County Approves L.A.-Long Beach Light Rail System

Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles-to-Long Beach light rail line that would cost nearly $700 million and would mark the region's return to mass rail transit after almost a quarter of a century was unanimously approved Wednesday by the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission.

The 11-member commission, basking in the glare of television lights and amid self-congratulations, gave its final blessing to build the 21-mile system that will rely on much of the old right of way used by the electric "Red Car" trolleys before they stopped service in 1961.

But even as plans were made to begin construction later this year, a recalcitrant City Council in Compton--through which the light rail line would run--remained a potential roadblock that could torpedo the project.

'Ready to Go'

"We've authorized this project. It will be ready to go anytime. It's ready to go," said Jacki Bacharach, commission chairwoman.

"It's in Compton's hands now," she said. "Should we receive affirmation from Compton in the next two weeks, we will proceed immediately to . . . sign agreements for rights of way and for the yards and shops, and we will actually be in the ground in October."

The commission's action is contingent on Compton's approving a memorandum of understanding with the commission on a planned route through the community. City officials there voted Tuesday night to back the project only if the commission agrees to reroute the project so it would go through Compton's business district and obscure the tracks by sinking them below ground level there.

But the commission has refused to do that because of the $130 million it would add to the project's cost. Commissioners agreed Wednesday to give Compton until April 9 to reach an agreement with the commission or face the possibility that funds earmarked for the Los Angeles-Long Beach project will go elsewhere.

Because pulling away the funds would scuttle the entire project, there is pressure on Compton officials to approve the route. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who appeared at the commission meeting, said they have tried to reach Compton City Council members, who voted 3 to 2 to seek the sunken route.

"I don't want one elected official to block an entire project," said Hahn, " . . . but I think we can reach an agreement."

Howard Caldwell, assistant Compton city manager, said city officials are well aware of the pressures but added that "the concern here is very real about the quality of life" and how it would be affected by added freight and rail traffic.

Councils' Support

The commission has already won backing from the Los Angeles City Council for an underground route through downtown and from the Long Beach City Council for a Long Beach Boulevard route.

The Los Angeles-Long Beach line is considered the first link in a 150-mile rail network funded through a half-cent countywide sales tax approved by voters in 1980.

The project is estimated to cost $690 million by the time it is ready to open in October, 1989.

When completed, the line will include 22 stops and carry about 54,000 riders a day by the year 2000, according to staff estimates. The cars will ride on dual tracks and will be powered by overhead electrical wire.

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