New Metro Rail Route Calls for Elevated Lines

Times Staff Writer

Elevated trains would run on Sunset Boulevard through the heart of Hollywood and possibly on Wilshire Boulevard into the Fairfax District under a new $3.8-billion Metro Rail route adopted Friday by the Southern California Rapid Transit District board.

The 8-1 vote, after more than a year of infighting among business leaders, community groups and local elected officials, was a shaky compromise that puts the RTD on a collision course with Hollywood broadcasters, a vocal network of Wilshire Corridor homeowner groups and Westside Rep. Henry A. Waxman.

The new plan, revised in response to a congressional ban on tunneling through Westside areas of underground methane gas, is a two-pronged extension of the downtown subway now being built.

The two branches would serve the Westside and the San Fernando Valley. The western branch would include a subway, and possibly some elevated sections, on Wilshire Boulevard from MacArthur Park to Fairfax Avenue. The northern branch would include elevated lines in the centers of portions of Vermont Avenue and Sunset Boulevard, and a subway from Hollywood to the San Fernando Valley.

'Balance' Noted

"This is a balance (that) serves the interests of both sections of the city," said RTD board member Marv Holen, who headed the committee that drafted the final plan after several alternatives were considered and rejected.

The switch from an all-subway route to large sections of elevated lines was prompted by environmental problems, political opposition and cost concerns. An elevated line would be cheaper and quicker to build and avoid the need to tunnel through potentially risky pockets of methane gas that have been identified on the Westside.

But homeowners and businesses closest to the proposed elevated routes have protested vigorously, expressing fears of the noise, vibrations and appearance of the trains--often invoking bleak images of the "el" trains in New York or Chicago.

In Hollywood, there had been little opposition, in part because the exact proposed route had remained a question mark until recently. The RTD had proposed an elevated route on Hollywood Boulevard, but switched to Sunset at the urging of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, city planners and Hollywood Councilman Michael Woo. The change "provides for development potential" along Sunset, said RTD's chief planner, Gary Spivak. A spokesman for Woo said Sunset is also wider and could better handle the elevated line.

But several radio and television broadcasters along Sunset Boulevard told the RTD board that passing trains could severely disturb their sensitive studio equipment. "We have serious sound and vibration concerns," said Brenda Young, a spokeswoman for television station KTLA. "Recording equipment can pick up noise and vibrations the human ear does not pick up. . . ."

The broadcasters, including television station KTTV and radio stations KMPC and KUTE, said they learned Metro Rail would pass their studios only in recent days and argued unsuccessfully for a delay in the decision. RTD officials said additional studies will be conducted on noise and vibration impact now that the route has been selected.

Key Feature

A key feature of the plan--and one the most controversial--is a decision to keep the commuter line on Wilshire Boulevard. Serving the Wilshire District would provide most of Metro Rail's ridership and has been the prime justification for the system.

But the desire of local transit officials and the city's political leadership to keep the rail line on one of the nation's most heavily traveled streets has become increasingly difficult. Homeowner and business groups are opposed to an elevated train and Waxman, an influential environmentalist whose district includes the Wilshire area, authored a federal ban on tunneling in the area.

Friday's decision stated RTD's intent to build on Wilshire, but deferred until December, 1988, a decision on whether to build below or above ground in the methane gas area between Western and Fairfax avenues. Holen said the delay in the decisions will allow time for more study and give Waxman and his constituents time to resolve the dispute "through the democratic process."

But in Washington, Waxman said an elevated line is "unacceptable" and a subway "is illegal."

And Diane Plotkin, a vice president of the Westside Civic Federation, an alliance of homeowner and community groups, said her group is "totally opposed" to both elevated and subway routes on Wilshire through the Fairfax area.

Rejects Council Suggestion

The RTD board did not, as suggested by the City Council, homeowner groups and leaders of the black community in the Southwest area of the city, include for further study an alternative westbound route that would veer south off Wilshire to Pico and San Vicente boulevards.

Board member Nate Holden, the only member to oppose the new route, warned his colleagues that they were risking a major battle with Waxman and homeowners, who would ultimately prevail. "The best decision you can make is to take San Vicente and Pico, and we should make that decision today," he said.

The RTD board also deferred a decision on what would be included in the second segment of construction, which is expected to cost more than $1 billion. Federal funds have been promised for an extension of the system, but a complete funding package of state and local contributions has not been developed.

The new route, if fully built, would be about 20 miles, slightly longer than the now-abandoned route adopted in the early 1980s. It will not be completed until nearly the year 2000 and will cost about $500 million more than estimates for the old system.

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