DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Early on, the Los Angeles Streetcar project had 65 route possibilities. Recently, that was whittled to one, and on Thursday, March 22, it will be presented to the Metro Board of Directors.

“This is a major step toward realizing the streetcar,” said 14th District City Councilman José Huizar, who launched the circulator proposal as part of his Bringing Back Broadway initiative. “I’m excited. This is a very important step.”

The route was one of seven finalists considered by Metro and presented to the public in a series of meetings last year. The report has already gone through Metro’s Planning and Programming Committee and the agency’s Construction Committee.

The City Council approved the route, which basically extends from Bunker Hill to South Park, on Jan. 31. Ironically, the Metro Board will not vote on the project. Instead, once it hears the presentation, streetcar proponents will be cleared to begin the environmental review process.

That is expected to take up to a year. The environmental study is necessary to get federal funding for the project.

The route, known as Alternative 7, would travel south on Broadway from First Street to 11th Street, turn west to Figueroa Street and go north to Seventh Street. It would then head east on Seventh to Hill Street and go north to First Street. It would turn west and then go south on Grand Avenue, terminating at Second Street, near MOCA and Eli Broad’s coming art museum.

Exact stops and the way the streetcar would return to its starting point have not been determined.

A variation on the route that would have the streetcar travel east on Ninth Street instead of Seventh Street will also be considered as part of the environmental review, said Robin Blair, planning director for Metro.

No Union Station

The route selected had one of the lowest costs of the finalists, at $106 million. However, it omits a stop at Union Station, which many who attended the Metro meetings last year supported. Huizar said he was in favor of the concept, though its price turned out to be excessive.

“I initially was advocating for a leg to Union Station, but when you look at the facts, the capital costs are significantly higher,” Huizar said.

Laura Cornejo, a transportation planning manager for Metro, said the route could be extended to Union Station in the future. The two route options that included a connection to Union Station had the highest capital costs of those studied, at $130 million and $137 million.

“Giving that we’re tight on funding,” Huizar said, “we’re probably going to look at this for the second phase of a streetcar system. We can’t bite too much off the apple right now.”

Cornejo said Metro estimates the streetcar could begin operating in early 2016.

According to the Metro report, the route was recommended over the others because of low capital costs and low operation and maintenance costs; the latter are estimated at $5.3 million a year. It was also tied for the highest anticipated daily boardings at 8,390, and boardings per mile, at 2,210. Additionally, it had the most potential for generating revenue via a property assessment.

Streetcar officials have always said they expect to use public and private funding for the project. However, they have twice been rejected by the federal government in their application for grants.

Despite the failures, officials say they expect to apply for $60 million in Federal Transit Administration Small Starts funds by the end of the year.

They are also moving forward on the plan to have area stakeholders pay for approximately half of the project through mandatory assessments similar to those in business improvement districts. A $10 million allocation from the CRA remains in place, despite the recent dissolution of the agency.

“Now we have something to sell,” said Huizar, “to let the property owners and the public know that this is the route, this is real, this is what we’re thinking.”

Steve Needleman, whose Orpheum Theater on Broadway would sit along the route, said he supports Metro’s recommendation.

“I think it really does a lot for what the system is, and we have to start somewhere,” he said. “This is the place to start and I’m firmly behind it.”

Also in support is Daryl Landis, interim director of the South Park Business Improvement District. He said the route, which stops at L.A. Live, would help bring more people to South Park.

“I think it’s a good choice since the route comes far enough south to get a contingency of South Park, and it’s walking distance from places like Staples Center,” he said.

The streetcar’s approximately four-mile route would run seven days a week, 18 hours a day. Officials have not yet come up with a cost per ride.

Contact Richard Guzmán at richard@downtownnews.com.

©Los Angeles Downtown News.