The board voted 10-0 on Thursday to approve a roughly nine-mile route to extend the Purple Line between downtown Los Angeles and the Veterans Administration hospital in Westwood, with Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich abstaining.
Meantime, it voted 8-0 in favor of an underground regional connector in downtown Los Angeles, near Little Tokyo, linking the Gold, Blue and Expo lines, enabling riders to go between Long Beach and Azusa and from East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley to Santa Monica without the need to transfer to another train.
Metro officials have been planning both projects for decades. Several board members said Thursday's approval of the draft environmental impact studies on the proposed routes is "historic," and could allow work to begin on the projects as early as next year.
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Both the $4.2-billion Westside subway extension and the $1.37-billion regional connector are to be funded through Measure R, a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2008 to pay for a total of 12 major transportation projects over 30 years.
To accelerate the completion of the projects, Metro intends to seek federal loans and grants using Measure R revenue as collateral. If those applications are approved, Metro could complete the Westside subway extension by 2022 instead of 2036 as originally planned. The regional connector is slated to be operational by 2035.
Villaraigosa said that among Metro's projects, the Westside subway extension is "the granddaddy of them all -- without question -- when it comes to jobs, when it comes to relieving congestion, when it comes to relieving air quality, when it comes to connecting the two largest job centers in California."
He said a study showed the subway would allow passengers to travel from downtown Los Angeles to the Westside in 24 minutes, compared to 41 minutes by car and 86 minutes by bus.
The draft environmental impact report, however, said the subway wouldn't do much to reduce the number of cars in congested West Los Angeles over the next 25 years, with the population expected to continue growing.
The Westside subway extension -- often dubbed the "Subway to the Sea," even though it only has funding to stretch as far as Westwood -- would extend the Purple Line from the Wilshire Boulevard/Western Avenue station through Century City and end at the VA hospital west of the San Diego (405) Freeway south of Wilshire.
The trains would run every 3.3 minutes, holding as many as 1,000 people and traveling at a maximum speed of 70 mph.
The proposed route would include seven stations, with the line roughly following the Wilshire corridor with stops including Fairfax, La Cienega, Century City, UCLA and the hospital.
Now that the preferred route has been chosen -- Metro officials had been considering four other routes -- the agency will move forward with more detailed engineering and environmental studies which could take several months, but is among the last steps before the construction phase.
Several Beverly Hills residents urged the board to reject outright a proposal to tunnel under Beverly Hills High School and near some oil wells, but Metro officials said the alternative would put a station directly above a seismic fault. The board decided to continue studying both options.
The regional connector, meanwhile, is expected to provide the "missing link" in the Los Angeles rail network, according to the draft environmental impact report.
The regional connector would include four new stations downtown and "connect the spokes of the regional system and provide a `one seat ride' from Long Beach to Azussa and from East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley to Santa Monica," according to the report.
The project would run under First and Alameda Streets in downtown Los Angeles, bounded on the west by the Harbor (110) freeway, on the north by the Hollywood (101) Freeway, on the south by Seventh and Ninth Streets, and on the east by Alameda Street.