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LOS ANGELES-Transit officials here have approved a $20.8-million contract for engineering work on a light-rail line that would run from Downtown to the densely populated Eastside, pushing the proposed $760-million project one step closer to becoming reality.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority awarded the contract to Eastside LRT Partners, a locally based group that is also preparing the project’s environmental impact report. The decision instantly raised conflict-of-interest howls from the losing bidders, which include Southland-based Jacobs Engineering Group and giant Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall.

The six-mile line would run from Downtown’s Union Station deep into the Eastside, a densely populated area that is largely comprised of Hispanics and Asian Americans. Though many Eastside residents welcome the plan, others say the money should instead be used to improve bus service.

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