Private Intervention Could Mean Sepulveda Pass Rail Line Before We Die

Metro received a flood of offers from companies wanting to save us from the 405

Metro has made huge gains in filling the gaps in our once-wonky transit system, with rail lines now connecting to Santa Monica, Culver City, Hollywood, and within the next decade, LAX, Inglewood, Beverly Hills, and Century City. There remains a nut the transit agency has yet to crack—connecting Westwood to the Valley via the Sepulveda Pass. A transit line over the mountainous area is in Metro’s longterm plans and could become a reality in 2033-35, should voters pass Measure M next week. While 17 years in the future is better than nothing, it’s still far away. Luckily, there are plans afoot that could significantly speed up that timeframe.

Metro has received eight proposals for public-private partnerships to more quickly build various projects, from the Purple Line subway extension to Westwood to a light rail line to Santa Ana to the aforementioned Sepulveda Pass project. A PPP is a joint effort between corporations and public agencies like Metro, where the companies help plan and fund the construction in exchange for a cut of fares, naming rights, or advertising. Metro CEO Phil Washington oversaw PPP’s when he ran Denver’s transit agency and use the funding mechanism to speed up a new rail line connecting downtown Denver to its international airport.

Under Washington’s tutelage, Metro convened a forum in February inviting the public to bring ideas on PPPs; instead of aspirational train sketches from transit nerds, they received a flood of serious offers, from respected builders and architects like Parsons, Kiewit, and AECOM. “The proposals will now move through phase one of Metro’s unsolicited proposal review process to determine if the proposals have technical and financial merit,” Metro says in a recent blog post.

While Metro is looking at PPPs throughout the system, including an extension of the Crenshaw Line through West Hollywood, it’s the Sepulveda Pass project that’s garnered the most ink and excitement. As it stands now, the line would be about nine miles long, running from the Van Nuys Orange Line station to the future Wilshire/Westwood Purple Line station, and including a stop in the heart of UCLA. It’s not clear if it would be above-ground or subterranean, though Metro has floated the idea of a double tunnel underneath the 405, one that could carry trains on one level and cars on another in an exclusive toll lane.

It’s not clear how much time a PPP could shave off the 2033 ribbon-cutting. If we can be riding underneath the 405 by the 2024 election, we won’t mind if it’s aboard the Chase Bank (or Starbucks or Chipotle) Express.