Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas wants the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to upgrade the planned Crenshaw/LAX transit corridor in South Los Angeles, moving more of the light-rail line underground and adding a station closer to Leimert Park Village. It's hard to make the financial case for the extra tunneling, but it makes sense to put a station closer to the heart of Leimert Park.
The Crenshaw/LAX project would run southwest from the Expo Line at Crenshaw Boulevard, meeting the Green Line near Los Angeles International Airport. The current plan calls for just one segment along Crenshaw to be at street level: from 48th Street south to 59th Street. Ridley-Thomas and his allies argue that running trains down the middle of the street would pose a safety threat to area schools and would be an impediment to economic development along the route. They want to add an estimated $219 million to the project to put the entire route along Crenshaw underground.
The same arguments are raised wherever a light-rail line is planned, and they don't hold water. There are far less expensive ways to protect pedestrians, and the MTA's record shows that it knows how to operate light-rail lines near schools safely. And although the line could make it harder for cars and pedestrians to cross that part of Crenshaw, it will also make businesses there more accessible to transit users in the rest of Los Angeles, helping them attract significantly more customers.
The potential boon to the local economy argues in favor of putting a station closer to Leimert Park Village, a historic center of African American life in Los Angeles. The MTA's plan calls for an underground station near the shopping mall and bus stops at Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, less than half a mile from the center of Leimert Park. Ridley-Thomas wants to build a second underground stop at Vernon Avenue, a little more than half a mile down Crenshaw, for about $120 million.
It's not common for the MTA to build stations that close together, but it's hardly unprecedented. A bigger hurdle is the project's cost. Agency engineers are struggling to bring down the cost of the current design to meet the project's $1.7-billion budget, and they may have to pare or delay numerous projects if the state continues to have trouble issuing bonds to fund its share of the region's transportation projects.
Ridley-Thomas argues that there are plenty of dollars available through Measure R, the sales-tax increment devoted to transportation projects, for both upgrades he's seeking. But if the MTA heads down that path, it should tread carefully. Shifting dollars from other corridors to Crenshaw/LAX would violate the spirit of the ballot measure and the MTA's master plan.
The least expensive approach would be to move the planned station at King closer to Vernon. Ridley-Thomas makes an effective case for an additional station, but he should support it with a credible funding plan that doesn't advance his project at the expense of other communities' needs.