The Mid-City/Exposition Light Rail project received a welcome infusion of funds Wednesday, September 5th, when the California Transportation Commission agreed to appropriate more than $314 million to the beleaguered Westside rail line.

“This is excellent news for Westside and downtown commuters,” said Rick Jaeger, a spokesman with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA, Metro). “We’re very pleased that the California Transportation Commission [CTC] allocated these much-needed funds to the Expo Line.”

Samantha Bricker, chief operations officer of the Exposition Construction Authority, added, “This allows us to proceed on schedule and to fund our construction contracts and work packages for the Expo Line. This is a very important and significant milestone.”

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry said, “We appreciate the CTC’s actions and their support of this much-needed mass transit project for Los Angeles.” Perry is chair of the Exposition Construction Authority.

The California Transportation Commission is responsible for the programming and allocating of funds for the construction of highway, passenger rail and transit improvements throughout California.

Last month, it held off deciding to release funding for the light rail line until the budget stalemate in Sacramento was settled. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature eventually passed the budget after a lengthy delay, but not before using $1.3 billion in state gasoline taxes revenues that had been previously promised to counties and cities to extend current rail projects and mass transit initiatives. This action was roundly criticized by city and county officials and transportation advocates as a move that could have created potential delays in the extension of rail endeavors like the Expo Line.

In a statement on September 5th, Schwarzenegger joined others in applauding the board’s decision to approve millions of dollars for transportation initiatives.

“Last year, the voters spoke loud and clear that we must invest in our transportation system,” said the governor. “The California Transportation Commission’s list of allocated funding will deliver much-needed improvements to our transportation system, reducing traffic congestion and improving California’s roadways and transit systems.”

Although the commission hinted last month that it would appropriate the money to the Expo Line, many local transit officials and lawmakers felt it was important to make sure that the board was aware of how important the light rail is to them and their constituents.

“Both the public and the commissioners went into the August meeting knowing that the lack of a budget was the one stumbling block from allocating the funds to transportation projects, including the Expo Line,” Annette Gilbertson, assistant deputy director of the commission told The Argonaut. “The commissioners knew how important these projects are to the counties and cities who support them. They are all worthwhile projects.”

The vote to allocate the funds was unanimous.

“We’re very excited about it,” said Joel Bellman, press deputy of Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. “So much of our attention has been focused on securing funding for the Expo Line. This is a huge boost to the project.”

The Department of Transportation will distribute the money to the various county and municipal agencies.

“We anticipate that it will be very soon,” said Gilbertson.

The commission’s approval of the $314 million is important to the Expo Line for a number of reasons, especially regarding any potential delays in the construction of the rail line, said Bricker.

“This ensures that our project is on schedule,” Bricker said. “It will also allow the MTA board not to be forced to look elsewhere to find funding and not have to dip into other pockets that might affect other projects.”

SANTA MONICA PHASE 2 EXTENSION — The Santa Monica City Council sent a letter to Metro requesting an additional station and the proposed Phase 2 extension of the Exposition Line from Culver City to Santa Monica — not yet funded — besides those that are slated to be located at Bergamot Station and the line’s terminus at the beach.

The requested station would be at “mid-Santa Monica,” at 14th or 17th Street, said Kate Vernez, assistant for governmental relations to the Santa Monica city manager. “We believe that there is a demand for ridership and feeder lines in those areas.”

Darryl Clark, a Santa Monica planning commissioner and co-chairman of the light rail advocacy group Friends 4 Expo, believes that the arrival of the light rail train on the Westside by 2010 is significant.

“The closer that it gets to Santa Monica in Phase 1, the better,” he said. “It gets us one step closer to the 10 Freeway and to Westside commuters from Mar Vista, Venice and West Los Angeles, who will be able to utilize the train.”

Vernez added, “You only secure the benefits of the line if it comes to Santa Monica,”

Bricker said that the request for an additional station would be considered during the environmental impact study. While many believe that commuters in Santa Monica will utilize the train more than others on the Westside, Metro does not have any projected ridership numbers for the second leg of the light rail line.

Bricker said her agency would have an idea about how the alignment in the second stage of the line will proceed toward Santa Monica very soon, perhaps by the end of the year.

“We will also be discussing the feasibility of the various possibilities of the alignment of the train in the second phase, along with cost and impacts to each neighborhood,” Bricker said.

Yaroslavsky did not offer an opinion on the route that his office was supporting for the second stage of the light rail line, which will be built on an elevated track.

“We are waiting for the environmental process to run its course,” said the supervisor, who represents the Third District, where the second phase of the Expo Line will run.

“We are optimistic that the line will be on time in order to secure the benefits of having the light rail line in Santa Monica by 2014,” said Vernez.

Santa Monica City Councilwoman Pam O’Connor, her city’s representative on the Joint Powers Authority for the Expo Line and the chair of the Metro board of directors, could not be reached for comment.

The commissioners approved a total of $674 million for 35 transportation-related projects, from which $389 million will come from the Public Transportation Account, $225 million from bond measure Proposition 1B and $60 million from Proposition 42, another bond initiative.

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