The Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Thursday voted to move forward to develop a Westside light-rail line and a new Wilshire Boulevard high-speed bus corridor.
The 10-0 light-rail vote came after a spirited 4 1/2-hour public hearing, spent mostly debating the drawbacks and advantages of the proposed nine-mile light-rail line.
Residents of low-income communities near downtown Los Angeles concerned about noisy trains squared off with transit-hungry Westsiders over elements of the light-rail plan. More than 60 speakers argued and pleaded before the MTA board.
Cecilia Nunez, a member of group of low-income residents living near downtown, complained that "the trains will go right next to people's homes." She joined dozens of other residents in expressing fear about commuter trains running at street level through neighborhoods known for high-density housing, parks and schools.
Safety concerns led MTA board members Thursday to amend the plan and call for more study of safety measures, such as elevating the tracks where they cross busy streets such as Western, Vermont and La Brea avenues.
Transit officials are also considering building a tunnel to eliminate possible clashes between the trains and street traffic near Exposition Park and USC.
The proposed light-rail line would run from downtown Los Angeles along MTA-owned right of way that follows Exposition Boulevard past USC and into Culver City.
Under the plan approved Thursday, the rail line would stop at Robertson Boulevard because of funding problems and lack of consensus on a route.
But residents of Culver City, West Los Angeles and Santa Monica who favor extending the line to the ocean inundated the MTA board with thousands of petitions and letters, then packed the hearing room.
Not even estimates that the rail system may not be completed until 2014 seemed to diminish the enthusiasm of the rail advocates.
"Our next 'to do' is go out and get the money," said Darrell Clarke, a member of the organization Friends 4 Expo Transit, after the vote.
The rail advocates argued that gridlocked streets, delays and air pollution have become too big a problem to ignore.
Santa Monica City Councilwoman Pam O'Connor, in her first meeting as an MTA board member, co-wrote a motion directing transit agency officials to actively accelerate efforts to find state and federal matching dollars that would allow the line to go all the way to Santa Monica.
The mayors of Culver City, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica all are pushing the downtown-to-the-ocean plan.
The MTA board members made it clear that the $309-million Westside line will have to take its place behind other projects already moving forward, including construction of the Pasadena Blue Line and a ready-to-go light-rail line to the Eastside, as well as transit corridors along Wilshire Boulevard and in the San Fernando Valley.
Thursday's vote was one of the procedural steps necessary to secure funding for construction.
County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, chairwoman of the MTA board, represents neighborhoods around USC and Exposition Park. She said she would rather see buses instead of trains along the right of way.
She said federal money to build a busway would be much easier to find than money for another light-rail line.
The proposed 13-mile bus transit corridor on Wilshire Boulevard would be a beefed-up version of the rapid bus line already in service on Wilshire.
The plan approved Thursday calls for a completely overhauled busway from Union Station to Santa Monica. The initial phase of the Wilshire project would cost $212 million, mostly to pay for new bus stops and reconstruction of curbs and lanes along the busy street.
Wilshire district businesses complained that the busway would create intolerable traffic congestion during construction.