At its quarterly Purple Line subway construction update meeting last week, Metro didn’t seem to announce any major new developments in the project, but when members of the Miracle Mile Residential Association saw a line in the Buzz’s story about the meeting, noting briefly that Metro officials announced they were going to start using a staging area gate at 706 S. Detroit St. for large trucks delivering grout for the construction project, the neighbors were alarmed.
According to MMRA President Jim O’Sullivan, that group had gone through a lengthy negotiation process with Metro several months ago, during which it expressed firm opposition to Metro’s proposed use of the gate at Wilshire and Detroit, across from the Miracle Mile Post Office, for anything but emergency access and occasional small trucks. (All other traffic, including large dump trucks carrying excavated dirt, have been entering and exiting the yard through a gate on La Brea, just south of Wilshire.) The opposition was based on concerns about traffic disruptions, noise, dust and other issues on the narrow residential street. And the neighbors’ position was supported by City Council Member David Ryu, who sent a letter to Metro officials on June 11, saying, in part:
“Following my review of the letters provided by Metro, STS and the Miracle Mile Residents Association meeting between these groups, along with my staff’s account of the recent community meetings between these groups, I cannot support Metro’s request to use the Detroit gate on a daily basis for regular truck traffic activity. While I am appreciative of the outreach efforts by both Metro and STS, they have not provided sufficient rationale for the need for this change nor adequately provided proposed mitigation efforts for a number of the community’s concerns.
Ryu’s letter went on to say that:
“The MMRA and their community members have made great efforts to accommodate the significant impact of the Purple Line construction. I have found the community to be understanding and willing to accommodate additional impacts when needed. In this instance I am not convinced that the need to use the Detroit gate outweigh the significant concerns regarding noise, dust, parking and traffic that its use will cause.”
O’Sullivan and MMRA Vice President Ken Hixon say Metro did not formally respond to Ryu’s June 11 letter, but when they heard nothing further about the issue, they assumed it was settled. Until the announcement about the gate at last week’s Metro presentation.
And according to CD4 communications deputy Mark Pampanin, Mr. Ryu’s office was also “extremely surprised” by Metro’s announcement last week. Late yesterday, Ryu himself issued a statement, saying:
“As I told Metro in a letter on June 11, I do not support using the Detroit gate for the daily trucking of grout related to Purple Line construction. It’s clear that Metro has decided instead to ignore the concerns of the community and my office,” Councilmember Ryu said. “Use of the Detroit gate is unnecessary while trucks can continue to use the La Brea gate. This community has put up with a lot from Metro during the Purple Line construction, and has been more than accommodating. Yet Metro has declined to respond to my June 11th letter or the community’s concerns around noise, dust and traffic problems that daily use of the Detroit gate would create. It seems they’ve put their convenience over the needs of the community. I urge them to reconsider.”
After learning that Metro would now indeed be using the Detroit St. gate for large grout trucks, the MMRA contacted Metro’s Senior Construction Relations Officer Ned Racine, who sent the following reply:
“The Purple Line Extension Project will be using the Detroit St. gate for the delivery of grout for the tunnel boring machines (TBMs). The gate will be used once the tunnel boring machines begin digging, and the Detroit St. gate will not be used—its present condition—once the TBMs have finished their work.” [Note: according to Metro’s current construction schedule (see chart at right), the TBMs will be in use from later this summer through at least the third quarter of 2020.]
Racine’s letter to the MMRA said Metro’s decision to use the Detroit St. gate for the grout delivery trucks would abide by the following conditions and considerations:
- The delivery trucks will only arrive and depart during daytime and early evening hours, with nighttime activity avoided “to the greatest extent possible.”
- All trucks leaving the yard will turn right on Detroit, toward the Wilshire Blvd. commercial zone, and will not exit south toward the residential area.
- Metro will maintain its “extensive noise monitoring program” to ensure compliance with noise mitigation requirements.
- Metro is committed to minimizing dust and “track-out issues” from the delivery trucks.
- Because there will be only a “handful” of deliveries each day,” the hauling should have a minimal effect on the community, especially since all of the activity will be north of the residential portion of the block.
- Use of the Detroit St. gate will help reduce traffic and traffic disruptions at the La Brea gate, especially during busy times of the day.
- Using the Detroit St. gate will remove only one parking space on Detroit, “to allow safe turning radiuses for the hauling vehicles.”
- Metro will review these issues with its contractors every 60 days, and will work with both the contractors and the MMRA to minimize the effects of the gate’s use on the the community.
But O’Sullivan said this response ignores the previous negotiations with the neighborhood and the City Council office, and also offers no information about why the new traffic pattern might be necessary.
In a conversation with the Buzz on Thursday afternoon, however, Metro Communications Director Dave Sotero said that, contrary to the understanding of the MMRA and the City Council office, “No promises were made not to use the gate during the construction process.” He said Metro is very sensitive to the neighbors’ concerns, but “the reason we built that gate was to conduct our construction operations,” and “we must be able to use it to complete this very important [tunneling] operation that’s coming up.”
“We’ve had this gate closed for a very long time – since the project began,” Sotero said, “but it’s critical, it’s crucial, to use it now during [the tunneling] phase.”
Sotero said that up until this point, most of the large vehicle traffic at the location has consisted of trucks hauling excavated dirt away from the site. The trucks enter the yard through the gate on La Brea, fill up, then make a u-turn around the yard and exit again onto La Brea. But now that tunneling is starting, Sotero said, the daily truck traffic will increase, as the new grout delivery trucks join the ongoing parade of hauling trucks. Also, Sotero said, the new delivery trucks are larger than the hauling trucks, and cannot easily manage the u-turn inside the lot that the hauling trucks make. So the delivery trucks need to enter, drop off their loads, and then continue straight through the yard to the gate on the opposite side. “These trucks don’t turn as easily,” Sotero said, so the new traffic pattern is a matter of safety for everyone involved.
Finally, reiterating what Racine had said in his letter to the MMRA, Sotero said there will only be five or six delivery trucks per day, only during daytime and early evening hours, and Metro will continue to honor its obligations to mitigate dust and noise issues to the full extent possible. (He noted, for example, that 24-foot sound walls have been installed at the location, while the city’s requirement was only 20 feet.) He also said that Metro will review the gate operations every 60 days, and will continue to work with the neighbors on mitigations of any issues that might arise from the new traffic pattern.
But that isn’t quite the immediate sit-down meeting O’Sullivan was hoping for. In fact, he said that he feels so frustrated at this point that he is now seriously considering an act of civil disobedience – such as chaining himself to the Detroit St. gate – to get Metro’s attention. And “that’s what I will do if I have to,” he said.