The environmental analysis for the second stage of the Westside’s first light rail project has been released to the public and will feature three stations in Santa Monica.

Authorities from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) have included an additional station at 17th Street and Colorado Avenue or Olympic Boulevard for Santa Monica, joining stations already in the works at Bergamot Station and Fourth Street and Colorado.

“We’re enthused that a third station serving Santa Monica College is part of the proposal,” Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown told The Argonaut.

During a press briefing February 6th in Culver City, the Exposition Construction Authority, the government entity that is building the rail line, gave an update on Phase Two of the Mid-Cities Exposition Light Rail Project, known as the Expo Line. The project, which begins in downtown Los Angeles and will arrive in Culver City in its first phase, is slated to continue to Santa Monica in its next construction stage.

Metro officials predict that the Expo Line will have the highest ridership numbers of the entire rail system, with more than 62,000 passengers a day.

Phase Two is fully funded, said Samantha Bricker, chief operating officer of the construction authority, as is the first portion of the rail line, which is scheduled to arrive in Culver City in 2010.

“[The Expo Line] would arguably be one of the busiest light rail lines in the nation,” said Bricker.

DMJM Harris/AECOM, a Los Angeles transportation and infrastructure firm, developed the draft environmental impact report for the construction authority. Stephen Polechronis, the company’s senior vice president, gave a brief history of the light rail line’s evolution in the first segment of its construction before displaying the five alternatives that Metro is recommending in the second stage of development.

The majority of the rail structures will be above grade, or aerial stations, except possibly the option that has the line traveling down Colorado near 14th or 17th Streets, where the Santa Monica City Council has requested a ground-level station that will fit in well with its plans for transit-oriented development and streetscapes.

One of the alternatives that Metro authorities are proposing will take the rail line down the median on Olympic Boulevard to the final station at Fourth and Colorado. A second option would use Colorado instead of Olympic.

The Olympic Boulevard route would require the removal of a number of trees, and Treesavers, a Santa Monica-based organization that opposes the removal or destruction of trees, has vowed to contest the proposed rail route.

“Santa Monica Treesavers strongly opposes the Olympic Boulevard Light Rail alternative and fully supports the Colorado Boulevard alternative,” Jerry Rubin, co-founder of Treesavers, said in a statement. “We passionately oppose losing any of the 44 coral trees or any of the grassy open space (on the) Olympic Boulevard median.”

McKeown backs the Treesavers position as well.

“I agree with our Planning Commission, with whom I met last week, that Colorado at grade is the preferred alignment,” McKeown said. “It’s better for our skyline, our streets and our schools.”

Polechronis says that his firm has no preferred rail line option out of the five that Metro is proposing.

“All of the alternatives have almost the same ridership numbers,” he said. “The Colorado Avenue alternative is the one that we feel is environmentally superior to the others.”

McKeown expressed some trepidation about one item on the light rail proposal.

“I’m concerned about the suggested rail maintenance yard in the Pico Neighborhood (near Stewart Street), directly across the street from multi-unit family housing. Where’s the environmental justice in that?” the councilman asked.

Mar Vista resident Ken Alpern feels that the route that would go down the existing right-of-way that Metro owns along Exposition Boulevard in West Los Angeles is the best alternative to continue the line to Santa Monica.

“It’s my conclusion that the Exposition right-of-way route has always been and always will be the obvious route for the Expo Line,” Alpern, the co-chair of the Transit Coalition, asserted. “The shortest route between two points has always been a straight line, and the quicker and more direct route between the Westside and Mid-City will best serve the entire region for decades to come.”

The second stage of the light rail line could actually open prior to the completion of the first leg of Expo due to an ongoing discussion regarding a possible change in rail alignment in Phase One at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles. A group of rail advocates there has lobbied the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to force the construction authority to build a pedestrian overpass instead of a ground level, or at-grade station near the high school.

“If an at-grade crossing is denied by the PUC, there will be a delay to the opening of the Phase One project,” Bricker confirmed.

The costs to build a pedestrian crossing near Dorsey High could run as high as $8 million, said Bricker.

“That doesn’t include any delay costs; those would just be the capital costs,” she explained. “We would have to look at our budget and it is anticipated that we would go back to Metro to ask for additional funding.”

The Expo Authority will hold a public meeting to listen to and receive suggestions and input from residents at Santa Monica High School at 5 p.m. Wednesday, February 18th. Hard copies of the environmental analysis are available at the Santa Monica Main Library, 601 Santa Monica Blvd., or can be viewed online at www.buildexpo.org/.

The last leg of the Expo Line is slated to open in Santa Monica in 2016.

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