Los Angeles, CA – Influential community groups, stakeholders and rail safety advocates are cautiously optimistic about news that MTA has secured a $546-million loan from the federal government to accelerate the construction of the $1.6 billion Crenshaw-LAX light rail line. Concerns are centered on the one-mile segment of the line on Crenshaw Blvd. currently planned at street-level across major intersections and near Crenshaw H.S. and View Park Prep, and the absence of a Leimert Park Village station.
“We welcome the additional rail transit investment along Crenshaw Blvd. But MTA should not repeat the mistakes of the Expo Line on the Crenshaw Line,” said Damien Goodmon, Coordinator of the Citizens’ Campaign to Fix the Expo Rail Line (“Fix Expo”).
Fix Expo has generated significant discussion, legal action and heat on local politicians and MTA for building the Downtown L.A. to Culver City Expo Phase 1 Light Rail project at street-level through South L.A. despite the safety warnings of international rail safety experts. The group has expanded its organizing efforts along the Crenshaw Corridor communities.
On the Crenshaw Line, the Fix Expo/Crenshaw Line Subway Coalition has successfully convinced MTA to underground 2 of the 3 miles of the Crenshaw Blvd. portion of the Crenshaw-LAX Line, but controversy remains regarding the remaining one-mile between 48th Street and 59th Street, known as the Park Mesa Height segment. Currently MTA wants to build the train at street-level citing cost concerns.
SEPARATE AND UNEQUAL POLICIES
“To date the Mayor and other elected officials have focused their efforts primarily on the Wilshire Subway-to-the-Sea, which has ballooned in cost from a projected $4 billion to $9 billion without a blink of an eye,” said Goodmon. “And yet at the same time Mayor Villaraigosa has refused to commit to securing additional resources for basic safety needs in the South LA community on the Expo Line by Dorsey H.S., or an additional dollars to keep the Park Mesa Heights section of the Crenshaw Line underground. We need not just a loan to accelerate the Crenshaw, but additional resources to address safety, community impact and transit operation issues, and we will continue organizing for that effort,” said Goodmon.
“MTA always seems to cut corners in our backyard, while having an open checkbook on Wilshire,” said Opal Young, President of the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Homeowners Coalition. “Just do the math: $1.6 billion for Crenshaw vs. $9 billion for Wilshire.”
“The Mayor needs to explain why there are separate policies in this city as far as rail safety and community preservation is concerned – one for the Wilshire communities and another one for everywhere else,” said Juliet Benton, who lives near 52nd Street/Crenshaw across from Crenshaw H.S. “We have affected schools, businesses and traffic too on Crenshaw. And addressing our concerns is only a fraction of the cost of Wilshire.”
STREET-LEVEL RAIL IS UNSAFE
“Street-level rail is simply not safe, especially down the middle of a major boulevard like Crenshaw,” said Lester Hollins, a former MTA light rail operator. The MTA’s Blue Line, which operates between Downtown L.A. and Downtown Long Beach primarily at street-level through the majority-minority communities of South L.A., Watts, Compton, and Willowbrook is America’s deadliest light rail line at over 904 accidents and 102 deaths in 20 years of operation. The next deadliest line in the country has 1/3rd the number of fatalities in the same period of time. Hollins continued, “The most accident-prone section of MTA’s Blue Line is in the segment designed exactly like what is proposed on the Crenshaw Line in Park Mesa Heights, where the train operates at high speeds in the median of the street right next to vehicular traffic. If the train is not put underground there, preventable deaths will occur. The trains are too big, the traffic is too heavy, and the margin for error is too little.”
LEIMERT PARK VILLAGE STATION
Also at issue with community stakeholders is the Leimert Park Village station. Currently MTA considers a stop at the Crenshaw/Vernon intersection optional, because funding for the station has yet to be identified.
“The businesses of Leimert Park Village, current and future, need a station at Vernon to allow all Crenshaw Line riders to easily access our village which is an international tourist destination and a cultural gem to Southern California,” said Jackie Ryan, President of the Leimert Park Merchants Association. “Building a Crenshaw-LAX Line that does not have a stop at Leimert Park Village is like painting the Mona Lisa without a face.”