At its bi-monthly community update meeting last night on Purple Line subway extension construction, Metro confirmed that a decision on which of two closure plans they’ll adopt for decking installation work on Wilshire Blvd. will be delayed until January, while a traffic and traffic mitigation study is completed on the recently proposed 7-week closure option.
Metro’s original plan, approved by the city and detailed in an Environmental Impact Report for the overall construction project, was to close Wilshire Blvd. between Orange Drive and La Brea Ave. for 16 consecutive weekends for the installation of support beams and concrete surface decking that will allow subway station construction below that section of street. The Wilshire-La Brea intersection would be closed for three more weekends after that, and the section of Wilshire from La Brea to Detroit St. would be closed for three more weekends after that, to complete the decking project (for a total of 22 weekends).
Back in September, however, Metro’s design-build contractor, Skanska, Traylor and Shea (STS), proposed an alternate schedule, which would close the Orange-to-La Brea section of Wilshire for seven full weeks instead of the original 16 weekends (though the 6 weekend closures from La Brea to Detroit would not change). The seven-week closure option would include construction hours from 7 am to 11 pm, but no overnight construction above ground. (The original 16-weekend plan would require 24-hour, round-the-clock surface-level construction from 9 pm every Friday until 6 am every Monday.) Since then, Metro has been doing community outreach to see which of the two closure options neighborhood residents, businesses and commuters would prefer.
Originally, Metro said it would announce which option it would choose shortly after the November 12 community meeting. And several area neighborhood associations scrambled to poll neighbors and submit their preferences before that date. But several other local associations balked at the deadline and said they were not able to make a decision until Metro provided more detailed traffic data for the newly proposed option (e.g. just how much traffic would have to be diverted during peak week-day travel periods), more detailed information about possible traffic mitigation options for that plan, and the effects those mitigations might have on neighboring streets.
Ultimately, City Council Member David Ryu joined the chorus for further study, and Metro announced at the November 11 meeting of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council that it will conduct a more complete traffic and mitigation study for the 7-week closure option, and will delay its choice of closure plan until after that study is completed in January.
Between now and then, Metro representatives said last night, they will continue to perform community outreach and seek community input on the two options. Metro will announce the results of the new traffic study at its January 21 community meeting, recommend one of the two closure plans before the February meeting of the Board of Public Works (which must ultimately approve the choice), and begin the decking work in March, 2016.
At last night’s meeting, attended by about 100 people at John Burroughs Middle School (a “fair” crowd that “should have been bigger,” according to Council Member Ryu, who spoke at the meeting), Metro presented details of the two closure options and took questions and comments from the audience.
City Council Member David Ryu’s Position
Council Member Ryu said his office, in particular, will be doing as much community outreach as possible over the next couple of months, and seeking as much community input as possible, because whichever option is chosen will be painful for the community. He noted that “outreach is a difficult thing,” and that there must be repeated attempts to reach as many members of the community as possible. “You don’t just put a little Post-it on the door and go away – you have to come back again and again.” He said his staff will be fully available to attend neighborhood meetings and barbecues between now and January to discuss the issue.
Ryu also said he’d like to think about other closure options, which might combine elements of the two plans currently on the table. “Nothing says there are only two choices,” he said. “Why not a hybrid?” He suggested, for example, that perhaps a shorter full closure could be done on the section of the street that is more residential, while weekend-only closures be used on the more commercial section of the street. He also said there should be consideration of specific mitigation measures – such as shuttle buses to transport students to local schools from remote drop-off sites – that could help ease specific street-congestion concerns.
Ryu said his office will do such extensive outreach because although both the Department of Transportation and the Board of Public Works will have to approve the final closure plan, their decision will be “highly based on my recommendation” and he wants to have a clearer picture of community preferences before making that recommendation.
As community comments and questions rounded out the evening, it was very clear that no closure option will please everyone.
According to representatives of Essex, which owns and manages four apartment complexes (with more than 1,000 residents) on the affected stretch of Wilshire Blvd., its tenants “are all in complete support” of the 7-week closure plan. One Essex representative presented a dramatic picture of tired apartment-dwellers, dragging themselves home on Friday night after a full week of work, only to be kept awake all weekend by round-the-clock construction under their bedroom windows with the 16-weekend option.
