Hillel Aron 

LOS ANGELES (CN) — At noon on Friday, Los Angeles entered a new era of public transportation.

Gone is the C-shaped Gold Line. In its wake, the 50-mile north-south A line, running from the foothills of Azusa down to Long Beach, and the 23-mile east-west E Line, running from East LA to Santa Monica.

That reshuffle is a result of the much anticipated regional connector, the 2-mile, $2 billion underground rail project that streamlines transit ridership through downtown, saving riders up to 20 minutes for some trips.

The project includes three new subterranean stations, each with sparkling new elevators and massive public art works. Minutes after the new stations opened, hundreds of what could only be described as transit enthusiasts filled the new stations, eagerly photographing their every detail, hopping from station to station to experience it all. The atmosphere was almost one of an A-list art gallery show.

"I'm really excited," said Raag Agrawal, a UCLA medical student who wore a t-shirt reading "The War on Cars," a podcast. "This is going to transform everything in LA."

Hours earlier, dozens of public officials congregated outside the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo, across the street from one of the new stops, for the regional connector's opening ceremony and ribbon cutting. Actor George Takei, a native Angeleno who played Mister Sulu in the original Star Trek series, served as master of ceremonies. Another actor, Ed Begley, Jr., an environmental activist who makes a point of taking public transit to the Oscars every year, was in the audience.

“Here were are full circle," said U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, who grew up in Pacoima. "Not just growing the system, not just expanding the system, but improving the system so the folks who ride Metro are doing it because they want to, not just because they need to."

Among the event's many other speakers was Mitch Landrieu, a senior adviser to President Joe Biden, who has been largely responsible for coordinating the administration's infrastructure spending, a billion dollars of which went into the regional connector.

"The only finite thing you can’t replace is time," said Landrieu, noting that the new project is likely to save many riders 20 minutes per trip. "It's not something that is measurable." He added: "In America, when we come together, when we connect ourselves, there’s nothing we can’t do."

It was a sentiment echoed by Congressman Jimmy Gomez who said, "LA is best when we think big and act boldly, when we realize we’re not just a city of small little neighborhoods."

LA's rail network now includes the six lines: the A, B, C, D, E and K lines (no prizes for guessing why there's no F line). The B and D lines are subways, starting at Union Station and heading east. The the others are light rail lines, operating largely above ground. Much of that new rail system was paid for by a pair of ballot initiatives — Measure R, a half-cent sales tax passed in 2008, and Measure M, passed in 2016, which added another half-cent sales tax and made Measure R permanent.

Seven years later, LA has more than 100 rail stations — more than in Washington, D.C. And the network is still expanding. The 6.4-mile D line is currently being extended out to West Los Angeles, while the still fairly new K line is being built down to the airport, or at least a short shuttle bus away.

There are plans — or dreams, perhaps — of extending the K line north to West Hollywood, and of building something called the Sepulveda Transit Corridor, something — a train? a monorail? — that would run parallel to the famously congested 405 freeway.

Even as Metro continues to build, there are complaints about what it's finished. Ridership remains fairly anemic, a problem that persists in most U.S. transit systems. Parts of the E line run at the same grade as cars, and stop at red lights, reducing the train to little more than an expensive bus (once the train gets to west side, it gains "signal preemption," which means it doesn't have to stop at intersections). That makes the line run quite slow as it gets closer to downtown. And yet the E line has the biggest potential for the daily commuter, since so many jobs are located on the westside.

With the regional connector now open, riders can take A line from, say, Highland Park and then transfer seamlessly to the E line (the two lines share a track as they head through downtown). Before Friday, that journey would've taken two different transfers, hence the 20 minutes saved.

To celebrate the opening of the regional connector, Metro is offering free rides on its trains, busses and bicycle share bikes all day and through the weekend.