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Metro Board approves $3.2B budget for last leg of the Purple Line

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The subway is set to begin traveling to Westwood in 2026

The Purple Line extension, under construction now, will eventually ferry riders to the Westside.
Courtesy of The Source

The price is climbing for Metro’s long-awaited subway to the Westside of Los Angeles.

The agency’s Board of Directors unanimously approved a new budget for the third and final leg of the Purple Line extension Thursday, bringing the total cost of the 2.6-mile rail segment to $3.2 billion.

The Purple Line is the latest project affected by swiftly escalating construction costs, which have inflated the prices of some of Metro’s signature projects.

Metro had previously budgeted slightly less than $1.4 billion for tunneling on the last leg of the project. A contract approved Thursday covers stations, testing, and track work on this final phase.

When Los Angeles County voters approved the Measure M sales tax initiative in 2016, the agency predicted the third leg of the project would cost closer to $2 billion total.

Metro staff told the board Thursday that the entire nine-mile project, which will bring the line to Westwood, is now expected to cost roughly $1 billion for every new mile of track.

According to an agency expenditure plan, a little under half of the project’s budget is expected to come from the federal government, though staffers indicated Thursday that a grant agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation is still being finalized.

The expense may be worth it for the many new riders expected to board the train once it opens. Metro projects the line will begin traveling to Westwood in 2026, producing more than 75,000 new daily trips.

Cost increases aren’t unique to the Purple Line. When contractor bids came in above budget last year, the construction authority overseeing a major extension of the Gold Line was forced to rework the project schedule. Now, even the scope of the project is up in the air. Planned to travel as far as Montclair, it may now stop several miles short, in Pomona, until further funding turns up.

Board member John Fasana suggested that cost increases could threaten the viability of future subway projects, which are typically much more expensive than transit lines that travel along aerial tracks or at street level. He suggested that agency staff should consider “other options” in the future, such as monorail.

“We really need to have a critical eye about what technologies we choose,” Fasana said Thursday.

Metro is currently examining monorail as a possibility for a planned rail route between the Westside and the San Fernando Valley.

Clarification [3/4/19]: An earlier version of this story stated that the cost of the project had doubled, but did not specify that the $1.4 billion previously approved for Purple Line funding was for tunneling alone. The $3.2 billion total is for tunneling, stations, systems, track work, and testing.