Political, business and labor leaders on Monday basked in the glow of an elaborate downtown ground-breaking ceremony for Los Angeles’ Metro Rail--a project supporters describe as the cornerstone of a new era of transportation in the county.
A beaming Mayor Tom Bradley told a crowd of about 1,200 guests that the start of construction is a “tribute to tenacity . . . in the face of what many said couldn’t be done and shouldn’t be done.”
Southern California Rapid Transit District President Jan Hall said the long fight to build a commuter rail system in Los Angeles is now “a dream come true; the dream becoming a reality.”
Aiming for 1992
If a last-minute legal challenge does not stall construction, RTD officials hope to have the initial $1.25-billion, all-subway segment of the system between Union Station and Wilshire Boulevard and Alvarado Street operating in mid-1992.
The cost of the transit line will climb to more than $3 billion if it is extended to the San Fernando Valley as planned--making it the most expensive single public works project in the state’s history.
By present planning, the first noticeable disruption from Metro Rail construction will come in mid-November when Hill Street is converted to one-way southbound between Temple and 12th streets.
At about the same time, workers are to tear up part of Hill Street between 4th and 5th streets to move building basements and utility vaults out of the way of a proposed subway station. Northbound traffic that would normally use Hill Street will be diverted to Broadway, one block east, and Main Street, three blocks east.
In January, major utility relocation work will restrict traffic flow on 7th Street between Figueroa and Hope streets and on Flower Street between Wilshire Boulevard and 8th Street. In February, Hill Street between 1st and Temple will be closed on and off while heavy equipment moves in to start excavating for the Civic Center station.
Monday’s 2 1/2-hour gala cost more than $90,000 and was complete with Chinese ceremonial dancers, the music of a Marine Corps band, the unveiling of a 70-foot-long subway car borrowed from the Bay Area Rapid Transit District and the dedication of a Metro Rail monument. In addition, mementos of the day and passes good for a free ride on the system were given to those in attendance.
About 300 paperweights costing about $12 each were distributed to invited guests, and 90 officials participating in the ground breaking went home with ceremonial shovels.
Some officials, such as county Supervisor Deane Dana, chairman of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, voiced concern about the cost of the ceremony. But RTD officials defended the expense. “It’s a historic day for the city,” said RTD board member Nicholas Patsaouras. “There’s no extravagance. We’re not serving champagne and caviar. . . . It’s comparable to the . . . meaning of the project to the city.”
Coming just one month before the election, the ground breaking had the flavor of a Bradley political rally, with speaker after speaker praising the mayor’s efforts over the years to secure federal funds.
Patsaouras at one point gushed that Metro Rail would be a “living monument” to Bradley’s leadership. Gov. George Deukmejian, whom Bradley is challenging, has supported state funding for the project and was invited to attend. But a spokesman said the governor was busy in Sacramento.
Variety of Types
Those gathered at the site of the proposed Civic Center subway station ranged from the public officials, contractors and community supporters who had received embossed invitations to passers-by and other folks who made their way downtown after reading about it in the newspaper.
“I’m from New York City,” Eddie Ackerman said. “If I would have been able to see the beginning of the New York subway system, I’d have been there.” The Brentwood resident, who said he hopes to ride the system one day, was toting his wide-eyed, 9-month-old son, Jason, on his back. “I thought he might like to have a little piece of history,” Ackerman said.
While no one mentioned it in the upbeat speeches on Monday, a legal threat still hangs over the project. A federal judge in Washington has placed a temporary hold on $225.6 million in federal funds, pending a review of Metro Rail’s environmental impact statement, which has been challenged by two Los Angeles groups opposed to the project. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green will hear arguments on whether a new environmental statement must be completed before the federal funds are released.
If RTD loses, major work on station construction and tunneling could be delayed at least several months, and possibly much longer.