Another Essex representative noted that its Wilshire-La Brea development, in particular, located at ground zero for the closures at the SE corner of that intersection, has been having trouble leasing its ground floor retail spaces because of the coming closures. He said the company has actually “lost leases” because of the looming inconvenience.
Unlike Wilshire Blvd. apartment dwellers, however, stakeholders who don’t live in the immediately affected area, but who do commute through it on weekdays, expressed a strong preference for the weekend-only plan, saying the weekday closures would significantly extend their week-day commute times, and add to their own personal exhaustion levels.
And neighbors who live a block or two north and south of the affected stretch of Wilshire complained that their neighborhoods are sure to be “strangled” by cut-through traffic, especially with week-day closures during peak travel times.
Other neighborhood questions, and Metro’s answers, included:
Will there be traffic control officers at Wilshire and Highland during the closures?
Yes, there will be traffic control officers at major intersections with either closure option.
Are there any studies on the differences of the carbon footprint of the two proposed closure options?
No, there have been no carbon footprint studies for either option.
How can community members offer feedback on the two closure options?
You can send comments to Metro at firstname.lastname@example.org and to City Council Member David Ryu at email@example.com (more contact options are listed at the bottom of this article).
What are the outside completion dates of the two plans?
The 7-week plan will finish two months earlier than the 16-weekend plan. So with the planned start in March, the 7-week plan would complete decking work in May, while the 16-weekend plan would complete the project in July.
Would choosing the 7-week plan delay the start date, because of possible additional approvals needed (since the 16-weekend plan was previously approved by the city)?
No – construction can start in March with either plan.
Will there be any further closures of Wilshire during subway construction, after the decking project is complete?
Yes, there will be a similar period of closures for removal of the surface-level decking at the end of the subway construction (five or six years from now, in 2019 or 2020). There will also be a few closures after the decking installation, to “densify” the ground by injecting “grouting” to strengthen it before the tunnel boring machine can pass below.
Will trucks be hauling equipment and debris on neighborhood streets?
No, haul routes for the whole subway construction project were previously approved (and along major streets only) in the original Environmental Impact Report.
Will either closure plan adversely affect the budget for the overall subway construction project?
No, both plans are “budget neutral.”
How will potential weather delays affect the project?
The weather (e.g. excessive “El Niño” rains) could affect either schedule. There will be no street closures, under either plan, when there’s an inclement weather forecast.
Will there be any “smell or aroma” connected with the decking project?
Smells should be “neutral” during the decking installation, since only a small amount of asphalt is used (the deck surface is made of pre-cast concrete panels), and the project is governed by “very specific environmental rules.”
How are (especially nighttime) noise levels calculated…and is it fair to use only “average” levels when specific noises, especially late at night, often exceed the averages and are very jarring?
As required by city regulations, noise measurements are calculated at the beginning of a project, with measurements taken every 15 minutes to calculate average ambient threshholds. Construction noise is limited to established ambient levels for the time of day, plus 5 decibels.
How specific are the nighttime noise threshholds – for example, is the threshhold for 11 p.m. the same as the one for 8 p.m.?
Sound engineers were not present at this meeting, but the contractor representatives said they could consult the engineers and find out this information.
Will there be any dumping at the Crenshaw staging yard (on Wilshire, between Crenshaw and Lorraine)?
No. That yard will be used mostly for equipment staging; dumping there would be “very sparing,” if any.
What are the plans for replacing buildings being removed along Wilshire for the construction?
Metro has a real estate and development team in place. Some property is only being leased for the construction period, and control will revert to the owners after construction. For properties owned by Metro, some will be turned into stations (e.g. the NW corner of Wilshire and La Brea), while others will be developed with other kinds of buildings.
Next Meeting…and Feedback Options
Metro’s Purple Line Extension community meetings are held on the third Thursday of every other month. The next meeting will be held on Thursday, January 21, at the Beverly Hills Tennis Center. (Note: in response to complaints about the traditional 5:30 p.m. meeting time for these gatherings, Metro representatives and Council Member Ryu said January’s meeting time may be changed.)
In the meantime, more information is available, and community feedback can be provided, at: