The Mid-Cities Exposition Joint Powers Authority approved a recommendation to study two station alternatives for Phase Two of the Westside light rail plan at a hearing Thursday, November 1st.
The options include utilizing the existing right-of-way from Culver City to Santa Monica as well as a route that would run from Venice Boulevard in Culver City to Sepulveda Boulevard. The former trajectory would connect with the right-of-way along Interstate 10 (the Santa Monica Freeway) owned by the Southern California Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA or Metro).
The Expo Line, which is currently under construction in downtown Los Angeles by the Exposition Line Construction Authority and is slated to run to Culver City in the first installment and continue to Santa Monica in its second stage, has encountered various stages of financial difficulties along its highly-anticipated path to the Westside.
Construction cost overruns and alterations in a few of the downtown rail station segments have caused the authority to seek funding in addition to its initial budget of $640 million.
At the November 1st hearing, Samantha Bricker and Richard Thorpe, chief operating officer of the Exposition Line Construction Authority and the chief executive officer of the Joint Powers Authority, requested an additional $145 million to complete the first stage of the light rail line. The MTA board will consider the request at its December meeting.
The fact that costs are rapidly increasing in the first stage of the light rail line did not come as a shock to one Westside mass transit advocate.
“It doesn’t surprise me that the price is going up,” said Ken Alpern, co-chair of Friends of the Green Line and the president of The Transit Coalition. He looks at the money that will be spent on Phase One of the Expo Line as a long-term, worthwhile venture.
“This is a 100-year investment that is for legitimate purposes and not due to inappropriate deals, and I think that it is money well spent,” he said. “Had this line been built 15 years ago, it would not have been as expensive.”
Alpern compared the escalating expenditures of the first phase of the project to an addition to a private residence.
“How likely is it that the original budget that you started with will double over the life of the project?” he asked.
Last month, transportation officials held several public information meetings on the Westside to update residents on the light rail project.
Although there has been some opposition to the recommendations for the proposed alignment that the rail line might take in the second leg to Santa Monica, Bricker realizes that not everyone will agree with the station and alignment proposals that Metro representatives are planning.
“There is a lot of polarization in the community about the project,” she acknowledged. “There are certain areas of the project that people might object to, and we understand that.”
Bricker pledged that her agency will continue its public outreach, which has included holding meetings with neighborhood groups and other interested parties in addition to the number of public hearings that Metro is obligated to conduct. Metro has done this in an effort to stay in touch with communities that will be affected by the light rail line.
“Our job is to keep the lines of communication open,” she said.
Santa Monica, which will have at least two rail stations, is requesting that Metro consider a third station in mid-Santa Monica that would serve the area near Santa Monica College and Saint John’s Hospital along Colorado Avenue.
At its meeting Tuesday, October 23rd, the Santa Monica City Council agreed to send a letter to the Exposition Construction Authority requesting a study for an alternative alignment on Colorado Avenue that would allow an at-grade, or ground-level, station in downtown Santa Monica. This would necessitate the removal of one travel lane in each direction to accommodate the light rail line.
“The council was looking at this as an attempt to improve the downtown station,” said Ellen Gelbard, Santa Monica’s assistant director of Planning and Community Development.
The council approved $300,000 to study the proposal.
Councilman Kevin McKeown applauded the decision to have the proposed mid-Santa Monica station at ground level.
“I was appalled at the thought of having a 35-foot elevated rail line running through Santa Monica,” McKeown said. The recommended alignment “gives us the opportunity to have a ground-level pedestrian- and transit-oriented streetscape at Colorado Avenue, which is what we want.”
“We will be considering [the Santa Monica proposal] in our environmental documents when we consider the alignment for Phase Two of the project,” said Bricker.
Nearly all transportation officials, light rail supporters and Santa Monica representatives agree that the farther west the rail line comes in the first stage of construction, the better it will be for Westside residents and ultimately for the success of the entire line.
“The sooner that we get the line to Culver City, the better it will be for everybody, including residents of Culver City, Mar Vista and Venice,” said Alpern, who is a Mar Vista resident.
Bricker added, “The farther west that you go, [in the first phase], will probably cost less [in the second stage of construction].”
Santa Monica officials look at the light rail’s arrival as a regional advantage, along with its obvious local transportation benefits.
“The true benefit of the [Expo Line] is that it is an east-west connection,” said Kate Vernez, Santa Monica’s assistant to the city manager for community relations. “It will connect residents from the west side of the county to the east side, and this will allow people to get out of their cars and not be stuck in traffic on the [Interstate] 10 freeway.”
Bricker believes that the $145 million that the construction authority has requested will allow the light rail train to arrive on the Westside in the first leg of construction.
“We anticipate that this will get us to the interim station in Culver City,” she said.