An option for an east Westchester location for the proposed maintenance facility for the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Line has been advanced to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors, accelerating the process of bringing mass transit to the southern portion of the Westside.

The location for the light rail maintenance yard is a 30.5-acre site in a light industrial area blocks before the Westchester/Inglewood border near Arbor Vitae Street and Bellanca Avenue, close to the Northup Rice Aviation Institute of Technology.

In addition, the committee also received an update on the status of the Final Environmental Impact Report for the transit project.

The east Westchester site was recommended by Metro planning officials “because it meets the needs of the medium and long-term requirements of the Crenshaw/LAX line, the Metro Green Line, and the Green Line to (Los Angeles International Airport) projects,” states a report from the planning and programming committee.

Maintenance facilities that service light rail transit lines are required when new rail lines are built, the report states.

The 8.5-mile light rail line, which has a project cost of $1.7 billion, will connect the Metro Green Line and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Mid-City/Exposition Light Rail Transit Project, known as the Expo Line. It is slated to run along Crenshaw Boulevard to the Metro Green Line station at Aviation Boulevard.

There is one station planned for Westchester at Aviation and Century boulevards, but Metro officials are considering an additional station in east Westchester.

The Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa endorsed a site for the maintenance yard that lies just outside Westchester in Inglewood, which the council characterized as “the largest land site.”

In a letter to Metro officials, Westchester-Playa council President Cyndi Hench lobbied for that site as well as the possible second rail station.

“Westchester deserves a station that is accessible and the proposed station at Manchester and Aviation boulevards meets that requirement,” Hench wrote. “Selection of (the Inglewood site) increases the likelihood of this station becoming a reality and is therefore a win-win alternative.

“In addition to providing an opportunity for consolidating construction activities with the optional station, this alternative has the least negative impact on area businesses while providing good accessibility.”

Crenshaw/LAX Project Manager Roderick Diaz said the location of the maintenance yard would be considered separately from any decision to build a second station in Westchester. “The two decisions are not related to each other,” Diaz told The Argonaut.

Each location that Metro considered, including the Arbor Vitae/Bellanca site, will cause some upheaval among some of the area merchants, Diaz acknowledged. “We will have a relocation process that we will follow for the businesses that are affected,” he said.

Denny Schneider, who has lived in Westchester for over 40 years, believes the council’s preferred location would have been less intrusive, but feels the location that Metro chose will also work well for the surrounding area.

The Arbor Vitae/Bellanca site had other advantages, according to Diaz. “The Inglewood location would have required a connection to existing train tracks and would have added significantly to the project,” the project manger explained.

In addition, Arbor Vitae/Bellanca is adjacent to other industrial uses and has no “immediate adjacent residential uses and is compatible with the surrounding area,” says the committee’s staff report.

Schneider would like to see Metro officials seriously consider building the optional station at Manchester and Aviation. “We believe that Westchester should and must have a station there because we are getting all of the impacts of the light rail line, so we should also have some of the benefits,” he asserted.

Ken Alpern, the co-chair for the Transit Coalition, agrees with Metro’s recommendation.

“This is the right decision to make for all parties concerned,” said Alpern, a Mar Vista resident.

State Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Marina del Rey), whose district includes portions of Westchester, said she is a big believer in light rail as an alternative to driving.

“Moving to rail is what we need to do, and I would be happy to do anything that I can to help light rail move forward,” Butler said.

Alpern, a longtime light rail advocate, said the Aviation and Century station will become a vital part of the Crenshaw/LAX line.

“This station has the potential to be ‘Union Station West,’” he said. “I can see this becoming a hub for commuters to the South Bay and to Los Angeles International.”

Butler said getting a light rail line into LAX is of great importance as well. “Almost all major airports have a light rail extension,” the assemblywoman noted.

Alpern said the optional station for Westchester, while not mutually exclusive from the maintenance yard, has a great deal of ridership potential if Metro agrees to build it, due to its proximity to the 405 Freeway.

“I think that the most important thing here is to have an elevated station at Manchester and Aviation in the final EIR,” he said.

Last year, a proposal to build a maintenance yard near Hindry Avenue in Westchester was roundly protested by many residents and merchants. Construction of the site at that location would have displaced many businesses, including the venerable Westchester Playhouse, they said.

That proposal was discarded, as well as an alternate plan to build the facility in El Segundo, after that city’s officials threatened to file a legal action to stop the project.

California received $546 million in federal funding Oct. 15 to advance ongoing rail ventures like Crenshaw/LAX, which marked the first infusion of funds for a Measure R project. Measure R is a 2008 ballot initiative approved by voters that raised county sales taxes by one-half cent for 30 years in order to fund transportation projects and improvements.

Second District Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents the majority of the area where the light rail will be built, has championed the rail initiative since taking office in 2008. After the Oct. 15 federal funding was announced, Ridley-Thomas touched on the potential for job creation among the construction industry, where unemployment ranks among the highest in Los Angeles.

“Not only will this project bring much needed economic development to an important region of the county, but these federal dollars will result in more than 7,800 much-needed jobs for our community during the development of this project,” the supervisor said.

The Metro Board of Directors will vote on the recommendation of the maintenance facility Thursday, April 28.

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