Some new Expo Line Phase 2 construction pics

Progress continues on the second phase of the Measure R-funded Expo Line between Culver City and downtown Santa Monica. The folks at the Expo Line Construction Authority sent over the above photos, all taken in recent days.

Both Expo Line Phase 2 and the Gold Line Foothill Extension are more than 50 percent complete and aiming toward forecast openings in early 2016.

Meanwhile, the Crenshaw/LAX Line broke ground earlier this year — we’ll have more soon about upcoming construction activities. Utility relocation continues for the Regional Connector and Purple Line Extension with the Metro Board expected to soon consider construction contracts for both projects.

Construction notice: 17th Street to be closed at Colorado for Expo Line work

17thSTreet

 

The above is from the Expo Line Construction Authority, the agency building the second phase of the light rail line between Culver City and downtown Santa Monica. There is more information about the project and photos on the Authority’s Facebook page.

Transportation headlines, Friday, March 14

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On Expo and Gold Line projects, light rail cars could be in short supply (KPCC)

Media coverage of the story posted on ZevWeb about the possibility of there not being enough light rail cars at Metro once the Expo Line Phase 2 and the Gold Line Foothill Extensions are complete. Excerpt:

Metro is in this bind because of a deal gone bad with AnsaldoBreda, the Italian contractor originally hired to make its rail cars.  That deal fell through in October of 2009, and the agency spent two more years settling on and signing a deal with a new contractor — Kinki Sharyo of Japan. Metro spokesman Marc Littman said Kinki Sharyo is essentially playing catch-up, setting a very aggressive schedule to make sure rail cars begin to arrive in the middle of 2015.

“They have a great reputation for being on time,” Littman said “They’re doing everything they can to get us the cars as quickly as they can.”

Littman said Metro expects to have 24 new rail cars by the end of 2015, with four more arriving each month after that.  He adds that once construction on the Expo and Gold Line extensions is complete, Metro must spend months testing each for safety and training operators before opening them to passengers.   Metro expects to open phase two of the Expo line in January of 2016 and the Gold Line’s Foothill Extension two months later.

Still, Metro is considering options for dealing with a potential railcar shortfall when the two new extensions open.

“One of things that we could do is shift all of our maintenance work to night so that we can squeeze more capacity out of our existing fleet during the day,” Littman said.  “It’s possible we might have to run shorter trains, or we might have to truncate service.”

I also offered a little history of this issue in yesterday’s headlines.

How many people get to work without a car in your neighborhood? (Better Institutions)

Nice series of maps by Shane Phillips that break it down by census tract in Los Angeles County. The results aren’t exactly a shocker: the tracts with the highest transit use tend to be close to downtown and the ones with fewest transit users tend to be on the county’s fringes (Malibu, Palos Verdes). Interestingly, some of the areas with low transit use will soon be getting new transit options — such as a very nice Gold Line station. I’m talking to you, Arcadia! :)

Paris offers free public transport to reduce severe smog (BBC)

A lack of wind and unseasonably warm days for late winter have conspired to produce Beijing-like smog in Paris, at times obscuring views of the Eiffel Tower. In response, officials have offered three days of free rides on transit from today through Sunday and also made bike sharing free.

Transportation headlines, Thursday, March 13

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Looming train shortage at Metro (ZevWeb) 

Metro is in a race against time. Literally. The big question tackled by this story on Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s website: will there be enough rail cars to operate enough train service on two projects under construction — Expo Line Phase 2 and the Gold Line Foothill Extension — and more than halfway complete?

Excerpt:

So, with a likely initial shortfall of about 50 train cars, the issue presents some tough decisions for Metro, all of which are likely to be unpopular with the traveling public. It could delay the new lines’ openings, operate them with shorter, more crowded trains, offer less frequent service, or redeploy cars from elsewhere in the system, thus spreading the pain more broadly.

The shortage is expected to be most severe in the first months of operation for the two new extensions, with steady improvements coming as new rail cars arrive throughout 2016. But even the prospect of a relatively short-lived disruption has been enough to strain the relationship between Metro, which will operate the lines, and the two construction authorities charged with successfully completing the projects.

