$277 Million OKd by City Panel for Metro Rail

Times Staff Writer

Despite harsh words between two of its three members, the Los Angeles City Council’s Transportation Committee unanimously agreed Thursday that the city should commit $277 million as its share in the construction of the next phase of the Metro Rail Project.

The second phase of the project--now embroiled in a controversy over lagging construction schedules and possible cost overruns--will extend two branch lines from the station being built at Alvarado Street and Wilshire Boulevard. One will run westward to Western Avenue; the other will go north toward Hollywood. The total projected cost is $1.4 billion.

The city’s share of this phase--$96 million in capital costs and a commitment to pay up to $181 million in cost overruns--is 6% of the total cost, officials said. The Southern California Rapid Transit District (RTD) is building the first 4.4 miles of the Red Line that will run downtown, from Union Station to the Alvarado/Wilshire Station.


Fund Supervisor

The complex funding agreement between the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission and the city will go before the full City Council for consideration on Wednesday. The Transportation Commission supervises funding for the $3.4-billion subway project.

The Thursday vote came at the end of a special hearing called by Transportation Committee Chairman Nate Holden to learn more about costs on the Metro Rail project. Earlier, RTD officials reported that they had spent half of the $1.25 billion earmarked for this first phase, but had completed only a third of the project. Three separate audits are now under way to determine if there have been cost overruns.

At Thursday’s meeting, RTD officials reported that the project’s contingency fund had shrunk from $131 million to under $22 million. The fund was set aside for unforeseen expenses.

Unexpected Problems

RTD General Manager Alan Pegg explained that costs have risen because contractors working on the project ran into unexpected problems. Parts of the line had to be rerouted after a discovery of methane gas pockets made the original routes too dangerous, Pegg said.

Holden tried to keep the discussion focused on the cost overrun issue, but Councilman Marvin Braude insisted that the funding agreement between the city and the Transportation Commission be put to an immediate vote.

“You be careful, the only subject here today is cost overruns,” Holden warned. Braude snapped back: “It’s on the agenda and I’ve made a motion.”

When Councilman Michael Woo sided with Braude, Holden made it clear that he favored Metro Rail, but wanted more accountability. Then Holden joined in the majority.