There’s Serious Talk of a Sepulveda Pass Rail Line again. How Serious is the Question?

ALPERN-AT-LARGE-The goal of a north-south rail line between the San Fernando Valley and the Westside, and by extension to LAX, has been the "holy grail" of the countywide rail expansion for decades.

 Mobility enhancement by rail through this pass is very much called for, but so very far away from the core of LA County, and with by far more questions than answers. 

Well, there are still more questions than answers, but now that Friends4Expo Transit, Friends of the Green Line, The Transit Coalition, Caltrans, Metro, and a host of transit/transportation advocacy groups have gotten us to this modern day, this once-and-future rail project is now a very real "thing" for us to all consider. 

And let's consider what not so long ago used to be "this will NEVER happen" or "there's NO money": 

1) A full HOV/carpool lane on the 405 freeway, complete with offramp/freeway improvements, and adjacent street improvements, from LAX to the 101 freeway. 

2) An expensive and involved upgrade of the 405/101 interchange. 

3) A full Expo Light Rail Line to the beach (or pretty darned close to it). 

4) A Wilshire Subway that will sooner or later reach the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center. 

5) A Green/Crenshaw Light Rail Line that connects with a LAX People Mover to connect the region and system to LAX. 

6) A Downtown Connector to tie the Downtown rail lines together. 

7) A Foothill Gold Line with the very real likelihood of reaching the eastern edge of LA County, and then poking into San Bernardino County and Ontario Airport. 

8) A host of light rail lines to connect the eastern half of LA County and perhaps Orange County) to the countywide rail system. 

Don't underestimate that last (#8) dream-turned-into-likely-reality. When the Green Line reaches LAX, and when the Southeast LA County cities get their light rail line to Downtown, it's very likely that Orange and Riverside Counties will want "in."  

Those two counties will want their freeway upgrades, just as LA still does when it can, but the Metrolink and Metro Rail connections at Norwalk and the Orange County border will be suddenly called for by miserable commuters trying to find a better way to get to work, and/or to access parts of the Southland heretofore too traffic-plagued to reasonably reach. 

Will there be zealots and morons who presume the push for rail means that commuters will give up their cars, and who will wage war on the taxpayer/voter who has taxed him/herself repeatedly to pay for this?  

Yes, but that's another battle, or war, for another day (and there is no shortage of transit and transportation advocates who've fought for mobility for both transportation andproper zoning and planning).  

And the state's voters didpass Proposition 69 by a whopping 81% to ensure transportation revenue go to...transportation! 

Good transportation and good planning are not mutually exclusive! 

And with that in mind, Metro is now throwing out a series of long-called-for forums that voters have clamored for years, if not decades: which concepts should be prioritized for a rail line that connects the San Fernando Valley to the Westside, and by extension to LAX! 

Because -- just as four light rail lines approaching Downtown needed to be connected with the Downtown Light Rail Connector -- the east-west Wilshire, Expo, and Green Lines will need to be connected and tied up in a tidy bow to create a smart, reasonable, and convenient NETWORK. 

Like our freeways, our rail lines need a NETWORK to make sense. 

And just as our east-west rail lines needed a beach to Downtown to Pasadena to the San Gabriel Valley/Eastside (anyone remember the OTTER -- or Ocean To The Eastern Regions -- concept that a few of us threw out a few years ago?), we need a north-south rail connection to match all the east-west connections being built. 

But the BIG questions still remain, as the Metro concepts are finally getting thrown out there for us to all ponder and vet: 

  • Does the first part of this project go from the San Fernando Valley to the Wilshire Subway or to the Expo Line? 
  • How far north does the first part of this project go into the Valley--at the Orange Line Busway (which itself is probably on its way to becoming an east-west light rail line now that Valley politicians finally dumped the stupid Robbins Bill that forced the Valley into getting a Busway while the rest of the county got rail lines), or north up to Metrolink?  
  • The 405 freeway corridor becomes somewhat bifurcated at the Expo Line and 10 freeway--and it's a different world west of the 405 than it is east of that freeway. Does the line split at the Wilshire Subway or at the Expo Line? 
  • What about the Getty Center and Sunset Blvd...do they get a stop? 
  • Will this be underground, or above ground?  (I'm guessing the former, and have long felt that the ONLY way we can get a rail line capable of carrying hundreds of thousands of commuters a day will, like the Wilshire Subway/Purple Line, have to be underground) 
  • What about adding a freeway component, and/or Elon Musk's idea? 
  • South of the Expo Line and the 10 freeway, where would the line be located en route to LAX?  Sepulveda Blvd.? Lincoln Blvd.? Both? 
  • Finally, would this be light rail, or heavy rail? Light rail cars are heavy but are more adaptable to both elevated and underground rail. Yet we might have to do a heavy rail approach because most of this line will probably be underground...with or without a freeway component. 

One way or another, this BIG project will NOT be another Expo Line, with a likely maximum of approximately 90-100,000 riders per day. This will be something on the scale of the Wilshire Subway/Purple Line and would carry 300,000 riders or so a day. 

But inasmuch as these are difficult and heavy items to consider...it's a joy to finally realize that, in fact, we are formally and truly able to consider this "Holy Grail" of the Metro Rail system.


(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud husband and father to two cherished children and a wonderful wife. He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition and can be reached at [email protected]. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.