Torrance Residents, Council Skeptical of Rail Proposal

Times Staff Writer

At a public hearing Tuesday, nearly a dozen Torrance residents criticized a proposal to build an elevated light-rail line down the middle of Hawthorne Boulevard, and some City Council members questioned whether the line would actually reduce traffic problems in the city.

About 40 residents gathered at City Hall before Tuesday night's council meeting to discuss a draft engineering report on the line, which would connect with another line that is being built as part of the Century Freeway.

The Hawthorne Boulevard light-rail line, which would cost an estimated $50 million a mile, is in the early planning stages and faces numerous funding and other obstacles.

Most of the residents who spoke Tuesday said they oppose the rail line because they fear that it would create noise, parking and traffic problems and may attract few riders.

One resident who cited the noise issue was Connie Sullivan, who said: "I think it is going to be a mess."

Noise Level of a Bus

Consultants said the trains would produce about 77 decibels of noise, about the same as a bus.

Although city officials said they hoped that the rail line, using sleek, modern electric trains, would reduce traffic problems on Hawthorne Boulevard, Walter Okitsu, a traffic engineer for the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, said the line may actually increase traffic on the busy thoroughfare.

Councilman George Nakano asked: "Would (the line) be cost-effective if it does not reduce traffic?"

Okitsu said the light-rail stations near major intersections and shopping centers would attract more traffic to Hawthorne Boulevard, but the line would ultimately reduce overall traffic on surrounding city streets.

He said he could not provide an exact number of automobile trips that would be generated by the line.

After hearing consultants summarize the draft report, Councilman Bill Applegate said: "I think I've heard more problems than I've heard solutions."

Harrison Scott, one of the few residents who spoke in favor of the project, disagreed. He said the rail line would cause some problems but would help control smog and ultimately raise property values for landowners near rail stations.

"Everybody wants rapid transit, but no one wants it in their back yard," he said.

Surveys indicate that the Hawthorne Boulevard line would initially attract about 20,000 riders a day, a number that planning officials with the commission say is relatively low and raises the issue of whether the line would be cost-effective.

Construction of the rail line would also require that large segments of Hawthorne Boulevard be redesigned, Okitsu said. Several intersections would have to be widened and numerous left-turn lanes eliminated, he said.

The $140,000 report discussed Tuesday was undertaken after South Bay political and business leaders urged the Transportation Commission to approve a full environmental study of the project. The report is viewed as a precursor to such a study.

Susan Rosales, manager of rail planning for the commission, said she will take note of the concerns raised by residents and city officials and report them to the commission, which will decide whether to proceed with an environmental study.

The line would probably compete against three other proposed rail lines for planning funds, she said.

Proposed Route

The northern end of the rail line would hook up at Compton Boulevard with a link to the Century Freeway line. It would snake southeast to Manhattan Beach Boulevard, then east along the boulevard's median and the southwest side of the San Diego Freeway.

The line would enter Hawthorne Boulevard at the freeway and run south for about six miles to Lomita Boulevard.

Council members expressed concern about parking problems if the line ends in Torrance, saying they would prefer that the line be extended to the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Consultants said steep grades would make it difficult to extend the line south to Rolling Hills Estates. However, they said the line may ultimately be extended east to Long Beach.

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