Regional Connector Reaches Halfway Point

Metro staffers last week led a tour through the Little Tokyo Station that will be part of the agency’s Regional Connector. It is one of three Downtown stations being constructed as part of the $1.77 billion project. 

DTLA - One of most ambitious public transit undertakings in Los Angeles County reached a milestone last week.

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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it has hit the halfway point on the Regional Connector, a $1.77 billion project that will streamline cross-county rail travel by enabling people to ride from Santa Monica to East Los Angeles and Azusa to Long Beach without having to change trains. The work involves extensive tunneling in Downtown Los Angeles, along with the creation of three new stations.

Metro was set to celebrate the construction milestone with a “Halfway There” event on Saturday, May 19 (after Los Angeles Downtown News went to press) in Little Tokyo. The community is the site of extensive construction for the project, including a new station that will open at First Street and Central Avenue.

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Regional Connector Reaches Halfway Point

The Regional Connector will streamline cross-county travel, allowing seamless connections on Metro’s Blue, Expo and Gold lines.  

The project is on pace for completion in December 2021.

“This project is unique,” said Gary Baker, project manager for the Regional Connector. “Normally, you build and extend outward. For this one, it’s the opposite.”

The project has been in the works since 2007, and construction began in 2014. The work involves digging a pair of 1.9-mile tunnels that will connect Metro’s Blue, Expo and Gold lines in Downtown.

According to Metro’s estimates, the Regional Connector will increase ridership across the entire transportation system by 17,000 people per day, while saving commuters an average of 20-30 minutes by reducing the need to travel to other transit stations or to transfer onto different lines.

Metro’s 1,000-ton boring machine, named Angeli, completed the tunnels in one year. Angeli displaced approximately 400 feet of rock and rubble per day.

Once the first tunnel was completed, the machine had to be completely disassembled, then moved back to the starting point in Little Tokyo to begin the second tunnel.

Construction has not been without snags. The route passes through some of Los Angeles’ oldest streets.

Baker said that construction was halted at times as workers bumped up against almost 100-year-old water and electrical lines. Metro worked with various utility companies to devise a plan to either remove the components, or completely rebuild them if necessary.

“One of the lessons learned is that knowing where things are isn’t good enough,” Baker said. “We also need to know what condition things are in.”

Metro received $670 million for the project from a federal grant, with an additional $160 million provided through a loan with the caveat that the work be completed by May of 2021. According to Metro, the loan allows for deadline extensions for “unforeseen circumstances.” An additional $940 million comes from a combination of state bonds and funding from Measure R, which was passed by county voters in 2008 to support mass-transit projects.

The project was initially budgeted at $1.35 billion, but costs have steadily risen.

The underground Little Tokyo station will replace a street-level Gold Line station. Another station is being built at Second Street and Broadway, accessible to the Historic Core and the Civic Center. The final station is on Bunker Hill, at Second and Hope streets, and will provide easy access to The Broad, Walt Disney Concert Hall and other attractions on Grand Avenue.

On Monday, May 14, Metro officials showed off progress on the soon-to-be completed Little Tokyo Station as part of an event dubbed Infrastructure Week. Activities during the sixth annual happening, intended to highlight infrastructure deficiencies across the country, and the response to those problems, took place on the East and West Coast.

In Little Tokyo, approximately 20 local stakeholders were provided with boots, a hard hat, goggles and gloves, and were led down a winding, almost erector set-like flight of stairs, into a cavernous construction pit. Massive slabs of concrete and other building materials were stacked to one side, waiting to be fashioned into the eventual subterranean station.

Baker led groups into the 19 1/2-foot tall tunnels. The tunnels are constructed with massive, rectangular-shaped sections of concrete that appear as if they were snapped together like perfectly fitted puzzle pieces.

The train tracks have yet to be installed; the lack of tracks allowed the tour to freely traverse the tunnels.

Only a few workers were visible in the pit. A Metro official said that 250 people are currently working on the project in Downtown at any given time.

sean@downtownnews.com

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2018