After decades of debate, last week the MTA finally chose a route for the long awaited and much heralded “Subway-to-the-Sea.” One problem (well, there are many, many problems) is that the subway doesn’t go to the sea at all. It dead ends at the Veterans Hospital in Westwood.
The board voted unanimously to run the line on Wilshire, downtown to the hospital, with a stop somewhere in Century City. And that’s it.
The board did consider a route that would extend the subway all the way to Santa Monica, but ultimately decided it wasn’t “cost effective” enough. The same goes for a spur that would have taken a detour through West Hollywood.
The estimated cost of this project is $4.36 billion. But that’s in 2009 dollars. The price will surely go up depending on when construction starts, and how long it takes. Right now the MTA is looking at 2013 to break ground. When it’s all said and done, the subway could wind up costing upwards of $9 billion. The money comes from Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase we approved in 2008.
“We’ve discussed the subway as I understand it for 50 years,” said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is also a member of the MTA board. “A lot has been said that this project will never happen. And now the only question is when.”
Ah, when. That is the magic question. The subway will open in three phases — the first one to Fairfax in 2019, the second one to Century City in 2026, and finally in Westwood in 2036. That’s 25 years! However, if additional federal loans and other financing can be obtained, a plan called the 30/10 Initiative to speed the construction of Measure R projects, the entire subway would be built at once and would open to Westwood in 2022. Even still, a very, very long time for a subway that basically goes nowhere.
Aside from the subway not extending to its natural conclusion, the main issue with this line is that is is too limited. The only people who will take this subway are those who live within a few blocks of Wilshire. That is a very small segment of the Los Angeles population. No one is going to drive to take the subway. Aside from the fact there is no place to park all day, once people are in their car, they tend to drive the rest of the way.
Eliminating the West Hollywood spur was shortsighted. That would have been a crucial north-south connection to what is essentially an east-west route. That would have opened up ridership to hundreds of thousands of more people.
If this subway line is part of an extensive system that will eventually criss-cross the entire city, then fine, build it. But what are the odds of that? It’s going to take 25 years to build this one subway tunnel. How long would it take to build a system that would reach everybody? 100 years? By then we’ll all have jetpacks (although shouldn’t we have them already? It’s 2010, for crying out loud!).
I am not against public transportation. Every great city has it. Building subways is just the wrong way to go for Los Angeles. So what’s the right way? More buses? No, that will just clog up the streets more. Light rail? No, cars and trains shouldn’t share the road. I have a simple solution that can be built quickly and much cheaper than digging up our streets. A solution that could have an extensive system in place in our lifetime. I’ll provide the details in my next post, but it’s so simple, all you need is one word — one rail, actually — monorails.