Samantha Bricker, chief operating officer for the Exposition Light Rail Construction Authority, expects Expo Phase 2 to be ready for testing in the summer of 2015, which would make it possible for the line—running from Culver City to Santa Monica— to serve the public as early as December, 2015. But she’s worried that the train car shortage could impede that schedule and disappoint passengers looking forward to jumping aboard the westernmost phase of a light rail line that’s already attracting large numbers of riders.

“If these projects are done on time and there are no trains there, the public is going to go nuts,” Bricker predicted.

Metro’s Gold Line Foothill Extension, running from Pasadena to Azusa, is expected to open just two months later.  Habib Balian, chief executive officer of the Foothill Construction Authority, said he, too, is worried that his line’s opening will be delayed or marred by diminished service in the early months.

“It’s going to sit there and cobwebs are going to grow until Metro starts service, or they are going to put wimpy service on all the rail lines,” Balian said, referring to the possibility of importing rail cars from elsewhere in the system.

The problem dates back to November 2009 when negotiations between Metro and  rail car manufacturer AnsaldoBreda on a deal for new rail cars finally collapsed. Metro staff and some Metro Board members were never happy with the firm (including Yaroslavsky and Supervisor Mike Antonovich, perhaps most prominently) which had previously delivered flawed rail cars to Metro under an earlier contract. Despite this poor track record with Metro, the city of L.A. delegation of the Metro Board were hoping that the firm would build a manufacturing facility in downtown Los Angeles to provide much needed jobs during the Great Recession. That, of course, would have been a significant political victory.

The rail car contract then had to be re-bid and it wasn’t until April 2012 that the Metro Board — with great urging from Metro staff — finally approved a contract for 78 new rail cars with Kinkisharyo. That firm is presently building an assembly facility for the rail cars in Palmdale and company officials say that it will be very difficult to accelerate delivery of the vehicles.

In the meantime, Metro is sending a delegation to the company’s headquarters in Japan later this month to see if there is any way to get more vehicles quicker. Deliveries are currently scheduled to begin in September 2015 and continue through 2017. As for the Expo Line Phase 2 and the Gold Line Foothill Extension, Metro has been forecasting that both will open in early 2016. The projects together add 17 miles of track to the Metro system, meaning more trains are needed to cover that turf and maintain existing schedules.

Bottom line: this is really a story about politics and the awarding of big contracts.

UPDATE: Metro officials say they do not believe that the agency will be 50 rail cars short assuming the projects open on time — which, of course, remains to be seen. Officials also say they may be able to shift maintenance schedules around so that more rail cars will be available to operate at any given time.

Southern California Transit Advocates takes position on fare increases (SO.CA.TA website) 

The group isn’t large but they do pay close attention to transit in our region and, in particular, serve as watchdogs over Metro and other agencies. The group says it generally supports the fare increases proposed by Metro but would like to see some changes.

In particular, SO.CA.TA wants to see the free transfer period extended from 90 minutes to two hours and for TAP cards to be sold for single rides on buses for the same price as they’re sold from ticket machines at rail stations ($1). The group also declined to support the second option for fare increases that focuses on separate fares for peak and off-peak times. That, the group said, is a poor idea that would only make taking transit more confusing.

Fossils unearthed by Metro reveals L.A.’s watery past (KPCC)

A nice look at the reasons why that marine fossils are being found in the exploratory shaft for the Purple Line Extension project. The main reason: the beach wasn’t always located at its present location in L.A. :)

Becoming a biker in L.A.: buying a bike (KCRW)

A rookie cyclist dives into the world of bikes and bike gear to try to determine what she really needs. The gist of it: the proliferation of bike gear and fancy bikes has made things a lot more difficult than when Old Goats such as me bought bikes in decades past.

Federal government approves $670-million grant and $160-million loan for Regional Connector

Officials from Metro and the Federal Transit Administration signed a pair of agreements Thursday that will provide a $670-million federal grant and a $160-million federally-backed loan for the Regional Connector light rail project. The total budget of the project is $1.37 billion.

A media event with public officials is being held at 10 a.m. next to the Gold Line’s Little Tokyo station. We’ll post photos and video later today.

