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LA's Olympic hopes inspire subway dreams

In this file photo, passengers board Metro subway trains during rush hour on June 3, 2008 in Los Angeles, California.
David McNew/Getty Images
FILE: Passengers board Metro subway trains during rush hour on June 3, 2008 in Los Angeles, California.

The Los Angeles bid for the 2024 Olympics has revived hopes for a faster completion of the so-called "Subway to the Sea."

Right now, funding is only in place to build the Purple Line extension along Wilshire Boulevard to Westwood, with the final stretch scheduled to open in 2035.

"That's crazy. I'll be super old then," said Metro rider Steven Melnick, who said he'd embrace the idea of hosting the Olympics if it means speeding up construction of the extension.

The bid committee, known as LA24, proposes securing federal funds to finish the project by 2024, according to its bid book.

The L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been pursuing a variety of strategies to accelerate the project on an ongoing basis, but so far none have borne fruit.

"A bid to be hosting the Olympics would be a good premise for stepping up the pace on rail development," said Lisa Schweitzer, a University of Southern California professor of urban planning.

While Metro is planning to add an additional 32 miles of track to its existing rail network of 87 miles by the start of the 2024 Olympics, the fast-moving, high-volume subway line linking downtown to the Westside through the heart of the city is seen as a lynchpin of the system.

"It's going to be an important line that provides a lot of connectivity even beyond the Olympics," said Schweitzer.

But she cautioned that unless L.A. does secure the games, which won't be decided for another two years, the current climate in Washington, D.C., may be inhospitable for raising money based on the bid alone.

"We have to keep in mind the fact that federal funds are increasingly scarce," she said.

A proposal from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the so-called 30-10 plan to use federal loans to accelerate the subway project, was supported by President Obama and passed by the Senate, but it failed to come to a vote in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.