Push is on for federal funding of 19-mile rail line, Artesia to Union Station

Less than a month ago, President Joe Biden spoke from a Metro rail construction site in Los Angeles, saying he fully expects members of the U.S. Congress to put in requests for a chunk of the $1 trillion infrastructure law.

Last week, Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Norwalk, took him up on his offer.

Sanchez, a 10-term congresswoman, wrote a detailed letter to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, asking for funding to build a major north-south light rail line that would link Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles with smaller, mostly minority-majority cities in southeast Los Angeles County.

The proposed LA Metro line, dubbed the West Santa Ana Branch Corridor project, gets its confusing name from an old right-of-way still available and once used by the now-defunct Pacific Electric Santa Ana route in L.A. County. The combination light rail and subway line would connect L.A. with the suburbs of Artesia, Cerritos, Bellflower, Paramount, Downey, South Gate, Cudahy, Bell, Huntington Park, Vernon and unincorporated Florence-Graham, running roughly between the 110 and 5 freeways.

A map shows the route of the proposed West Santa Ana Branch light rail project. (courtesy of LA Metro)

“Many working families in my district depend on public transit to get from point A to point B,” Sánchez said in a prepared statement. “Yet southeastern Los Angeles County has historically lacked access to high-quality, reliable public transportation. The West Santa Ana Branch project will help change that reality, providing a one-seat ride from Artesia to Union Station.”

In her letter dated Oct. 25, Sanchez asked that the 19.3-mile light rail project get funds from the Department of Transportation’s Capital Investment Grants program in the fiscal year 2024. The letter was co-signed by Reps. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Boyle Heights), Grace Napolitano (D-El Monte), Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), and Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Los Angeles.)

Rendering of the West Santa Ana Branch train project. (Courtesy LA Metro)

One of the requests — a relatively modest one — asks for $50 million to kick off the project, enough to cover preliminary engineering, environmental reviews and other early needs for a project of this magnitude. Undoubtedly, Sanchez will shoot higher to squeeze funding out of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, signed by Biden on Nov. 15, 2021, which funds roads, bridges and rail projects.

“Every dollar counts,” said Janice Hahn, Fourth District Supervisor and Metro board member on Wednesday, Nov. 2. “Fifty million dollars won’t build this project. But what it does is, it sends a big message. The fact (that) it is in the president’s budget says the president of the United States recognizes the project is significant and should be supported and funded by federal dollars.”

The West Santa Ana Branch project was approved by the LA Metro Board in January. But the board approved a preferred route — a 14.8-mile phase one segment that would run from the Artesia/Cerritos area, slanting northwest over the 105 Freeway, zigzagging east and west of the 710 Freeway and ending at the Slauson Avenue A Line (Blue) Station in the Florence-Firestone area.

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Riders would have to disembark and transfer to the A Line to go north into downtown Los Angeles. The first segment could break ground next year but will not be completed until 2033.

A 4.5-mile second phase would take the West Santa Ana Branch line into the Arts District, Little Tokyo and Union Station, providing what Sanchez calls “a one seat ride” to downtown. The second phase has a completion range in the years 2041-2043.

The projected cost of the project is about $9.1 billion. Metro, which has four tax measures in play generating money from sales taxes for capital projects, including rail lines proposed or under construction, has identified about $4 billion for this project. But Metro needs other sources to close the funding gap.

The move for federal dollars has already gained some momentum, though grants are dribbled out slowly and often over several years. In late February, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) approved Metro’s request to place the project in the Capital Investment Grants (CIG) pipeline. And on April 22, 2021, the Metro board named the West Santa Ana Branch Transit Corridor Project as the agency’s No. 1 candidate for the federal CIG Program.

By getting the first bit of funding, it would position the project on the White House’s radar, Hahn said.

“It opens the doors to more federal funding in the future, and that is what is significant,” said Hahn.

Cities along the corridor have already begun planning transit-oriented developments, such as homes, apartments, condos and retail centers. Also, the project fits with Biden’s Justice40 Initiative to advance environmental justice and create economic opportunities in disadvantaged communities, Sanchez said in her letter.

Metro reported that 44% of the residents along the corridor live below the poverty line.

Related links

LA Metro board OKs new light-rail line from Artesia to Union Station
Biden signs $1T infrastructure deal with bipartisan crowd | AP News
Biden treks to Metro construction site in LA to talk infrastructure spending, jobs, inflation
LA Metro halts construction of Purple Line subway under Wilshire Boulevard over safety concerns
LA Metro boosts plan for bus and rail on Vermont Avenue stretching from Hollywood to Athens


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