The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday gave the green light to additional construction on a controversial downtown transit tunnel despite criticism that there are too many unanswered questions about how, when and at what cost the structure can be put to use.
A lopsided council majority, describing the partially built Bunker Hill Transit Tunnel as “farsighted,” endorsed plans by the Community Redevelopment Agency to spend nearly $4 million in federal and local funds to finish the concrete-walled corridor. Officials hope someday to have shuttle cars on rails running through the tunnel.
“Somebody was farsighted and we should salute them,” said Council President Pat Russell.
Calls for Completion
Councilman David Cunningham, noting that public and private investments valued at $24.9 million have already been made in easements and construction for the tunnel, said, “We would be irresponsible if we didn’t complete it.”
The Bunker Hill tunnel, which would run between Hill and Flower streets, was supposed to serve the federally funded Downtown People Mover, which was killed by the Reagan Administration in 1981. When it shut down that project, the federal government agreed to pay $3 million toward the completion of the tunnel, parts of which have already been built into the basements of Bunker Hill offices.
Councilman Ernani Bernardi, a critic of the project, warned that the tunnel would become a “prime candidate for a Golden Fleece award"--a reference to Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire’s barbs for wasteful federal spending.
Councilman John Ferraro, who also cast a dissenting vote, criticized the lack of a financing plan for the shuttle that would run through the tunnel. “Where is that money going to come from?” Ferraro asked. “Don’t you think it would be wise to see how much it would cost?”
CRA Transportation Manager Frances Banerjee told the council that a shuttle could be developed for about $15 million, although she later said the estimate may not be reliable.
Banerjee also told the council that the CRA is preparing to build a commuter parking garage west of downtown. A shuttle through the tunnel could link the 1,500-car garage with Bunker Hill offices, as well as connect with light rail lines--though none is planned there--or the hoped-for Metro Rail subway, she said.
After reviewing the project, the head of the Urban Mass Transportation Administration said last week that no federal funds would be released for the project until a deadline is established to begin carrying passengers through the structure. Nonetheless, Acting CRA Administrator Donald Cosgrove said a construction contract for a $1-million section of the tunnel will probably be approved Monday. City officials contend that the federal government cannot add conditions to an existing agreement.