Regional Connector Construction Concerns

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - few outreach meetings organized by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority the other week were sparsely attended. That’s unfortunate, because the subject of those sessions — when, where and for how long construction crews can work on the Regional Connector — is among the most important issues facing Downtown Los Angeles over the next five years.

The Regional Connector is vital to the future of Downtown, but before it powers into the construction phase, the community deserves to know more about what officials want permission to do. If ever there were a situation where the devil is in the details, this is it. We know the good that will come from the Regional Connector, but we also know from past experience that Downtown needs to be protected from the tumult that can result when the ground is torn up and tunnel boring machines begin working. We want Metro to proceed as quickly as possible, but we can’t just trust that things will work out. The best intentions cannot be allowed to undermine the health of some major Downtown buildings and businesses.  

Los Angeles Downtown News last week reported on Metro’s ramp-up for the Regional Connector. The underground project would be a sort of missing link in the region’s mass transit system, allowing riders to get where they want to go easier and faster than is now possible. For instance, with the $1.366 billion Connector in place, someone could travel from Pasadena to Long Beach without having to transfer. Currently a rider has to change trains twice. 

The project will require major infrastructure upheaval. That’s partly why, even today, the development is not slated to open before 2019. Having tunneled and built train lines throughout the region, Metro and its watchdogs are aware of precisely what kinds of challenges and potential complications lie ahead.

Metro has already held dozens of public meetings on various aspects of the project, and we expect dozens more will occur in the coming years. Currently, the agency is seeking permits to work on the Regional Connector 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Getting those permits, which would be granted by the Los Angeles Police Commission, requires an outreach effort, even if the community does not have to be overwhelmingly supportive of the project. Hence a series of four recent meetings, with three tied to station locations and the other for stakeholders on Flower Street.

Metro brass have said they don’t expect to have non-stop construction. Instead, they are requesting the permits, officials said, because they want to preserve future flexibility, allowing contractors to put in extra time should it be required.

We don’t doubt Metro’s intent. Although the agency is sometimes a target for criticism, it has done many admirable things for Los Angeles. The Gold Line is one of numerous fabulous additions to Downtown. Metro is full of people working hard to make the region more navigable and livable.

That said, at this point we cannot support an open ticket to work 24 hours. It is incumbent on Metro to come back to the community members who have objected and to have a specific list of what sort of work could be allowed at what time, how often and for what duration. Almost everyone has dealt with losing a night’s sleep due to noise outside a window. Losing more than one night’s sleep opens the door to serious complications, including health issues. 

 Downtown residents and business owners near the construction sites deserve to know specifics. For example, what kind of activities could occur after dark within two blocks of a residential complex in the Historic Core or Little Tokyo? How will complaints be reported and resolved? The list goes on.

The problem is, once contracts are handed out, Metro may find its authority limited. If a construction chief has to choose between meeting a deadline that has a financial incentive or bothering a few residents, you can bet the neighbors will be the least of the concerns. 

Part of the reason the permits deserve such close scrutiny is what happened a few decades ago. During the construction of the Metro Red Line, huge portions of Seventh Street were blocked off and torn up. Although the work was expected to be limited in time and scope, it endured seemingly forever. Many businesses died during construction. Protections must be taken to ensure there is not even the chance of a repeat of that or 24-hour construction noise. 

As stated above, we want the Regional Connector to happen. We also want it to open by the anticipated 2019 date, and we don’t pretend that can occur without some shake-ups on the street. People and businesses will be inconvenienced. 

The key is to do minimize the inconveniences. Mutual respect is a necessity. Part of achieving a careful balance is knowing precisely what construction is allowed to occur and when. Metro should be transparent and honest with area stakeholders. Only when all the facts are presented should a decision on granting the permits be made.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2013