"Visual Blight" or a Cheaper Bridge for METRO?

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Updated May 29: This story was updated to include information from an interview with METRO Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia.

Members of METRO's Board of Directors who were in attendance at a meeting last week voted unanimously to build an overpass at Hughes Street. The problem: Some East Side residents don't agree with that move.

The overpass will connect METRO's new Green Line, which will open in the fall, from Hughes Street to the Magnolia Transit Center. Until the overpass is finished, the line will only run from the Theater District to Hughes Street -- a total of seven stops.

"The most important thing we can do at METRO is to complete that line," METRO Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia said. "We need to do that as quickly as we can...That really is a key focus for us."

But councilman Robert Gallegos, the representative for the affected District I, doesn't think an overpass is the right choice. Gallegos attended the May 21 meeting to encourage the board to postpone the vote one month to allow for more review time.

Garcia decided against a postponement. He said there have been two community meetings and three special board meetings over the potential contamination that could come with an underpass.

"I think it's been vetted very well from January to May," Garcia said.

This issue goes even further back than that. According to Daniel Santamaria, Gallegos's chief of staff, the councilman and East End residents attended a METRO board meeting five years ago advocating for an underpass, not an overpass.

Maybe that's why Garcia said delaying the vote would've caused "more hurt feelings."

Cost estimates for the overpass construction are between $35 million and $43 million, according to METRO. The overpass will also have a lane for vehicular traffic. Construction is estimated to take 31 months to complete.

METRO's board could have gone with an underpass, which according to the transit organization would've cost $52 million to $68 million and taken 42 months to complete. The latest decision is the faster, cheaper option.

It is also a decision that doesn't run the risk of contamination by digging into the ground, Garcia said.

"The unknown is just too risky," Garcia said. "We need to go over to complete the line."

But Gallegos doesn't think so.

According to Santamaria, Gallegos thinks an overpass "would be a monstrous visual blight and divide the community."

In response, Garcia said METRO will listen to community residents to hear what they want, aesthetically, for the overpass to "make something more than a street in the sky."

Well, councilman Gallegos, if this vote holds and construction proceeds, at least the "blight" won't be finished for almost three years.

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