Of all the myriad lawsuits against Los Angeles rail projects, the challenges to the Regional Connector seemed the least worrisome. But it turns out it's the first one in years to actually have any success. A group of Downtown business owners, including the operators of the Bonaventure Hotel, filed suit against the two-mile subway tunnel that will link the Blue, Gold, and Expo lines together, and convinced a judge last week that Metro violated the National Environmental Policy Act with how they chose their tunneling method. The project is now in pre-construction and a contractor was recently hired to start the big-time work like drilling underground and building stations; the line is supposed to open in about six years.
The property owners object to Metro's cut-and-cover tunneling method for a section of Flower Street between Fourth and Seventh Streets; the technique involves digging a trench for the subway tunnel and then rebuilding the road on top, which they're afraid will interfere with their business. A tunnel boring machine would cause less disruption to the street, but is expensive, complicated, and was ruled out by Metro.
While the US District judge threw out almost all of the charges by the property owners—they said the agency violated the environmental impact report by failing to analyze parking impacts, construction impacts, etc.—he did find that the agency did not explain why other tunneling methods besides TBM and cut-and-cover were rejected. Metro's lawyers says other methods were known to be "infeasible" before the EIR process even started, so they didn't need to be fleshed out in the EIR. But the judge wrote Metro is "required to explain in the [final environmental impact statement], at least briefly, the reasons that such alternatives were rejected. Defendants failed to do so. For these reason, the FEIS is "not in accordance with the law" in this specific area. Plaintiffs' Motion is GRANTED on this issue."
Instead of halting pre-construction, the judge ordered that Metro and the plaintiffs meet and on or before June 20 and "file a joint statement" about the next step. If that doesn't solve things, there could be problems: "Plaintiffs have moved to enjoin both construction of the Project as well as its funding by the FTA until Defendants comply with NEPA. However, Plaintiffs have not shown that any immediate, alleged harm will result from the deficiencies in the conduct of the Defendants that are discussed in this Order because there is no showing that Defendants planned to commence construction immediately. At the hearing on the Motions, Metro's Counsel stated that, although light construction in preparation for the Project, i.e., utility relocation, has already begun, substantial construction for the Project, which would chase the alleged, adverse environmental impacts, would not begin until December 2014."
So hopefully this will be resolved by December?
And here's Metro's statement on the suit: "Metro is pleased the Court upheld its analyses and mitigation of the environmental impacts of the Regional Connector Project. In the one area that requires further environmental documentation to explain why alternative tunneling methods on lower Flower Street are infeasible, Metro will follow the Court's directive to meet and confer with the Plaintiffs and to file a joint report by June 20, 2014 regarding Plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief. Metro will continue to provide the public with information on the infeasibility of alternative tunneling methods for the lower Flower Street portion of the Regional Connector Project through the environmental review process."
· Here's a Primer on Regional Connector Work for DTLA's Flower [Curbed LA]
· Regional Connector [Curbed LA]