The first phase of the long-sought "Subway to the Sea" received final approval Thursday, but transit officials delayed final consideration of a disputed segment that would send a tunnel under Beverly Hills High School.
At a meeting overflowing with people and TV cameras, the board of Los Angeles County's Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted 11-1 to certify the final environmental impact report on the Westside subway extension and to approve the route and stations for the 3.9-mile phase under Wilshire Boulevard.
However, after hearing contentious testimony from nearly 100 people, including angry Beverly Hills parents and school officials who cited worry for their kids' safety, the board voted to hold a public hearing devoted to the high school tunnel before approving the route's five remaining miles.
"Your experts keep saying it's safe. Well, there's no guarantee," Franny Rennie, a PTA council president, told the board. "Our No. 1 point is safety for our 2,000 students. Don't risk our kids."
Supporters also spoke in large numbers.
"I see no public evidence that there are genuine risks to the high school," said Denny Zane, a public transportation advocate.
The entire cost of the line running from an area west of downtown to Santa Monica is estimated at $5.66 billion.
Beverly Hills officials have commissioned their own studies and suggested alternate routes.
County supervisor and MTA board member Zev Yaroslavksy said a legal fight may be inevitable but hopes it can be dealt with quickly and construction can begin.
"If we're going to get into a court battle with the school district," Yaroslavsky said before the vote, "let's get that started now."
The board previously scheduled a vote Thursday on ending the subway's unusual and long-standing honor system for ticket buyers but pushed the issue forward to its May meeting while further details are developed.
Most board members have expressed support for installing pay gates at subway stations in July, saying the practice of only occasionally checking riders for tickets costs the system millions of dollars a year.
Surveys at 10 stations last year using gates that lock showed many passengers weren't bothering to pay. Ticket purchases rose by 68 percent during the tests.