In practical terms, the agreements clear the way for construction to begin later this year on the 1.9-mile underground light rail line in downtown L.A. that will tie together the existing Blue Line, Expo Line and Gold Line with tracks between 7th/Metro Center and Little Tokyo. When the project is complete — forecast for 2020 — passengers on those lines will be able to travel through downtown without having to transfer to another line.

The project will also allow trains to run more frequently through downtown. Blue Line and Expo Line trains currently must turn around at 7th/Metro Center, a time-munching maneuver.

Utility relocations on the project are already underway with construction expected to begin later this year after the Metro Board of Directors selects a contractor to build the line. Metro already has three light rail projects currently under construction — the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Expo Line and the Gold Line Foothill Extension. The first phase of the Purple Line Extension of the subway is also expected to sign funding agreements with the federal government later this year, allowing the Metro Board to select a contractor to build that project.

That means that within the next calendar year, Metro could have an unprecedented five rail projects being built simultaneously that will add about 29 miles of rail to the existing 87-mile Metro Rail network. All five projects are also receiving significant funding from Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by 68 percent of Los Angeles County voters in 2008.

The Connector is the first Metro project to receive a federal New Starts grant since the Eastside Gold Line, which opened in 2009. New Starts is a federal program designed to help local transit agencies build expensive transit projects.

The loan is coming from the federal TIFIA program, which helps local areas secure low-interest loans that are cheaper than loans found on the open market. The TIFIA program is part of Metro’s America Fast Forward initiative that was expanded in the most recent federal multi-year transportation bill. Metro is seeking to have the program renewed and expended in the next bill, which Congress is expected to debate this year.

The Connector was originally envisioned as a rail project that would run at street level through downtown. Public opinion, however, swayed Metro to put the line underground, which increased costs but will also provide faster travel speeds and eliminate the need for a rail undercrossing at Alameda Street. The increased cost is the reason that federal funding is crucial for the project.

map_corridor_reg_conn_eng

The news release from Metro is after the jump.

Continue reading

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, February 4

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ART OF TRANSIT: Metro headquarters, the Union Station train platforms and the Palos Verdes Peninsula as seen from Elysian Park on Monday evening. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: Metro headquarters, the Union Station train platforms and the Palos Verdes Peninsula as seen from Elysian Park on Monday evening. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Yes to an Arts District subway stop (Downtown News) 

The editorial praises Metro CEO Art Leahy for directing Metro staff to study adding subway stations at 1st Street and 6th Street along existing Metro tracks. As some know, the tracks for the Red/Purple Line subway continue south from Union Station to a rail maintenance yard along the Los Angeles River and adjacent to the emerging Arts District.

This idea has been kicking around for years — and has been pushed in the past by L.A. Councilman Tom LaBonge. Excerpt:

The neighborhood has become one of the hottest communities in Los Angeles and is seeing a blitz of development. The 438-apartment One Santa Fe is rising east of the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and Legendary Development is preparing to break ground this year on a nearby 472-unit rental complex. Other housing projects already exist throughout the area, including three buildings developed by the firm Linear City in the southern portion of the district. Being able to get these people from their homes to the center of Downtown, or other neighborhoods throughout the region, without climbing into a car has obvious benefits.

Then there is the biggest project coming to the area: In 2015, work will start on a $401 million replacement of the Sixth Street Viaduct. The project will improve connections between the Arts District and Boyle Heights, and include recreation areas on the banks of the Los Angeles River.

All of this activity means that the district could wind up in a traffic crush. That is a serious concern, considering that stakeholders have already experienced the first pangs of congestion and parking shortages. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to be in front of a problem rather than play catch-up later?

We’ll see what happens — the obvious challenge is figuring out how to get people from a presumed street level train platform safely into the Arts District. I don’t believe anything is imminent but it sounds like an exciting idea, especially with the subway extension soon to start construction along Wilshire Boulevard.

Editorial: planning for the future (Santa Monica Daily Press) 

The newspaper urges the Santa Monica City Council to approve plans tonight for the Bergamot Transit Village, located near the future Expo Line 26th/Bergamot station (it’s at 26th and Olympic). Excerpt:

Growth is inevitable. Santa Monica and the rest of the region will continue to attract more people. Whether it’s the 22-year-old graduate from MIT looking to strike it big with her next smartphone application, the New Jersey native stepping off the bus with dreams of Hollywood stardom or the young couple about to start a family, population growth cannot be stopped. Therefore, we must find ways to accept it and manage it as best we can. Without building more housing or more office space, Santa Monica will be unprepared to deal with the increase in demand. Rents will skyrocket, young families will be pushed out and this city will be further strangled by gridlock and falter from a lack of diversity.

