Light rail advocates expressed relief after the Exposition Construction Authority gave the green light February 4th to the environmental impact report for the second phase of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Mid-City/Exposition Light Rail Transit Project.

The approval of the environmental document allows the authority to proceed with the next steps toward getting the Westside light rail line on track, said Samantha Bricker, the construction authority’s chief operating officer.

“This is a significant milestone,” Bricker said in an interview after the EIR was approved. “It’s been a long time in the making, and we’re now looking forward to the next step, which is having the preliminary and engineering and design work ready.”

Light rail advocates like Mar Vista resident Ken Alpern have also been looking forward to moving the project ahead.

“This means that the Westside will have mass transit,” Alpern, co-chair of the Transit Coalition, said. “The best thing about this going forward is that we now have a blueprint for planning and mass transit for the next century.”

Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown views having a ground-level station at 17th Street and Colorado Avenue as crucial to the redevelopment plans for that section of Santa Monica.

“We are one step closer to dependable regional rail transit that takes cars off the road and guarantees mobility, no matter how gridlocked the freeway may become,” McKeown said. “Ground-level light rail was the right choice for Santa Monica, where an elevated transitway would have been incongruent with our human-scaled, pedestrian-oriented community.”

But the councilman says he still feels that Metro did not serve the city’s best interests with its location for the light rail maintenance yard.

The facility, pending a land swap with Santa Monica College, will be built at the site of the Verizon property on Exposition Boulevard, city-owned land at 1800 Stewart St., and the SMC parking structure at Exposition and Stewart.

Residents of the Pico and Stewart Park neighborhoods raised concerns during council hearings about the facility being close to their homes.

“Santa Monica was inappropriately blindsided by the maintenance yard siting,” McKeown asserted. “A quasi-industrial facility immediately adjacent to a residential neighborhood simply showed up unheralded in an Expo Authority environmental impact document, with, tellingly, the neighborhood edited out of the diagram.

“Clearly, the decision was made before we were even warned it was being considered, and the best we have been able to do on behalf of our residents is seek mitigation for the very considerable impacts.”

Alpern, a board member of the Mar Vista Community Council, sounded a note of caution regarding the maintenance yard.

“If the land swap results in more parking at the Santa Monica Airport, there could be serious conflicts with Mar Vista,” warned Alpern, who added that he was speaking as a resident of Mar Vista.

While the approval of the EIR was welcome news to light rail enthusiasts and their supporters, it was not to some homeowners who live near the proposed light rail route. Residents from Cheviot Hills, a West Los Angeles suburb, contested the approved route that will traverse the right-of-way, which will run along the 10 Freeway near some of their backyards. They are considering filing a lawsuit, which could possibly cause further delays in the line getting built on schedule.

Metro is already experiencing setbacks to its original plan to open Phase One of the light rail line this year. A decision by the Public Utilities Commission regarding an overpass in South Los Angeles has caused delays in opening the first leg of the mass transit line in Culver City.

Metro officials have also updated the projected opening of the second stage of the rail project to late 2014 or 2015.

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