A MAP OF THE RECOMMENDED LIGHT RAIL LINE alignment for the Crenshaw Corridor. There will be a station at Aviation and Century boulevards, and a possible station at Manchester Avenue and Aviation is under consideration. (Map courtesy of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority)

Officials of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) are recommending a light rail line for the Crenshaw Corridor and that a maintenance facility be built in El Segundo instead of Westchester.

Metro officials joined representatives from Second District county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ office on November 9th to announce the preferred alternative for the transit line, which will run from South Los Angeles to Westchester near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

The light rail line will cost approximately $1.7 billion, according to Dan Rosenfeld, Ridley-Thomas’ senior deputy for economic development, sustainability and mobility.

Westchester residents, like their counterparts in South Los Angeles, were hopeful that Metro would recommend the light rail instead of a rapid bus line to service the corridor.

“The $1.76 billion investment is long overdue and will provide congestion relief, improve air quality and serve as an economic catalyst,” the supervisor said in a statement.

Rosenfeld said that the transportation agency’s decision conforms to its earlier projections for mass transportation throughout Los Angeles.

“(The light rail recommendation) is consistent with Metro’s long range transportation plans that were recently announced,” he said.

The Crenshaw Corridor will connect with both the Mid-Cities Exposition Light Rail line, which runs from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City in its first phase, and the Green Line in a north-south configuration.

In Westchester, a Crenshaw Corridor station is planned at Aviation and Century boulevards to connect with a people mover to transport commuters to LAX. A second, optional rail station is in the works for Aviation and Manchester Avenue.

“That’s exactly what we wanted to see,” said Denny Schneider, an east Westchester homeowner and a member of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa, referring to the light rail alternative.

A people mover is defined as automated forms of transport for large numbers of passengers over short distances, such as a moving pavement.

Schneider was also pleased to learn that a previous consideration to close Hindry and Florence avenues for a possible rail maintenance yard or a station is now no longer under consideration. In earlier discussions, Metro was looking at a site in El Segundo and a location in a light industrial area of Westchester, south of 83rd Street, north of Florence and east of Osage Avenue.

“We’ve decided to move forward with the El Segundo option,” said Roderick Diaz, the project manager for the Crenshaw Corridor. “We are likely not going to proceed with the Westchester option.”

The Westchester Playhouse will likely be spared from being moved, now that Metro will be suggesting that the maintenance facility be built in El Segundo.

Gail Bernardi, the president of the Westchester Playhouse, where the Kentwood Players theater group often performs, was thrilled to learn that the playhouse may not be relocated.

“This is wonderful news,” she said. “We are an integral part of the community and any community without art is sorely lacking.”

Diaz confirmed in an earlier interview that some of the buildings in Westchester near Hindry could be displaced if the Metro board chose to go with a light rail option.

“If the light rail alternative is chosen, there are some businesses in the light industrial area that may need to be relocated,” the project manager acknowledged.

Schneider, known as an avid transportation activist for his advocacy work with the community organization Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion, said saving the playhouse was essential to a large number of Westchester residents and other fans of community theater.

“That would be a critical part of the (Metro) plan,” said Schneider, who has lived in Westchester for more than 30 years.

Supporters of the playhouse rallied at a community meeting to express their concerns about the possibility of being forced to move.

Bernardi said that it would be a shame to lose the Westchester theater, which will celebrate its 60th year in existence in December.

“It would be very, very sad indeed to lose the playhouse,” said Bernardi, who lives only a few blocks from the theater.

The optional station at Manchester and Aviation would be at grade, or at ground level, while the Aviation and Century station would be on an elevated track, Metro authorities said.

The ground level alignment does not sit well with Schneider.

“That is unacceptable, because it would block Manchester Avenue,” he said.

Ken Alpern, a co-chair of the Transit Coalition, a light rail advocacy organization, said that he supports the Westchester residents in their quest to have the Manchester station, if chosen, to be above grade.

Diaz said that the stations, the light rail proposal, the location of the maintenance facility and the station alignments are subject to the approval of Metro’s Board of Directors.

“We have not reached any firm decisions yet,” he cautioned.

The station at Century and Aviation was seen more favorably by Ridley-Thomas, his staff, Metro representatives and rail advocates like Alpern, who would eventually like to see a mass transportation line get closer to the airport.

“This has the potential to expand the light rail line to the airport,” Rosenfeld said.

Alpern added, “For years, politicians and light rail advocates have quarreled over the best way to get mass transportation to the airport.

“At this time, it appears that the Aviation and Century station will be the transit gateway to LAX.”

Ultimately, Alpern, a Mar Visa resident, would like to see the Green Line extend to Parking Lot C in Westchester.

Rosenfeld said the new light rail line could also be viewed as a significant source of employment during an economic recession. He drew a comparison between the number of jobs that Metro estimates will be created by a rapid bus line and a light rail line.

“With a rapid bus plan, there would be 3,500 jobs created,” he said. “A light rail plan would generate 7,800 jobs.

“This is one of the significant benefits to the (light rail) option, and the supervisor views mass transit as a significant engine of economic development,” he added.

Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes Westchester and South Los Angeles, said that the light rail choice had environmental benefits as well, as opposed to a bus line.

“This will also provide an efficient, clean mode of transportation that will connect to Los Angeles International Airport,” the supervisor said.

Diaz said that there will be additional workshops in the future to inform residents and businesses of Metro’s plans.

“We definitely anticipate a strong outreach process through 2010,” he said.

The recommendation will go before the transportation authority’s Planning and Programming Committee on Wednesday, November 18th and then to the Metro board for approval on December 10th.