Signaling hope that rail mass transit may one day soon travel west of the 405 freeway, a ceremonial groundbreaking was held Monday morning in Santa Monica for the second phase of the Expo Line light rail project.
The 6.6-mile second phase, with a budget of about $1.5 billion, will connect Culver City and Santa Monica, mostly via the old rail right-of-way that runs along Exposition Boulevard. The budget includes several significant bridges for the train over busy streets, including Sepulveda Boulevard, as well as a maintenance yard and new rail cars.
“This is one of the most traffic impacted areas in Southern California,” said County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who also serves on the Metro Board of Directors. “People get stuck getting into this job-rich area every morning and they get stuck stuck trying to leave in the afternoon. This project will give people…an alternative to getting stuck.
“It won’t solve the traffic problems of the Westside but it will give people an alternative to sitting in traffic,” Yaroslavsky added.
The first phase of the Expo Line from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City is nearing completion, and train and track testing has been underway since spring. No formal date for the opening of that line has been set but Expo Line Construction Authority officials recently told the Los Angeles Times that it may not happen until early 2012. Metro, which will operate the line, has final say on the opening date.
The second phase of the Expo Line between downtown L.A. and downtown Santa Monica is expected to open in 2015. The path of the entire Expo Line route roughly parallels the Santa Monica Freeway, which in recent years has become notable for a notorious westbound commute in the mornings and an equally loathsome eastbound trip in the afternoon.
One big problem is the tremendous number of jobs that have been created in Santa Monica and the Westside over the past 20 years. Housing — at least the kind affordable to many people — has remained in short supply, forcing many people to commute to the Westside, which has no rail transit of any kind.
Santa Monica officials have revamped city plans in the past few years to attempt to finally add some density and housing to major corridors. The city is well known for its strict rent control laws and adversity to density of any sort.
The second phase of the Expo Line will feature seven stations. The Expo/Westwood station will be a short walk from the Westside Pavilion, the Olympic/26th station will be adjacent to the Water Garden office complex and Bergamot Station arts center and the terminus at Colorado and 4th in Santa Monica is near the Third Street Promenade, the Santa Monica Pier and the beach, among a few notable destinations.
The second phase of the Expo Line — unlike the first — is funded mostly by the Measure R half-cent sales tax increase approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008. Two other Measure R transit projects are already under construction: the Orange Line busway extension to Chatsworth is scheduled to open in 2012 and the Gold Line Foothill Extension between Pasadena and Azusa is scheduled for completion in 2015.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is the chair of the Metro Board, said that he will continue to work on persuading Congress to adopt his America Fast Forward plan as the law of the land. If so, that would expand federal financing for transit plans so that Metro could speed up construction of Measure R transit and road projects.
The environmental documents for three other Measure R projects — the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Westside Subway Extension and the Regional Connector — are likely to be completed and approved by the Metro Board of Directors over the next few months.