The final environmental impact report for a light rail line that is slated to reach Westchester and ultimately connect passengers to Los Angeles International Airport will be voted on Thursday, Sept. 22.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (Metro) Board of Directors will review the environmental document, which is necessary to move the rail project forward to the construction stage.

The Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor is an 8.5-mile light rail line that will extend from the intersection of Exposition and Crenshaw boulevards to the Metro Green Line station at Aviation and Century boulevards in Westchester.

The project will serve the cities of Los Angeles, Inglewood, Hawthorne, El Segundo and portions of the unincorporated Los Angeles County.

The transit agency had considered an optional station at Aviation Boulevard and Manchester Avenue in Westchester but that option is no longer on the table. The elimination of that station has drawn the ire of Westchester resident Denny Schneider.

“Our community accepted the consequences of our train system by supporting the controversial Westchester repair facility site because it was the right, proper thing to do,” Schneider wrote in an online post.

“When MTA staff announced at the last leadership committee meeting that the train will pass through Westchester but will not stop for passengers I was shocked, then angry,” he continued. “Only one station discussed throughout the planning and EIR process is excluded from the construction bid package – the one and only Westchester community station.”

Schneider was referring to the inclusion of Arbor Vitae Street and Bellanca Avenue for the light rail line’s maintenance facility. The Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa had recommended another location.

MTA Transportation Planning Manager Roderick Diaz said the station at Aviation and Manchester was environmentally cleared as an optional station based upon the Locally Preferred Alternative that was adopted by the board in December 2009.

“At the time, we received a lot of comments stating significant concern about having a station there. We are still in the process of revising the costs of the project and are doing our best to align project costs with available funding,” he explained.

“Unfortunately, we are unable to recommend the inclusion of the two stations which were designated as optional stations – Crenshaw Boulevard and Vernon Avenue and Aviation and Manchester.”

Diaz said there is the potential for a station nearby in later years. “Nonetheless, because the track runs at grade near Manchester near Hindry Avenue, provisions can be made to accommodate a station in the future,” he said.

Westchester resident Harry Rose thinks the transit authority is making “a big mistake” by not building a stop at Manchester and Aviation.

“I’m disappointed,” Rose said. “Westchester residents will not have a practical station to use.”

Diaz noted there were other factors that influenced the decision not to include the stop preferred by several Westchester residents.

“Due to the fact that the station would be in an industrial area without a significant concentration of development, the station is estimated to have one of the lowest level of boardings among stations along the line,” the planning manager said.

A station at Hindry is discussed in the final EIR. It is estimated to cost a total of $11.6 million. The station itself would not likely require acquisition of businesses, according to MTA officials.

“If a park-and-ride lot were desired, there may be a need to purchase adjacent parcels, which would cost an additional amount,” Diaz added.

Ken Alpern, the co-chair of the Transit Coalition, a mass transit advocacy group, does not feel that a Hindry station will be beneficial from a revenue-saving or service standpoint.

“I do not think that the proposed at-grade, or ground level Hindry Avenue station is a cost-effective alternative that would benefit Westchester residents, or anyone else for that matter, and I therefore believe this proposed alternative is a nonstarter and should be similarly dropped from the final EIR for this project,” Alpern, who lives in Mar Vista, asserted.

While he would also prefer a station at Manchester and Aviation, Alpern said he understands some of the reasons why Metro elected not to include it in its final plans.

“It is also close enough to commercial and employment centers, so I entirely disagree with Metro’s assessment of the station having a low ridership because of its location in an industrial area,” he argued.

“However, I recognize that further Metro evaluation of an elevated Manchester and Aviation station has pointed out the engineering, land acquisition and financial difficulties of straightening out that curved portion of the Harbor Subdivision Rail right-of-way.”

California received $546 million in federal funding Oct. 15 last year 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.

The Crenshaw/LAX line is part of the 30-10 transit plan. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been a staunch supporter of mass transit and has lobbied extensively for support of the 30-10 plan in Washington, D.C.

The concept of the initiative is to use the long-term revenue from the Measure R sales tax as collateral for long-term bonds and a federal loan, which will allow Metro to build 10 key mass transit projects in 12 years instead of 30.

“For more than 50 years Los Angeles has waited for a rail line connecting the Crenshaw Corridor to LAX. That sound you hear is this train finally moving out of the station,” Villaraigosa said. “(With this announcement) we took one large step forward to putting 7,800 people to work constructing the Crenshaw Line.

“We have asked the federal government to change their rules and regulations so that we can award contracts to construct this and other lines to local companies who hire local workers. Creating jobs is important to all of us, but putting Angelenos back to work is my top priority.”

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) approved the release of the Final Impact Statement/Report for the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor Aug. 31.

“(The transit administration’s) approval of the environmental document for the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor represents a big step forward,” said Second District county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents a portion of Westchester. “This $1.76-billion investment will bring much needed jobs, economic development, congestion relief and will improve air quality along the corridor.

“I applaud the FTA for working with Metro staff in ensuring environmental approval.”

Schneider believes the optional station was removed due to protests by Westchester residents dating back two years ago when Metro was considering building the rail stop at Hindry. “One could draw the conclusion that that was a factor,” he said.

Diaz said a design build contract for construction of the Crenshaw/LAX Corridor is anticipated for the end of next year.

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