The Hines project, with its combination of office space, retail and housing, helps create the community of the future, one in which people can live, work and shop all within their own neighborhood, and without getting into their cars. It’s what innovative, visionary urban planners are calling smart growth, and we agree. We can no longer afford to be car-centric. Change must come and it will be painful for some, but you cannot have progress without some discomfort.

Hines is offering to provide affordable and market rate housing that is sorely needed, plus the creative office space to keep us competitive and attracting the high-wage jobs that make our local economy strong. There is a dedication to preservation, child care and green space. The project, if approved, would be built adjacent to public transit in the form of the Exposition Light Rail line. This is what is envisioned in the Land Use & Circulation Element, a planning document that was debated for years by the community, one that protects traditional residential neighborhoods but allows for growth along transit corridors to meet future demand.

Growth has been everything but inevitable in Santa Monica for decades — the population has barely grown in the past half-century compared to the rest of the region. A lot of that is due to lack of development. And how has that worked out? Well, real estate prices are sky high — unless a rental unit is rent controlled — and traffic is widely agreed to be terrible because of people commuting to jobs.

The Daily Press calls for tweaks to the project — mostly more green space — but opines that a better deal or development is unlikely to come along. Whatever happens, I hope something gets built because putting development near transit makes a lot of sense.

LAX expects to spend $3 million to study consolidated rental car facility (Daily News)

The study would look into building a single facility for rental cars at Manchester Square, the old residential neighborhood west of the 405 and north of Century Boulevard. The airport has bought up most of the properties there and is collecting a ticket fee to help pay for a project should it come to pass.

Train-related excerpt:

Under the plan expected to be approved Monday, Kansas City, Mo.-based TranSystems Corp. will receive about $3 million to study building the car rental facility. Many other airports, including Phoenix Sky Harbor and Chicago Midway, have centrally located rental buildings, in which many companies share one garage. Eventually, L.A.’s facility likely would be linked to the Central Terminal Area with an automated train. If built, in 20 years it might also be linked via the same automated system to Metro’s Green and LAX/Crenshaw lines.

I suppose the key phrase there is “20 years.” The automated train — i.e. the people mover — would presumably first travel from the terminals to a “Intermodal Transportation Facility” the airport hopes to build where light rail would meet the people mover

. Here’s the airport map showing how it all comes together:

Staff20Recommended20Alt20130110_72dpi

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, January 28

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Rest in Peace, Pete Seeger….

Rail alone can’t reinvent L.A. (L.A. Times)

Ethan N. Elkind is pleased to see that three rail transit projects are simultaneously under construction in Los Angeles County. But…and it’s a big ‘but’…here’s the excerpt:

But these billions risk being wasted if city leaders do not promote, and residents do not allow, new growth around rail stations and corridors. Why? Rail is expensive to build, operate and maintain compared with other forms of transit. It only becomes cost-effective with high ridership. And the best way to boost ridership is to locate new jobs, housing and retail near stations.

Focusing development around rail provides multiple benefits. It allows the region to accommodate new residents and natural population growth without building endless subdivisions on open space and worsening traffic and air pollution. It can reduce the high cost of housing by boosting in-town supply, making it easier for businesses to attract and retain talented employees. Finally, rail-accessible development can create convenient, walkable neighborhoods that meet the growing demand among millennials, childless professionals and empty nesters to move “back to the city” — as many recent urban success stories attest.

Couldn’t agree more. Which leads to the next story…

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/commentary/la-oe-elkind-los-angeles-rail-transit-20140127,0,6436265.story#ixzz2riZNuJjl

We’ll be fine (Santa Monica Next)

Gary Kavanaugh takes a look at the Bergamot Transit Village proposal that goes before the Santa Monica City Council tonight for approval. I included an op-ed against the project in yesterday’s headlines (traffic was the big gripe) and Gary’s piece largely finds the project favorable. Excerpt:

My own stance on urbanism and environmentalism that has evolved in recent years . Conserving nature requires a certain amount of letting cities be cities, keeping what development we do inward, and kept away from pushing out edges expanding the total footprint of industrial civilization upon the landscape. Lowering our dependency upon voracious rates of oil consumption and high transportation CO2 emissions requires planning new housing and workplaces around our most energy efficient transportation investments, such as the developing light rail system.

