Find the Money for an Arts District Rail Station

DTLA - Last month Metro CEO Phil Washington unleashed a minor Downtown kerfuffle when he addressed the topic of a much-desired rail station in the Arts District. Asked about the possibility at a luncheon hosted by the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum, Washington expressed his support for the idea of a station, but said the finances don’t exist. 

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“The question is, how do you pay for it? Because it’s not in anybody’s budget,” Washington stated. “So unless manna falls from heaven, that’s the challenge that we have.”

Metro CEO Says No Station Unless 'Manna Falls From Heaven'

It’s a fair and realistic response, and Washington deserves credit for not waffling with a non-answer answer. Many too-careful politicians would attempt to appease all sides and not commit.

Washington’s statement, however, should not be the end of the discussion. Rather, it should be the start of a new, serious and creative effort to determine what exactly the project would cost and how to find the financing, because a station is too important for the future of Downtown Los Angeles to dismiss as unfeasible.

The Arts District Wants a Rail Station

Metro has considered the topic before, and the agency conducted a study on building a station at either Third or Sixth streets. The idea stems from the rail yards that pass through the district along the Los Angeles River. Credit former City Councilman Tom LaBonge for being the first person to broach the idea, proposing a Red Line Arts District spur back in 2010. This past spring, Councilman José Huizar pushed the concept of a station at Sixth Street.

LaBonge Calls for Arts District Rail Spur

Metro’s current Arts District focus, Washington said, is expanding and enhancing what is known as the Division 20 facility at Third Street. A Purple Line extension is scheduled to be complete in 2024, and this project would allow trains to turn around and quickly head back to Union Station. There would also be more railcar storage on site. 

That’s a necessary effort, but it won’t help an Arts District population primed to explode. A handful of mega-projects are either under construction or in the planning phase, and the community in the next decade stands to gain many thousands of new residents, workers and visitors (current projects involve housing, office space and hotels). Anyone who spends time in the neighborhood can already attest to how traffic has thickened and parking has become much more difficult in recent years. The situation will worsen as the population climbs and the creative office space buildings open. Gridlock seems a guaranteed part of the once-sleepy neighborhood’s future.

Finding money for a station will not be easy, especially with the billions from the voter-approved Measure M already allocated. Still, it is worth exploring city, county, state and federal resources, and Metro should also dig in to the concept of involving area stakeholders and landowners, whether that means a tax or something else. Be creative, tap the best financial minds, ferret out untried revenue streams. The Arts District will get crowded and there has to be an option for people beyond cars. 

Just don’t wait for the skies to open and manna to fall.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2017