Momentum Grows for Art District Rail Stations

Metro is considering building one or two new rail stations at existing tracks along the eastern edge of the Arts District. The stop or stops would serve the growing residential base in the community.

DTLA - The eastern edge of the Arts District is lined with veins of train tracks that have long carried big hauls across Los Angeles. Now, with an influx of new housing and retail, plus a handful of block-sized mega-projects in the works, momentum is building to have trains carry people, too.

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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is examining extending the Red or Purple Line into the Arts District. This includes exploring the creation of new stations at First, Third and or Sixth streets.

Currently, the closest rail line stop is a Gold Line station at First and Alameda streets in Little Tokyo. Community members say the area is also underserved by bus lines.

Former City Councilman Tom LaBonge proposed the idea of a rail spur from Union Station into the Arts District back in 2010. It went nowhere, but the recent surge of activity has brought the issue to light.

The current review was initiated by a motion from Mayor Eric Garcetti, County Supervisor Hilda Solis and City Councilman Mike Bonin after a December community meeting in which Arts District residents and business owners pressured Metro to consider new service there.

One factor at play is the coming construction of a “turnback” facility at Metro’s Division 20 rail yard, which stretches along the Arts District eastern border from First to Sixth streets. Slated to be built adjacent to Third Street, the turnback would allow Red and Purple Line cars to reverse course and resume service more quickly than they can today at Union Station.

[Why Arts District Residents Are Upset With Metro]

Arts District stakeholders worry the turnback might prevent the extension of rail service and the construction of new stations. The Metro motion dictates that any Division 20 construction should not preclude an Arts District rail spur.

Metro staff is expected to deliver its findings next month. The issues to be determined include funding and scheduling.

The passage of the half-cent sales tax Measure M by L.A. County voters in November accelerated the construction of the Purple Line Extension, which requires upgrades (including the turnback) at Division 20 to operate correctly when it debuts in 2024.

Arts District service, meanwhile, has not received Measure M consideration. The motion asks Metro CEO Phil Washington to begin working with the city to “establish innovative funding mechanisms dedicated to offset the costs of new stations in the Arts District.”

“The Arts District presents some intriguing possibilities to marry new urban development with Metro Rail,” Metro said in a statement to Los Angeles Downtown News. “Our first priority must be to support the Purple Line Extension needs at Division 20. But we’re also going to be doing a holistic study to see whether our future plans can also include the possibility of new station access in that area.”

Community stakeholders are managing their expectations, said Laura Velkei, vice president of the Historic Cultural Neighborhood Council and a familiar presence in Arts District community groups. Building two or three stops is financially unrealistic, but an early consensus suggests strong support for a Sixth Street station, she said.

“We’re putting in a $550 million capital improvement with a bridge and a park that serves Boyle Heights and the Arts District. It will be a destination point,” Velkei said, referring to the Sixth Street Viaduct replacement slated to open in 2020. “While it would be amazing to have a stop at Third Street, we would rather focus our attention on Sixth Street so we’re not forcing Metro to build two stations.”

Due to its longstanding history as a corridor for heavy commercial activity, with a limited residential base, the Arts District hasn’t seen serious transit plans until now, said Dan Rosenfeld, a development expert and a member of the board of the Arts District Los Angeles Business Improvement District.

The challenge is convincing Metro engineers that it would be safe and efficient to have railcars with passengers traveling through the Division 20 maintenance yard on their way to a station, he added.

“Mostly, though, the stations would be very easy to implement. The tracks are largely there already. A rough cost for a new station would be $90 million, which sounds like a lot but is a steal compared to any other rail stations in Metro’s plan,” Rosenfeld said.

Another wrinkle is the long-range, two-phase West Santa Ana light rail plan, which does have funding allocated through Measure M. The line would run from Artesia through the Arts District to Union Station, with potential stations near Fourth and Seventh streets.

The problem is the timetable: If built from south to north, the Arts District wouldn’t see stations until 2041, when the second phase is scheduled to wrap.

A number of major projects would debut before then, including 950 E. Third St. with 472 apartments, SunCal’s $2 billion 6AM at Sixth and Alameda streets, the renovated Ford Factory with tenant Warner Music Group and its hundreds of employees, and the large Bjarke Ingels-designed 670 Mesquit along the L.A. River.

Meanwhile, community advocates are honing in on more low-hanging fruit in the form of expanded bus service through the city Department of Transportation. LADOT launched a campaign to revise its DASH bus routes last year, and preliminary suggestions include an extension of the F line along Seventh Street and up Santa Fe Avenue in the Arts District. 

eddie@downtownnews.com

Twitter: @eddiekimx

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2017