Santa Monica officials await Expo line’s spring 2016 arrival with bated breath

By Gary Walker

A rendering of the planned Expo Line terminus in downtown Santa Monica

A rendering of the planned Expo Line terminus in downtown Santa Monica

The arrival of the Metro Expo Line in Santa Monica will open a plethora of transportation opportunities for thousands of Westsiders and allow them to connect with the region at large, Santa Monica transportation officials and light rail advocates say.

The first Westside light rail system, the 8.6 mile Expo Line currently runs from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City. The second of leg of the $1.5-billion mass transit line is slated to reach Santa Monica next spring, according to Metro officials.

There will be three rail stops in Santa Monica — at Bergamot Station near 26th Street and Olympic Boulevard, another at 17th Street and Colorado Avenue near Santa Monica College, and the downtown terminus at Colorado and Fourth Street.

A panel of speakers assembled by the Santa Monica Democratic Club gave an update on the status of the light rail train during an April 29 meeting at the Santa Monica Public Library.

One of the panelists, Santa Monica Planning Manager Francie Stefan, said the Expo Line’s arrival creates a variety of associated alternative transportation options that officials will seek to incorporate as much as possible.

“I think what we’re looking at is a transportation future that is very diverse, so that you can go to one place in one mode and come back in another but you will have multiple options,” she said.

Taking the Santa Monica Blue Bus, walking, biking or using shuttles will also help reduce car trips and are in line with Santa Monica’s reputation for exploring sustainable environmental solutions, Stefan added.

Former Santa Monica Mayor Denny Zane and transportation advocate Darrell Clarke gave the audience a verbal history of the initial planning stages of Westside light rail. They focused on the importance of voters passing of a succession of county ballot measures to help finance the construction of several light rail lines — the second phase of Expo, the Crenshaw/ LAX Transit Project, which will have at least three stops in Westchester, and the Green Line, which has one stop at Aviation Boulevard in Westchester.

“The grassroots support for Expo showed our elected officials that there is a constituency for light rail on the Westside,” Clarke said.

Stefan noted that Santa Monica’s fingerprints are on the Exposition Construction Authority, the entity in charge of the building the second stage of Expo. It was 2003 legislation by L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, then a Santa Monica state senator, that created the authority.

Mar Vista resident Ken Alpern, president of the mass transit advocacy group the Transit Coalition and an early Expo supporter, said the train’s arrival in Santa Monica will be a little late but well worth the wait.

“Although I am very disappointed that we will have to wait until spring of 2016 to have the Expo Line Phase 2 running, the ability of commuters to have an alternative to the mega congested I-10 freeway is exciting and long-overdue,” Alpern said.

The topic of creating housing near the three stations also came up during the meeting.

Mayor Kevin McKeown, a long-time advocate of affordable housing, said the council would need help from the public in order to create low-income units near transportation sectors.

“The advent of light rail will be a wonderful resource for our community. Our council has the vision and the perspective to create affordable housing, and I’m hopeful that this community will be supportive in helping us generate funding for affordable housing — truly affordable housing,” McKeown said.