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Potential plans for UCLA-based rail station presented in LA Metro report

All current proposals for the Sepulveda Transit Corridor Project – a Los Angeles Metro service that will connect the San Fernando Valley with the Westside – include a connection to the planned Westwood station for the Purple Line Extension, according to a feasibility report released in early November. (Jintak Han/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Stephen Wyer

Dec. 5, 2019 1:08 a.m.

A transit rail station is likely to be built at UCLA in an upcoming project, according to a Los Angeles Metro feasibility report.

The report, which was released in early November, indicates plans for either a heavy rail or monorail transit service extending from the Metro Expo Line in the south to the Metrolink Van Nuys Station in the north.

Heavy rail services are electric railways with the capability to handle a greater volume of passengers than light rail services. A monorail service refers to a system of guided trains operating on a single rail or beam. Metro has not yet decided on the type of rail for the line.

The rail station at UCLA would be part of the Sepulveda Transit Corridor Project, a planned high-capacity rail transit service that would take passengers through the Sepulveda Pass from the San Fernando Valley to the Westside in as little as 15 minutes.

Four conceptual alternatives were developed in the report to evaluate possible transit service designs for the STC project.

All four possibilities for the transit service include a connection to the planned Westwood station for the Purple Line Extension, which is expected to be completed by 2026.

Two of the transit concepts, called HRT 1 and HRT 2, would be entirely underground heavy rail transit lines. A third concept, HRT 3, would be heavy rail with an aerial, or above ground, section north of Ventura Boulevard. A fourth concept, MRT 1, would be a monorail service with an aerial section north of Getty Center Drive.

HRT 1 would be the fastest of the four transit lines, according to the report. However, it’s also estimated to be a costly project, with a capital cost of up to $13.4 billion. HRT 2 had the highest capital cost estimate, requiring up to $13.6 billion of funding.

HRT 3 would have the highest capacity for passengers, with the ability to hold over 137,000 passengers per day, and is also estimated to save the most daily hours for transit riders. The plan would also involve aerial station construction, which will likely have a significant environmental impact, according to the report.

MRT 1 is estimated to be the least expensive project with a capital cost of up to $11.6 billion, but would also entail aerial construction.

Aerial construction of transit lines has a greater potential for negative impacts on the surrounding community and environment, according to the report.

For instance, the construction of HRT 3 or MRT 1 would necessitate relocating parts of a water transmission line. Additionally, aerial structures are more susceptible to seismic impacts, which could pose a risk to the surrounding community, according to the report.

Despite the environmental risks posed by aerial construction, HRT 3 is estimated to produce the largest reduction in vehicle miles traveled as well as vehicle hours traveled. Reductions in VMT and VHT are both connected to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, which have a significant impact on climate change.

This first phase of the project, which would create a line between the San Fernando Valley and the Westside, is estimated to be completed between 2033 and 2035, according to the report. A second phase of the STC project, which would extend the transit service to connect the Westside to LAX, will likely be completed between 2057 and 2059.

LA Metro spokesperson Dave Sotero said in a statement that Metro hopes to accelerate the pace of the project and finish the Westside portion of the line by the 2028 Olympic Games.

UCLA has expressed its support for an entirely underground transit service, as an underground rail line would minimize the impact of construction on the community. UCLA Transportation senior associate director David Karwaski said one of UCLA’s major interests is in making sure any of the proposed rail projects include a stop at UCLA’s campus.

Karwaski said a UCLA connection is important given the university’s status as the third-largest employer in Los Angeles.

“The connections that this rail line will bring are really beneficial to our region,” he said. “Accessibility to UCLA will be much enhanced.”

Karwaski said the STC project will improve transportation options for the over 7,000 UCLA employees and 2,500 students who commute from the San Fernando Valley. A commute via car from the valley to UCLA can take 45 minutes or more, depending on traffic conditions, while taking rail transit through the STC would take only 15 to 25 minutes.

He added the STC connection to UCLA’s campus would save students not only time but also money, as commuters could avoid paying for gas, parking and other costs of using a car.

“We’ve been looking at students who have very long commutes,” Karwaski said. “It’s an issue. Not only are students losing so much time in their cars and it’s impacting their studies, but there’s also a financial component, which is do you have fuel or operating costs for a vehicle? With (the Metro service) you just need a transit pass and then you’re set.”

Karwaski added that UCLA partially subsidizes LA Metro passes, and said he hopes students will eventually vote to allow UCLA to fully subsidize the passes by including this transportation cost in the student services fee.

UCLA students also expressed support for the idea of an on-campus metro station, citing similar advantages of time and money saved by taking public transit over using a car.

“I think (the STC service) would be useful,” said Shery Howel, a fourth-year human biology and society student who commutes to campus. “It’s tough commuting here. The main reason people have trouble while attending UCLA is because we work and go to school, and then combined with getting here, that’s all just really time-consuming.”

Jordan Rivera, a third-year mechanical engineering student, agreed that the anticipated short-term hassle of building a station at UCLA would be outweighed by the opportunity to improve local transportation for commuters.

“It sounds like a good idea and would be helpful for commuters,” said Rivera. “Why not save time and money? Public transportation sucks around here. Anything would be an upgrade and this sounds like a good upgrade.”

Ajai Romana, a first-year applied mathematics student, said if the STC line reduced the duration of commutes this could allow students to drive less and live further away from campus.

“Most people would prefer public transit, but it’s not really viable right now,” Romana said. “I think students would use (the STC service).”

He added it would also remove the cost and hassle associated with procuring a parking permit on campus.

However, there is no guarantee the STC rail line will run through UCLA’s campus.

Sotero said that while the four project proposals discussed in the feasibility report all include a station at UCLA, the actual design and implementation of the STC line will be left up to a private project developer.

This private developer would not be bound by the recommendations of the feasibility report, so Sotero acknowledged that while likely, a UCLA station could not be guaranteed.

“Our feasibility study has certainly shown the great benefit of putting a station on the UCLA campus,” Sotero said. “It would be the highest performing, nontransfer station in the Metro system. However, we are at the very early project planning stages. … It is premature to make any guarantees at this extremely early project phase.”

Sotero said the LA Metro board would thoroughly review the four alternatives in conjunction with an environmental review process in mid-2020. LA Metro is not yet moving forward with a project design with a specific private developer, he added.

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Stephen Wyer
Wyer is a news contributor.
Wyer is a news contributor.
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