Breaking News: The Expo Construction Authority approved the environmental impact report for the second stage of the Expo Line Thursday, February 4th. The location for the light rail maintenance facility, the route the rail line will take to Santa Monica and the station alignments were approved as well.

Original story below.

The Metropolitian Transportation Authority’s Board of Directors will review the preliminary engineering and design plans at its March meeting.

Los Angeles transit officials are scheduled to take another step towards moving mass transportation forward on the Westside Thursday, February 4th, when the construction board of the Metro Rail Mid-City/Exposition Light Rail Transit Project votes on the light rail line’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR).

The Exposition Construction Authority, which is in charge of building the Westside light rail line, will consider station alignments for Phase Two of the mass transportation project, the location of a maintenance facility in Santa Monica and the addition of a third station along Colorado Avenue in Santa Monica.

The construction authority will also recommend pursuing the right-of-way route owned by Metro that will run along the Expo right-of-way and Colorado in Santa Monica, said Samantha Bricker, chief operating officer of the construction authority.

Phase Two would begin in Culver City, where an aerial station is planned, continue down Palms Boulevard and proceed along the Metro owned right-of-way near the Santa Monica Freeway (Interstate 10).

The first leg of the 15.3-mile transit corridor began in downtown Los Angeles and will end in Culver City. Originally, the Culver City station was scheduled to open this year, but due to cost overruns and the potential added expenditure of building an overpass at a planned station in South Los Angeles, its opening has been bumped to early next year.

Metro hopes to open the first phase of the line at Crenshaw Boulevard later this year.

The Santa Monica City Council unanimously supported the EIR in November.

The maintenance facility that will service the rail cars, which Metro is proposing to build on Olympic Boulevard in the Stewart Park neighborhood, has had its share of controversy. Residents who live blocks away from the proposed facility, which the EIR suggests building on the current Santa Monica College parking lot and the former Verizon telephone site, have complained about the location.

Eleanor Path, a Stewart Park homeowner, says that it is unfair to ask one of the most racially and economically varied areas in Santa Monica to take the brunt of a 24-hour-a-day/seven-days-a-week, industrial train maintenance yard.

“To the neighborhood, this is an unjustifiable discrimination,” said Path, who is a proponent of the light rail line.

Metro officials say they have added new technology that would eliminate “wheel squeal” from the train, and a car wash and a cleaning platform would be relocated north of the Verizon property. A 110-foot sound barrier would be built to reduce noise from the train and the light rail yard.

In addition, Metro authorities have canceled plans for a paint and body shop, and proposed adding directional lighting to reduce glare and installing landscaping to make the sound barrier less conspicuous.

“We’ve been working with community groups and with Santa Monica officials in what we think has been a very collaborative way,” Bricker said. “We’re hoping that the project will win approval so that we can begin to move forward with the project.”

Mass transit advocacy groups are backing the environmental document and the proposed alignments for the second stage of the light rail project.

“Our official position is we support the recommended preferred alternative without delay,” said Darrell Clarke, the president of Friends 4 Expo, a transit advocacy group. “There’s been an extensive planning and environmental process. It’s time to move forward.”

Clarke says the preferred alternative, which was recommended over a proposal that would travel down Venice Boulevard and then go west toward Santa Monica, is “a mile shorter, faster and will attract more riders.”

Santa Monica City Councilwoman Gleam Davis thinks the mid-city station at 17th Street and Colorado is a crucial addition to the light rail line.

“It is very important, because it is much closer to both Santa Monica-UCLA Hospital and Saint John’s hospital,” Davis told The Argonaut. “It is also closer to Santa Monica College, and we should be able to take a lot of traffic off of the major streets there through buses and shuttles and get people onto the train.”

Clarke agrees that having the third station was a wise move by the council.

“We pushed for that all along, in order to serve the whole mid-city part of Santa Monica,” he said.

The other stations will be at Bergamot Station and Fourth Street and Colorado.

Santa Monica city leaders asked the construction authority to include an additional station on the line to take advantage of the opportunity to create a pedestrian streetscape that would attract tourists, locals and residents from outside the city to shop. There are also plans for a transit-oriented mixed-use development at the 17th Street station.

“That would give people a real sense of being in Santa Monica,” said Davis, a mass transit proponent who replaced the late Herb Katz on the council last year.

Davis said there are also plans to have a transit-oriented plaza at Fourth Street and Colorado, where the line is slated to end.

Despite protests from some Stewart Park residents, Clarke feels that Metro has by and large been very cooperative with the city government on the station alignments and the maintenance yard.

“I think that they tried very hard to work with the city,” said Clarke, a former city planning commissioner who lives a few blocks south of the proposed maintenance facility.

Davis also believes that the transportation agency has worked well with her council and said she and her colleagues have analyzed the proposed site for the maintenance yard from every angle.

“When you have an installation of mass transit in a neighborhood, there are often some conflicts,” the councilwoman noted. “We don’t control where the maintenance yard goes. Our job is to mitigate any potential impacts to the neighborhood.”

The board will only consider the certification of the environmental document and its possible approval February 4th. There will be no further discussion on the site of the maintenance facility or other topics.

Bricker said the Metro Board of Directors could vote on the EIR at its March meeting, pending its approval by the construction authority.

The second stage of the Expo Line is slated to reach Santa Monica by 2014.

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