’s second phase will be provided in a lump sum, but the nearly $1.2-billion grant from the Federal Transit Administration will be allocated in the annual budgets approved by Congress.

“It’s a signed contract,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said of the package of grants and loans announced Wednesday. “It’s bulletproof.”

Trump, who is from New York, has “a fluency about subways and about light rail, and an enthusiasm for what we are doing here,” Garcetti added.

Since Republicans regained control of the Senate in 2010, Metro has secured three packages of grants and low-interest loans for transit: $830 million for the Downtown Regional Connector subway, and a combined $3.7 billion for the first two phases of the Purple Line.

“It makes sense for us to be eternally vigilant and mindful of the changed environment in Washington,” said Raffi Hamparian, Metro’s director of federal affairs. But, he said, he’s confident that federal officials will make good on their promises.

A new influx of funding from the half-cent sales tax that county voters approved in November will also spur Metro’s construction agenda. That levy, Measure M, included nearly $1 billion in funding to accelerate construction on the Purple Line’s third phase.

laura.nelson@latimes.com

For more transportation news, follow @laura_nelson on Twitter.

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UPDATES:

7:30 p.m.: This article was further edited and reorganized.

This article was first published at 4:30 p.m.

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