Westside residents need, and yet oppose, traffic relief

Some Cheviot Hills residents might have a nasty commute Thursday afternoon when they converge on downtown, where the board of the Exposition Construction Authority is scheduled to decide whether to green-light a planned light-rail line through their neighborhood. Too bad they don’t have a slick new rail route to whisk them across town -- and if they get their way, they never will.

New rail lines often attract community opposition, but Westsiders, perhaps because they tend to be able to afford attorneys or they have particularly strong neighborhood associations, are unusually successful at blocking projects. This is why the region still doesn’t have a subway connection even though it’s high on the list of the most traffic-congested communities in the United States. The proposed “Subway to the Sea” might have been built long ago, but Westside residents, fearing blight, crime and even underground explosions, successfully derailed a planned route down Wilshire Boulevard.

Transit planners are still struggling to get the Westside subway back on track, but meanwhile the first leg of the Expo Line light-rail route, from downtown to Culver City, is expected to be completed this summer.

The $1.5-billion second phase would run seven miles from the Phase 1 terminus at Venice and Robertson boulevards to the intersection of Colorado Avenue and 4th Street in Santa Monica. Most of the planned line lies along a set of abandoned railroad tracks, but neighbors fret that the train will clog traffic at intersections and afflict their streets with noise, vibrations, parking problems and safety issues. They’ll bring those concerns to the Expo board Thursday as it meets to discuss the project’s final environmental report.

Though we sympathize with the residents -- few people would want a train running past their backyards-- the impacts of the line would actually be minor, and its benefits would be great. Planners expect the Expo Line to carry about 64,000 riders a day by 2030, relieving traffic, boosting the economy and cutting pollution. The agency is building sound walls to reduce noise, grade separations to lessen traffic delays, and parking facilities. That’s not enough for residents, who are demanding unnecessary additional grade separations that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and make the project financially unfeasible. The board must politely turn them down.

Traffic congestion is among the most common complaints in West L.A., where residents can either stew on the freeway at rush hour or take the bus, which is usually far slower. With funding finally available to change that, there’s only one thing in the way of relief for Westsiders: themselves.