Businesses Step Up Fight Against Regional Connector

Jim Thomas of Thomas Properties Group at Fifth and Flower streets. TPG is seeking to prevent construction of the Regional Connector from tearing up large portions of the street in front of City National Plaza.

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES — Two legal challenges that would have required the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to immediately halt work on the Regional Connector have been denied. 

Thomas Properties Group and the operator of the Westin Bonaventure hotel filed separate requests for preliminary injunctions that would have required the transit agency to halt the construction activities that have already begun for the $1.3 billion project. The Connector would link Metro’s rail system in such a way that riders could travel from Pasadena to Long Beach or East Los Angeles to Culver City without transferring. Currently, those trips require two transfers.

The two property owners have been jostling with Metro for months over the agency’s plan to dig a trench down the middle of Flower Street between Fourth and Seventh streets to install an underground tunnel. Thomas Properties and the hotel owner want the agency instead to bore the tunnel without the so-called cut and cover construction method.

“The trouble is that when you’re further north on Flower, we’re deep enough to do a tunnel but the closer we get to Seventh Street, the more we have to come up because the tunnel has to align with the current blue line, so the tunnel is not deep enough to use a boring machine,” said Metro CEO Art Leahy during a Downtown luncheon Thursday sponsored by the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum.

Thomas Properties and the Bonaventure are both challenging the Regional Connector environmental impact report. Both lawsuits will proceed despite the recent court decisions to allow work to continue.

In his Nov. 1 ruling on the Bonaventure’s request for an injunction, Goodman wrote that there is substantial evidence that the proposed stop-work order would kill Metro’s quest for federal matching funds on the project. The trial on the lawsuits, he wrote, is expected to conclude before construction on the Connector is slated to begin in earnest in fall 2013. So if the lawsuits prove to have merit, they would still block the cut-and-cover construction before it would begin anyway, Goodman reasoned.

Leahy said that the agency remains willing to negotiate with Thomas Properties and the Bonaventure. Metro is considering the use of a structure that would enclose the cut-and-cover work to further mitigate construction noise, which is the chief concern of the hotel, he said.

Current plans call for the Connector to open in 2019.