City Council briefed on Blue Line project as city braces for four-month closure

With the southern half of the Metro Blue Line set to close this weekend as part of a $1 billion overhaul, some in Long Beach fear that the disruption in service could lead to losses in ridership.

According to Metro staff, the southern portion of the closure—which includes all stations south of the Willowbrook/Rosa Parks station—will begin at 4 a.m. Saturday and will last for roughly four months as upgrades are made to stations, tracks, signaling systems and overhead power sources.

The northern half of the track will close for four months beginning in May. When it re-opens, the Blue Line will actually be the A-Line.

Tim Lindholm, Metro’s executive officer for capital projects, said that the construction will also result in four crossover tracks being installed within the city that will allow for trains to bypass accidents or maintenance in the future, which could help the Blue Line stay on schedule in the future.

However, Lindholm conceded that ultimately the project will be judged by how riders respond to the closures and the temporary accommodations.

“The success of this program is not whether we finish it on time or finish it within our budget, the success here is not to lose any riders,” Lindholm said. “We want to provide excellent passenger service as we do these closures.”

Officials ask users to ‘plan ahead’ as Metro Blue Line prepares for 8-month closure

A series of shuttles are scheduled to transport Blue Line passengers between Long Beach and Downtown Los Angeles over the next four months, including a “local shuttle” that will take passengers to every Long Beach Blue Line station free of charge. The other two shuttles, which includes one express shuttle offering downtown-to-downtown service, will be offered for $1.75.

Metro staff said that it expects the trips to take about the same amount of time riding the train currently takes—about an hour—adding that the buses could run five to 10 minutes longer. They added that there would be about 10 buses per hour operating between the two cities, which prompted Councilman Roberto Uranga to warn that this could lead to losses for Metro.

“I think we’re going to be losing some ridership,” Uranga said. “There’s going to be frustration and people who are disappointed with the plan.”

The frustration might not be limited to those who rely on the Blue Line to commute. The four months of work on the track will also impact surface street traffic, local businesses and residents as streets are closed to allow crews to complete the upgrades.

Work is expected to be carried out six days a week with Sundays serving as the only off day for the construction crews.

Metro staff said that in some cases, such as work at intersections, would last 24 hours, most likely Friday to Saturday.

A number of town halls and community meetings have been hosted by the agency to address the concerns of affected communities, including one meeting scheduled for Wednesday night inside City Hall. Agency representatives said they want to ensure that the construction phase is as “painless as possible” as the work begins this weekend.

“When you talk about pulling up the rail in the City of Long Beach, you start talking about replacing those overhead wires, obviously those don’t come without a little bit of pain,” said Anthony Crump, director of community construction relations for Metro. “In some cases that means the parking is going to be removed, in some cases it means we’ll be doing lane closures.”

The closures are likely to impact 64,000 riders who use the Blue Line.

Senay Kenfe, a resident of Central Long Beach, said that more should needed to be done to inform people from his community near the Willow Street station, one of the busiest stations in the city. He, too, warned of the impacts that it would have on the workers that rely on the Blue Line to get to their jobs.

“I’ve been riding this train since Ninja Turtles were being used to sell the idea of riding it,” Kenfe said. “This is something that goes through not only the inner city but the central heartland of this region and most workers go through it.”

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