The final phase of planning for the long-anticipated $1 billion light rail line extension from Redondo Beach to Torrance has begun, with Metro scheduled to host two virtual meetings before month’s end to receive public input on the environmental effect of possible routes for the South Bay’s largest ever regional transit project.

The extension of the C Line, formerly and popularly known as the Green Line, represents the culmination of years of lobbying by the South Bay Cities Council of Governments. That agency, which represents cities in the region, has championed the extension in an area that has long lacked sufficient public transportation to other parts of Los Angeles County — forcing commuters to rely on the Southland’s freeways.

“We think this is a great way to provide congestion relief to the South Bay,” said Mark Dierking, community relations manager at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, “and relieve some of that congestion that is happening on the 405 Freeway.”

While the 4.5-mile-long rail link that will connect the region to the Southern California transit network is widely welcomed, there is one major point of contention: Choosing between two potential rail lines that slice through the densely populated bedroom community of Lawndale.

Lawndale residents along both routes, fearing increased noise and reduced property values, have voiced concerns, prompting city officials to oppose the project’s presence in the small city altogether.

The two possible routes through Lawndale mean that the extension could either run on the west side of the South Bay Galleria where Redondo Beach has a new transit center under construction or on the east along the median of Hawthorne Boulevard.

Lawndale officials persuaded Metro to eliminate a planned “neighborhood” station in the community of about 33,000 at Manhattan Beach Boulevard and Inglewood Avenue. As a result, commuters traveling to and from the small blue-collar community won’t get a direct connection to the regional rail network within Lawndale, which is just under two square miles in area.

The Marine Avenue station in Redondo Beach — the current terminus of the rail line — is close to the once-planned Lawndale station, however, and has a large park-and-ride lot, as Lawndale officials themselves pointed out two years ago, before Metro narrowed potential routes for the extension to two.

Despite the opposition in Lawndale, the proposed project has wide-ranging support throughout the South Bay and at the county level.

If all goes to plan, by the time the Los Angeles Summer Olympics roll around in 2028, South Bay residents should be able to board a light rail train at a new multimillion dollar Torrance transit center, which has resumed construction after a forced hiatus, at the terminus of the extension at Crenshaw Boulevard and 208th Street, Metro officials say.

The rail line will glide north on an elevated section over 186th and 190th streets, south of 182nd Street, and whisk riders to the planned station on either the east or west side of the South Bay Galleria — depending on the final route through Lawndale. It will then connect with the existing Marine Avenue station and tie in with the almost completed Expo Line, allowing easy access to Los Angeles International Airport and points north and east.

But for that to happen, Metro will need to pick up the pace.

Steve Lantz, the transportation director for the South Bay Cities Council of Governments, said the C Line extension would have to be accelerated — that is, awarded even more voter-approved tax dollars — if it is to be finished before the current 2030-to-2033 timeframe.

That seems likely, Lantz said.

The extension was named as one of the so-called “28 for ’28” regional transportation projects officials want built by the time tourists descend on Southern California for the Olympics.

“It’s a relatively short project to construct,” Lantz said. “So this phase is buildable by 2028 at this point.

“It depends on what happens during the environmental process in the end,” he added, “whether we get delayed by lawsuits or other obstacles.”

Metro officials, meanwhile, said they hope the the draft environmental analysis — a $32.5 million contract to prepare it was approved last year by the county Board of Supervisors — will be completed by March 2022.

The first step is hearing from the public and a variety of government agencies.

“We want them to tell us what to study,” Dierking said.

Metro will accept written public comments through March 15, and will hold a pair of two-hour Zoom meetings later this month — one at 4 p.m. Feb. 24 and another at 11 a.m. Feb. 27 — where people can provide comment orally. The Metro board will eventually have to approve the environmental impact report, as it’s formally known.

Both Redondo Beach and Torrance officials, for their part, have said they see the new rail line as a catalyst for economic development.

The improved transit access could bring more visitors west to Torrance’s sprawling Del Amo Fashion Center, a lucrative source of sales tax revenue for the city, as well as oft-ignored Old Torrance just to the east of the transit center.

And across Crenshaw from the transit center just a couple of blocks away is the start of the city’s unofficial brewery district, where a cluster of increasingly popular craft breweries are easily accessible on foot or by bike.

Redondo Beach’s new $11.5 million transit center — built in part to accommodate the extension of the light rail line — on the west side of the South Bay Galleria, which is in the midst of a $900 million makeover are seen as the foundation of a pedestrian-oriented shopping district along Artesia and Aviation boulevards.

It’s possible, however, that the extension won’t use the old railroad right-of-way adjacent to the new transit center at all.

That’s because while the route is set south of 190th Street, the uncertainty surrounding the exact course through Lawndale means a light rail station at the Galleria could end up being built on the east side of the mall.

But that’s OK with city officials, who told Metro two years ago that an elevated section of track along the median of the Hawthorne Boulevard commercial corridor, on the east side of the mall, was their preferred route anyway, said Public Works Director Ted Semaan. (He also noted there were other reasons the transit center on the east side of the mall was relocated, including moving it away from nearby single-family homes.)

Lawndale, though, continues its opposition.

Lawndale residents who use the current railroad right-of-way, which could be a C Line route, as a footpath have long opposed the effect light rail would have on their neighborhood between162nd and 170th streets. Metro is looking at retaining and improving that pedestrian access along with the light rail line should that route be chosen, said Dolores Roybal Saltarelli, project manager for the extension.

The opposition is among the reasons Metro is exploring the other route to the east, which includes a 0.6-mile elevated section along the 405 Freeway that attempts to skirt residential areas by providing rush hour riders a good view of the customary bumper-to-bumper traffic as they zip by.

But that, too, has provoked opposition from Lawndale residents, Dierking said, especially where it transitions at grade through neighborhoods between 162nd and 166th street en route to Hawthorne Boulevard, the city’s main commercial thoroughfare.

The city has sided with residents protesting both routes.

“Since the inception of the Green Line Extension by Metro,” Mayor Robert-Pullen Miles wrote in a 2018 letter to Metro, using the lines old name, “the city of Lawndale has been opposing any route of the Green Line through the city of Lawndale due to the negative and harsh impacts the project will have on thousands of residents and many businesses.”

Fast facts on the South Bay Green Line Extension

Length: 4.5 miles from the Redondo Beach Marine Avenue station to a new transit center in Torrance at Crenshaw Boulevard and 208th Street.

Number of new stations: Two, in Torrance and at the South Bay Galleria in Redondo Beach.

Cost: About $1 billion in voter-approved funds have been allocated to the project.

Completion: Currently set for between 2030 and 2033; the goal is to move it up to 2028 in time for the Los Angeles Olympic Games.

What’s next: Two meetings to take public comment on the project are scheduled for Feb 24 and 27. Meeting details, including Zoom links and telephone numbers, are available at the Metro blog at thesource.metro.net.

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