As the data emerging from the truncated Expo Line Phase I has shown, rates of driving do in fact drop off quite significantly for many with car access, but the effect is strongest in that immediate walking radius of the stations.

Also informing my view is an expectation that the completed Expo Line to Santa Monica will exceed expectations. Phase 1 has already hit its 2020 ridership projection. Traffic studies, such as the ones on the impact of the Hines development, are often loaded with assumptions that are already eroding, and that I believe will erode further as we progress through the 21st century.

The long-standing criticism against development in Santa Monica is that it will cause traffic to get worse. But here’s the thing: Santa Monica’s population has barely budged since 1960 — from a little more than 83,000 to about 92,000 in 2012, according to the Census Bureau. I think it’s fair to ask if keeping population growth in Santa Monica artificially down (the rest of the region has grown at a much larger rate) has also ensured bad traffic because of all the people drive into and out of Santa Monica who work or visit there frequently.

One semi-related thought: I think ridership on Expo should be healthy with a caveat: people boarding on the far western side of the line and riding to downtown L.A. will get frustrated if the run times are not more consistent between Crenshaw and downtown L.A.

Broadway traffic lanes to be slashed (Downtown News) 

As part of the Bringing Back Broadway effort, a city proposal seeks to reduce traffic lanes from six to three while widening one of the sidewalks and adding pedestrian seating and bump outs. If the streetcar gets built, it would share a lane with traffic.

Councilman proposes DASH trolleys to make transit more fun (Curbed LA)

L.A. Councilman Tom LaBonge wants a couple of DASH buses to look like open-air streetcars to encourage more ridership. Not a bad idea. Maybe start with a route on weekend nights running between the Art District and Little Tokyo to LA Live via the revived Spring Street corridor?

Time-based transfers are key to transit’s success (Global Toronto)

The Toronto area is considering allowing those who purchase fares on buses and trains to ride an unlimited amount in a 90-minute time period — instead of allowing a transfer only in one direction. Proponents say that’s good for folks who want to run round-trip errands for a single fare — and that will increase ridership. Metro is proposing the same thing here — a higher base fare but unlimited transfers for 90 minutes, including round-trip rides.

Transportation headlines, Monday, January 27

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When is a fare hike really a fare cut (Human Transit) 

Transportation planner Jarrett Walker gives a brief review of Metro’s proposed fare restructuring/increases and likes what he sees. In particular, he’s pleased that the agency is proposing to get rid of the transfer penalty, which requires passengers to pay full fare whenever they transfer buses and/or trains.

Excerpt:

The vast dense core of Los Angeles is one of North America’s great grid systems, designed to allow easy travel between any point A and any point B via a single connection.   Unfortunately, their current fare structure charges for a connection.  This makes as much sense as a road tolling system that charges only for turns.

It’s nonsense.  Connections are an inconvenience to passengers that is required by the structure of an efficient network.   Charging for connections encourages riders to demand wildly inefficient services like the late and famous 305, which zigzag diagonally across the grid, increasing complexity without adding much useful service.  It amounts to punishing customers for helping Metro run an efficient and attractive service pattern.

Like other fees, fare penalties for connections arise in part because journalists and activists over-react to the base fare figure, creating more political heat for raising that number.  So like money-losing airlines, the agencies have to look for other things to charge for to hit their fare recovery targets.  But charging for connections is counterproductive, because connections are the foundation of the network.  Airlines don’t do it.  In fact, airfares via a connection are often cheaper than the nonstop.  That’s because the connecting itinerary lets the airline run a more efficient service pattern.

Walker acknowledges that under the pair of Metro staff proposals, fares would overall increase. It depends on what the Metro Board ultimately approves but under the proposals some people would end up paying more — in particular those who use passes — while some passengers may find that they are paying a lower fare because transfers would be free.

