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RTD May Alter Subway Route to Avoid Toxic Soil

Times Staff Writer

Faced with a pocket of toxic soil in the path of the Metro Rail subway near Union Station, RTD’s Board of Directors on Saturday tentatively endorsed a route and station change that will sidestep the problem and save up to $20 million in clean-up costs.

The tentative approval of a new Metro Rail realignment, which is subject to cost and environmental studies to be completed in the new few months, came only a few days after the RTD acknowledged publicly that hazardous deposits could increase costs and delay construction. A report on the full extent of the soil contamination will not be completed until next month, but officials said Saturday they know enough to be sure that it will be costly and time-consuming to remove or treat the tainted soil.

“There will be significant construction delay if we continue with our present alignment,” said Robert Murray, the RTD manager overseeing the building of the $1.25-billion first leg of the subway between Union Station and MacArthur Park.

The smelly, noxious wastes, apparently left behind by old coal gasification and synthetic rubber plants, are southeast of the station near where the subway would pass under the Santa Ana Freeway. They include high concentrations of napthalene, which can cause respiratory and neurological ailments in humans. They are concentrated along a stretch of proposed tunnel that would connect a car maintenance yard with the Union Station passenger terminal.

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Removing or treating the estimated 33,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil in the subway’s path would cost $10 million to $20 million, require approval of a variety of environmental agencies and possibly trigger lengthy delays, officials said.

But Murray told the board that the problem can be sidestepped by slightly shifting the proposed passenger terminal beneath Union Station and moving a section of tunnel 200 to 300 feet west.

The new route would cost several million dollars in land acquisition and engineering costs, as well as delay Union Station-area construction by several months, said Jim Crawley, the chief engineer on the project. But, noting that there would be some offsetting savings in reduced construction costs, he said the change would not delay the 1992 opening of the first Metro Rail segment.

In a separate action, the board voted to recommend that state lawmakers consolidate Los Angeles County’s major transit planning agencies, commuter rail construction programs and bus service into a single agency. That action is directly at odds with the position taken last week by the county Transportation Commission--the area’s other major transportation agency--which wants to remain independent of RTD.

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A rash of recent problems at the huge Southern California Rapid Transit District has prompted movement in Sacramento toward a major shake up of the agencies that govern public transit in the county. The RTD and the commission, which controls much of the transit district’s funding, have been positioning themselves for state legislative hearings that will begin next month.

RTD board members, who can only recommend changes to the state Legislature, could not agree on how or when Los Angeles’ major transportation agencies should be combined. Some expressed reservations about sudden changes, and board member Jay Price warned that any action that would abolish the RTD could jeopardize federal funding agreements for construction of Metro Rail.

“I can’t think of any better way to kill (the subway) than to change horses in the middle of the stream,” Price said.

Despite lengthy debate, the board reached no agreement on whether the governing board of a new transit agency should be appointed, as RTD board members are now, or elected by the public.

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