Historic Blue Line car set to be centerpiece of $5.8 million overhaul of First Street

The historic Metro Blue Line railcar that the Long Beach City Council voted to transport to the city last month could end up being part of a $5.8 million revamping of a four-block stretch of Downtown.

The Blue Line’s “Long Beach 100” car was the first train car to operate on the city’s section of the Blue Line, now called the A Line. Now the car is set to serve as the centerpiece of an overhaul of First Street.

The reuse of the railcar is part of a much larger plan for the sleepy stretch of First Street where the city is planning massive renovations for the four-block stretch between Pacific and Elm avenues.

Long Beach Public Works spokesperson Jennifer Carey said that the preliminary idea for the redesign is to connect the East Village and Downtown by activating the corridor with new landscaping, sitting areas, shaded structures and even bike hubs. The project would end at the new Lincoln Park, which is currently under construction.

“It speaks to the city’s focus on enhancing pedestrian safety and bikeability through the Downtown,” Carey said. “It really creates a new pedestrian and bike friendly place for people.”

Long Beach entered into the initial agreement with the county to preserve the railcar in 2018, and last month the City Council approved $40,000 in city funds to transport the railcar to the city’s water department site for temporary storage.

The city is expected to be on the hook for at least another $300,000 for the larger project, with matching funds—and millions more—being provided by Los Angeles County.

Carey said the city has not identified a funding source yet. The City Council is expected to select a source by July, and Carey said it is possible that using tax revenue from sources like Measure M—an LA Metro sales tax increase passed in 2016—or the state’s gas tax could prevent the city from having to use general fund money for the project.

If the project and funding are approved, the city could break ground as soon as 2023 and construction could take about six months, Carey said.

The rest of the funding could be provided by the county. Supervisor Janice Hahn asked the board to approve $400,000 in grant money Tuesday that could go toward funding the initial steps in developing the Blue Line railcar into a museum or cafe.

Hahn is also proposing another $1.5 million in funding for the project, bringing the total allocated by the county to $5.5 million. That funding isn’t expected to be released until the city completes its initial environmental review for the project site.

The funding includes $100,000 in Catalytic Development Fund money and a $300,000 grant from the LA County Development Authority that could be used for early design work and to enhance the streetscape of the proposed site, which could include a parklet and improvements to lighting.

The full board needed to vote on the $300,000 LACDA allocation because that program is typically used for unincorporated parts of the county.

Hahn, who represents the county’s 4th district, which includes Long Beach, has been a big advocate of the project since discussions of retiring Car 100 began in 2017. Hahn said that her dad, former Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, was a big part of rebuilding the rail system and made sure the county started with the Blue Line because “he knew how important it would be to the communities from South LA to Long Beach.”

“I remember being there with him and my kids when Car 100 made its first trip and how it opened up a new chapter for our transit system,” Hahn said in a statement. “Car 100 is an important part of our history and we are going to give it a new lease on life in downtown Long Beach.”

Editors note: The original version of this story used the incorrect acronym for the Los Angeles County Development Authority. The story has been updated.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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