The public hearing on the fare proposals is at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 29, at Metro headquarters in downtown Los Angeles (next to Union Station). Here is an earlier Source post looking at the proposals.

Gold Line extension gets low priority from SanBag (Inland Valley Daily Bulletin) 

The San Bernardino Associated Governments subcommittee that deals with transportation funding has recommended first providing funding a pair of Metrolink projects over extending the Gold Line to Montclair and eventually to the airport in Ontario.

SanBAG officials say at this time there’s only so much money to go around and the Metrolink projects — extending tracks to Redlands and double-tracking some sections of the San Bernardino Line — have more countywide appeal at this time. That said, officials are generally supportive of the Gold Line projects but say that it’s a moot point until the Azusa-to-Montclair segment secures funding. If the project stays within L.A. County and ends at Claremont, then San Bernardino funds for construction and operating costs wouldn’t be needed.

In the meantime, the Board of the Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority last week approved issuing a RFP to find a firm to conduct an Alternatives Analysis of a Gold Line segment between Montclair and Ontario airport. The study is expected to take a couple years to complete.

My write: High noon at Bergamot Transit Village (Santa Monica Daily Press) 

The proposed development near the future Expo Line station in Santa Monica would have five buildings, 765,095 square feet of development, 473 apartments (93 affordable/workforce units) and 25 artist live/work spaces in three buildings. The tallest building would be 85 feet — taller than surrounding buildings. In this op-ed, Bill Bauer writes that the City Council should reject the development for being too tall, too large and too much of a traffic generator.

Santa Monica’s traffic woes in recent years are legendary; the question is what, if anything, can be done about it? The second phase of the Expo Line will at least offer an alternative for some east-west commuters. I suppose the ultra-hypothetical question is what if Santa Monica was served by Expo, the Purple Line Extension (which is funded only as far as Westwood) and a Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor project that connected with Expo, the subway and traveled south along the 405? They key word there is ‘hypothetical,’ btw.

Are streetcars really part of a city’s transit network? (The Atlantic Cities)

Yes and no, writes Eric Jaffe. On the one hand, they are often run by regional transit agencies and allow transfers to their buses and trains. On the other hand, they usually carry a very small portion of overall ridership, raising the question whether streetcars are the best use of local and federal funds.

Satellite photos show how dire snow conditions are at Yosemite and in the Sierra range (National Parks Traveler) 

Not a transportation story, but since drought is in the news — and we will all be impacted — the visuals here are pretty striking. If the mosquitos aren’t too bad, looks like 2014 will be an early backpacking year. Maybe this will be the summer I finally haul my ever-widening backside up to Honeymoon Lake and Granite Park.

Extended closure at 5th & Colorado in Santa Monica for Expo Line construction

Expo1

Expo2

 

From the Expo Line Construction Authority:

MAJOR CONSTRUCTION & STREET CLOSURE IN SANTA MONICA

 EXTENDED CLOSURE OF I-10 FREEWAY 5th STREET EXIT

STARTING JANUARY 18, 2014

Santa Monica– Major construction requiring freeway off ramp and street closures for Phase 2 of the Expo Light Rail Line in Santa Monica will begin Saturday, January 18th at 6:00 am and last through Tuesday, January 28th at 11:00 pm.  Crews will work 24-hour shifts during the extended street closure to install track across 5th Street.

Northbound and southbound 5th Street will be temporarily closed at Colorado Avenue.  Westbound Colorado Avenue will be temporarily closed between 5th Street and 4th Street.

As part of this work activity, the 5th Street exit from the westbound I-10 freeway will also be temporarily closed during this time. Motorists are encouraged to use the Cloverfield Boulevard or Lincoln Boulevard exits as alternative routes to Downtown Santa Monica.

Commuters should expect detours in downtown Santa Monica, and will be encouraged to take alternate exits off the westbound I-10 Freeway during this extended closure.  Local and pedestrian access around the closure areas will be maintained at all times. Electronic message boards, directional signage, and flaggers will be used to direct vehicles and pedestrians around the construction zone.

For additional information about the Santa Monica street closures and Phase 2 of the Expo Light Rail Line, please contact Gabriela Collins at (213) 243-5535.

For more information about the Expo Light Rail Line, visit www.buildexpo.org