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6 Ideas for L.A.'s Next Great Transit Project

Rapid-bus routes, an elevated highway, and a combined transit-road tunnel are among the finalists.


Los Angeles has a long history of major public works projects that never get built, but its next great transit project almost certainly will. The Sepulveda Pass Corridor, a 30-mile transit link between the city and the San Fernando Valley, received $1 billion in funding from voters back in 2008. With that much public money lined up the question is not whether or not the project will be realized — but what it will look like when it is.

The wheels (and, in some cases, rails) are certainly in motion. In November the city's transportation authority released its final report on the Sepulveda Pass. In December officials encouraged a public-private partnership to expedite completion [PDF]. And last week Metro presented Valley residents with the six leading concepts [PDF]. Here's a preview of each.

Concept 1: Shoulder BRT
Cost: $162 million
Congestion Relief: 563,500 weekly travelers (11 percent increase in capacity)

Concept 1 would stripe 8.5 miles of Interstate 405, the corridor's main highway, for rapid bus use during peak hours. Buses would run every 12 minutes during rush hours and have exclusive access to the interstate lane (as well as signal priority on Sepulveda Boulevard). The service would ultimately extend from the Sylmar/San Fernando Metrolink Station to the LAX Transit Center. The project is very cost-efficient and creates a minimal environmental impact, but Metro officials worry it doesn't provide the reliable, long-term transit option the corridor needs.

Concept 2: Managed Lanes plus BRT
Cost: $1.7 billion
Congestion Relief: 613,800 weekly travelers (21 percent increase in capacity)

Concept 2 would reconfigure I-405 with 29 miles of high-occupancy toll lanes (two each way in the congested 9-mile heart of the pass, and one each way outside it) between the I-5 interchange in San Fernando Valley and the LAX Transit Center. The idea would also create three bus rapid-transit routes that have direct access at key ramps and connect with the Orange Line in the Valley. This concept is relatively affordable as well, but it may require private funding and its environmental impact could be significant depending on the final design.

Concept 3: Aerial/Viaduct Managed Lanes with BRT
Cost: $2.3 billion
Congestion Relief: not determined

Concept 3 would build a 10-mile elevated highway above I-405 on the most congested segment of the corridor, with two H.O.T. lanes in each direction. Bus-rapid transit routes would extend 21 miles from the Sylmar to the Expo/Sepulveda stations on a dedicated busway beneath the viaduct. The idea has been studied and rejected in the past, in part because it displaces two lanes for the elevated support structure and therefore only adds one travel lane each way.

Concept 4: Tolled Highway Tunnel with BRT
Cost: $13 billion
Congestion Relief: 654,600 weekly travelers (29 percent increase in capacity)

Concept 4 bores a 9-mile, 58-foot tolled tunnel under the Santa Monica Mountains with two lanes in each direction. The tunnel would be open to bus-rapid transit as well as cars that paid the toll (with no exemption for high-occupancy vehicles), but trucks would be prohibited. Current plans suggest that Metro officials like that the concept adds highway capacity without creating capital transit costs — though more road won't alleviate congestion unless the toll cost is set right.

Concept 5: Light or Heavy Rail Tunnel
Cost: $8 billion (light), $17 billion (heavy)
Congestion Relief: 580,900 weekly travelers on light rail, 589,800 on heavy (14 percent and 16 percent capacity increase, respectively)

Concept 5 creates 28 miles of rail transit and at least 14 stations. The light-rail version of this concept would run in a dedicated median most of the way and a 7.5-mile transit-only tunnel through the heart of the pass. The heavy-rail would tunnel through the entire course. Given the high cost of this project, Metro officials would look to phase-in the line once revenue from managed highway lanes starts to accumulate — or better yet get private help.

Concept 6: Highway + Rail Tunnels with Demand Pricing
Cost: $30-38 billion
Congestion Relief: 640,600 (26 percent increase in capacity)

Concept 6 — by far the most ambitious of the bunch — envisions separate highway and transit tunnels, both 21 miles in length, extending from the Valley to Los Angeles International Airport. The car tunnel would be priced to meet demand and the transit fare would be set proportionate to the car toll. This "ultimate build-out" would certainly require a private partnership, but suitors are out there; at least six companies have already reached out to Metro with an interest in building a tunnel for the corridor.

All images courtesy of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

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